“What if hope only leads to disappointment again? What if it’s actually going to be OK?”
These two questions led to a life-changing quest for joy beyond circumstances for Nicole Zasowski, marriage and family therapist and author of “What If It’s Wonderful? Release Your Fears, Choose Joy, and Find the Courage to Celebrate.”
She asked the first question of a friend who knew of her many pregnancy tests, miscarriages and foundering hope. The second was on a plaque at the friend’s home. Zasowski noticed it for the first time during the conversation.
“Tears trailed down my face, unbidden. I chewed the inside of my cheek as I thought hard about this question, as if the cute wooden sign actually expected an answer. The stories I had been telling myself — the stories that attempted to warn me that joy is dangerous and would leave me hurt — were draining the delight out of my days,” Zasowski writes.
Her new book was born out of a season of change, loss, heartache and longing, Zasowski told The Alabama Baptist. Moving from Los Angeles to Connecticut, she left the safety of familiarity, not realizing her faith had been propped up by pleasing others, and her identity had revolved around success and hard work.
Season of change
“When you go through something painful, whether it’s a tangible loss such as the death of a loved one, or a betrayal or a season of waiting, there’s the loss itself. But then there’s the cost,” Zasowski said. “The cost is the impact to your identity and sense of safety.”
Due to the season of loss, joy and hope were now accompanied by fear. A positive pregnancy test was immediately followed by dread of a possible miscarriage, which led to no longer dreaming of good outcomes and no longer celebrating what God was doing.
“I did pray for miracles, but I prepared to mourn,” Zasowski remembered. “I used pessimism and cynicism as my guards against disappointment. I practiced disappointment and rehearsed disaster in an attempt to protect myself from what I thought was inevitable pain.”
She said she awoke one day to realize not only had she been perpetually grieving her physical losses, but also the loss of hope. She decided she didn’t want to miss out on her “beautiful, God-given life” because she was too “busy preparing for the worst.”
Celebration often is mistakenly rooted in circumstances, Zasowski noted, adding she realized “we are not practicing a biblical model of celebration. We are not treating it as a practice; we’re treating it as a reward.”
“Celebration is essential to the character of Christ and central to His mission,” she asserted. “Often, we think of celebration as something that takes us away from God. It’s actually an avenue of connecting with Him. It’s absolutely central to why He came and essential to His character. We don’t often think of Jesus in the center of our joy.”
Zasowski pointed to Old Testament feasts and festivals as a biblical model of celebrating Who God is and what He has done, no matter the circumstances.
“What I love about them is that they occurred in rhythm, not as a reaction,” she said. “We have made our definition of celebration to be a reaction to some preferred outcome. But their celebration was practiced in rhythm.
“They didn’t celebrate because they were in the mood to do so or because they had accomplished something big or all the work was done,” Zasowski noted. “They celebrated because it was time to do so. That kept their celebration anchored in remembering God’s faithfulness versus simply considering it a reward for their own.
“It encourages me to make it a practice that cultivates joy rather than waiting for it to be a reward for some sort of circumstantial outcome.”
Sharing the joy
Telling others about the positives in life doubles the joy brought by gratitude alone, Zasowski asserted, though there often is a reluctance to share.
“I have realized that my hesitancy to celebrate is a sign that I’ve made it about me,” she explained. “If I know the gifts that God has put inside me are purely from Him and He has made me in a way to serve Him through the opportunities He’s given me, and if I know that it’s all grace and it’s all Him, I can celebrate freely. Because this is not about me — this is grace and a gift.
“I think of David coming in and bringing the Ark of Covenant in and he is just going wild with embodied celebration — just dancing all over the place,” Zasowski related. “King Saul’s daughter, Michal, is looking upon him with disgust — but David isn’t drawing attention to himself. He understands that he has been the recipient of grace.
“Isn’t that at the heart of worship — a response to God’s grace in our lives?”
“What If It’s Wonderful?” is available at Amazon and other book retailers. A free guide to help navigate personal “What if …?” questions can be downloaded at nicolezasowski.com.