When we don’t find joy and bliss from our relationships we will look for it in counterfeits and live from fear rather than love. These counterfeits can show up in addictions and looking for love in all the wrong places, but a more subtle form can also show up in pouring ourselves into our work, obsessing over sports, politics, entertainment, even obsessing over good things like our children.
I took a brief look at how the brain is effected in the first 18-24 months as the mother bonds with the child through smell, taste, temperature regulation, touch, visual, and voice tone. This bonding is how our “joy center” gets hard-wired into the brain. The following is from a 2017 study done at Northwestern University:
“The infant brain is very different from the mature adult brain — it is not fully formed….Infants are completely dependent on their caregivers. Whether they get enough to eat, the right kind of nutrients, whether they’re kept warm or cool enough, whether they’re hugged enough and get enough social attention, all these things are important to normal brain development. Our study shows clearly that a biological process in one person’s brain, the mother’s, is linked to behavior that gives the child the social input that will help wire his or her brain normally. That means parents’ ability to keep their infants cared for leads to optimal brain development, which over the years results in better adult health and greater productivity.”
The article goes on to say how this joyful bonding stimulates the neurotransmitter, dopamine, in our brain:
“We found that social affiliation is a potent stimulator of dopamine,” says Barrett. “This link implies that strong social relationships have the potential to improve your outcome if you have a disease, such as depression, where dopamine is compromised. We already know that people deal with illness better when they have a strong social network. What our study suggests is that caring for others, not just receiving caring, may have the ability to increase your dopamine levels.”
Dopamine “plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. The anticipation of most types of rewards increases the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs increase dopamine release….” (from Wikipedia)
When we don’t have a healthy joy center our “reward-motivation” will manifest in unhealthy ways, through fear and manipulation, bringing our brokenness into all of our relationships—our marriage, parenting, family, and with coworkers. Oftentimes, this dysfunctional cycle gets repeated from generation to generation.
My point in all of this is that I believe the answer to living free from bondage is not found by trying harder (left-brain activity), it’s found by growing our capacity to experience joy (right-brain). As Dr. Jim Wilder said about our brokenness:
“Deeply wounded people only heal in community, and only when that community is based in love and joy. But, sadly, most have come from relationships built on fear.” (from “Developing Joy Strength“)
The good news is, this part of our brain can be rewired and we can grow our joy capacity, but it requires that we repent (re-form) by having our minds renewed (Rom.12:2), put on the potter’s wheel, if you will, to be reshaped for love and joy instead of fear and control. This is how we heal in a community culture based in love.
This is also the purpose of the local church through which Jesus ministers to the world (Matt.16:18-19; John 20:21; Eph.4:11-16). Sadly, this is often not the case with many local churches. Fear-based manipulation and control by the leaders and even congregations only make belonging to them less joyful and even hurtful. This is why this reformation is also needed at a church level because Jesus intends on building His Church in the context of this grace-based community, not by individuals in isolation, and He hasn’t changed His mind about this just because we had a bad experience with organized church in the past.
Beloved, Jesus’ ministry (see Luke 4:18-21) is our joyous ministry. And, if we will let Him, He will turn our sorrow into joy, and then we can help others return to joy through Him!
When we learn to live from joy we can finally be our authentic selves at the deepest level of our being and, thereby, live free from all the counterfeits.
The Sovereign Lord has filled me with his Spirit.
He has chosen me and sent me
To bring good news to the poor,
To heal the broken-hearted,
To announce release to captives
And freedom to those in prison.
2 He has sent me to proclaim
That the time has come
When the Lord will save his people
And defeat their enemies.
He has sent me to comfort all who mourn,
3 To give to those who mourn in Zion
Joy and gladness instead of grief,
A song of praise instead of sorrow.
They will be like trees
That the Lord himself has planted.
They will all do what is right,
And God will be praised for what he has done.
4 They will rebuild cities that have long been in ruins. (Isa.61:1-4 GNT)