Hardwired for joy
We all need something to look forward to
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God built us in such a way that we need something to look forward to. I don’t think you need me to prove that to you; I think you know. We function better, and we’re happier, when we have that. We’ve been spending more time in the house recently—locked down, masked up, distanced.
But I believe that all over the world people feel the same need to have something to look forward to. And the need is so strong that they will find something, even where there’s nothing.
A woman somewhere is waking in her netted cot. She stirs the embers of a dying fire, then sprinkles water on her dirt floor and smooths it with a broom of long tambookie grasses. The baby cries, but he must wait: Her milk is low.
She heaves the 4-month-old on her back, tying him securely with a length of rag, then starts the long trek for water: 5 gallons that she swivels onto the small of her back. It will take longer today because the rumor is one well is dry and another has water so brackish that even a goat will turn up its nose. The good spigot has slowed to a thin ribbon.
She will go from a woman with nothing to look forward to, to a woman with a future.
Upon her return it is lunchtime—flatbread and wheat kernels cooked on the fire pit. While five children eat, she can finally breastfeed, forgoing a meal herself. The afternoon will be spent in the fields helping her husband by moving rocks from the path of the plow.
But hard by the sorghum field she must weed afterward, there is another place that only she knows. A patch of ground no bigger than a hopscotch square where she will find her roses at day’s end, shimmering visions grown from the cuttings she acquired in exchange for hens’ eggs she brought to market when the Kenyan vendor came. Till then the only roses she had to look at every day were in the photo, ripped from the nurse’s magazine inside the clinic waiting room, which she hung on the mud hut wall.
In Philadelphia a woman in a row home takes her child by the hand to an unmowed crabgrass park because Busy Bees day care is still closed, and she thinks too much Pac-Man is not good and vitamin D is. The tyke by her side is going on about Blinky, Inky, and Clyde, and the mother is trying to listen, but it’s six straight days without adult conversation.
Once the child is tucked in bed, she’ll tiptoe downstairs to the spare room to finish her project of converting an old chest of drawers to jewelry-making storage and begin the fun task of organizing: memory wire in one drawer; French hooks in another; a collection of pliers; pearl, crystal, plastic, and glass beads of every color, each in their compartments. Alicia will arrive, and they will dream designs together—crystal mermaid drop earrings, water bead clusters, and chandeliers.
In Samaria a woman walks alone to the well when the sun is at its highest because the other women in the town will not be seen with her. She has no hope, no secret garden of Kenyan roses, no dreams of sparkling earrings, nothing to look forward to.
While still a long way off, she discerns through the shimmering heat a solitary man in white. He sits upon the wall where she must draw the water in an earthen pot—wedged into the small of her back and tied with a rope of old cloth—to transport back to the village.
She doesn’t know it yet, but within the hour she will go from a woman with nothing to look forward to, to a woman with a future. Who, like the man waiting for her at the well, needs something to look forward to. He will teach her to be transformed by the renewing of her mind.
For He Himself, “for the joy set before him,” has learned to endure much.
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