I’ve been trying to write a blog post for a few weeks now on the power of celebration, but I haven’t had any idea how to begin. I’ve got quotes and dictionary definitions; I’ve got stories from the past and the present; I’ve got analogies and metaphors. None of that felt right. None of it felt mine.
Celebration is something that has, for most of my life, just been this lofty concept. It was associated with huge milestones, big parties, and often, a lot of alcohol. For various reasons, this kind of celebration was not a part of my life.
About this time last year, the idea of celebration as a spiritual principle was introduced to me through a conversation with my now pastor. It’s one of the core values in my church, and I saw it demonstrated first hand when they blew me away by celebrating my life on my 21st birthday in a very active and intentional way. In hindsight, what I experienced here was celebration in response to a call to action.
Abraham Heschel, a Jewish theologian whose name I have only heard from the Biblical Studies majors here at Gordon, says this: “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state–it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.” Please hear me when I say that fun and parties are definitely a very important aspect of celebration, but like Heschel says above, I think that some people have the misconception that a celebration is simply a time to party, to be entertained; rather than an opportunity to recognize, mark, or honour what it is they are actually coming together to celebrate.
Throughout the year, I have learned that not all celebration requires tons of festivity. Sometimes celebration looks more like gratefulness than anything else. I’ve found that as I’ve begun to train my mind to view the world through a lens of gratitude, it has made celebration come so naturally. For instance, when I say that I’m so grateful for the relationships that I have with my family, I am able to celebrate the progress that has come from all the hard work I’ve done to get to this place. Or when I say I’m so grateful that for my new job, I get to celebrate the fact that I’m capable of showing up to work on a consistent basis now.
People also love to be celebrated. This, I have learned, is something that is easily forgotten in our egocentric world. It feels incredible when someone celebrates you just for being you. To be recognized and acknowledged for your mere presence in their life is so lifegiving. It’s such an intentional act of care that leaves deep imprints on the heart, but it could be as simple as writing them a card, taking a person out for coffee and buying their drink, or just verbalizing how grateful you are that they are a part of your life. As I’ve begun to recognize all the people in my life, I try to make a point of celebrating them as often as I can. If I’m not careful, it’s easy for me to slip back into a self-centered mindset of taking everyone for granted. That’s not the kind of life I want to live.
I’ve learned that while celebrating large scale events and victories is important; it’s equally, if not more, important to celebrate small victories. I have found this to be so useful in the process of my recovery, but also just in life in general. The path to success is filled with many challenges and hardships. Sometimes the process just seems so ardous and like there is no progress. This is the reason why it’s important to celebrate the small victories. When I pause to acknowledge the small victories and the incremental progress, it fills me with renewed vigor for the next leg of the journey. It gives me something to build on and those feelings of defeat and discouragement no longer have a foothold.
I think it’s important to realize that one does not have to feel like celebrating to celebrate. To celebrate is a choice. It is a choice that anyone can make at any moment. It is one of the bravest choices a human can make in the midst of what seem like impossible circumstances. When life is filled with burdens, one of the best things you can do is lift your eyes off of those burdens and onto something else.
If celebration seems impossible, try to take a step back and focus on gratitude. This has virtually the same affect, and can begin to shift the internal dialogue almost immediately. When I was in treatment, we were assigned the task of keeping a gratitude journal. I really struggled with this for a long time. Finding things to be grateful for when nothing seemed to fit was so hard. My life was scrambled and chaotic. I didn’t know what I was living for, so how could I even begin to navigate the waters of gratefulness. Once I started to do it regularly though, I really did find that my thoughts began to shift. I started thinking in terms of what I was grateful for in the midst of really hard times in my life, and those three things that I was grateful for each day became the light that I clung to so tightly when I was almost completely immersed in darkness.
I’ve carried that forward with me, and I choose to be grateful. I choose to celebrate. But it also comes so naturally now…like breathing. I’m so thankful that I’m still breathing.
This probably all sounds so cliché, but there really is so much power in celebration, so much freedom in gratefulness. When you choose to celebrate, you are choosing joy. When you are choosing joy, you are embodying strength, courage, and bravery like never before.
Of all the lessons I’ve learned over the last year, this is definitely one of the most significant, and one that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.