Rev. Kyle Meyaard-Schaap is vice president of the Evangelical Environmental Network and is a Public Voices Fellow on the Climate Crisis with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the OpEd Project. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)My son recently celebrated his third birthday. That day I was in awe of the sheer miracle of him — his busy body, his yammering mouth, his effervescent joy. It reminded me of our first days with him, which were marked by sleep deprivation, frayed nerves, overwhelming anxiety and joy — so much joy.

Kyle Meyaard-SchaapKyle Meyaard-SchaapKyle Meyaard-SchaapAnd those memories have me thinking about climate change. As a father, Christian pastor and full-time climate organizer, climate change is rarely far from my mind. But now that President Joe Biden has made it the centerpiece of his legacy-defining American Jobs Plan — with its investment in clean energy, its overhaul of our outdated energy grid, its commitment to clean transportation, and its promise of millions of family-sustaining jobs — it’s bound to be top of mind for many Americans for some time to come.Still, that gives me pause.After all, the phrase “climate change” elicits a laundry list of emotions for most of us: anger, dread, guilt and grief, among them. A growing body of research is revealing the toll climate grief is taking on our collective mental health, and insomnia and other mental health concerns related to climate-induced anxiety have been documented across 25 countries. Absent from most of our climate-related emotional inventory is delight, contentedness or joy.We need to change that.Read MoreWhen coming face to face with the gravity of climate change, darker emotions are natural. What else is there to feel but anxious about living through the planet’s sixth mass extinction? What else can I feel but dread as homes are lapped by rising tides, livelihoods are crumbled to ash and carried away on Santa Ana winds, and children are poisoned by noxious air and toxic water? Biden's remarkable success on climateBiden's remarkable success on climateBiden's remarkable success on climateWhat else can I feel but shame as the land God has commanded me to hold in trust for my children and grandchildren is desecrated? What else is there to feel but guilt at my own ignorance and complicity, and rage at the behemoth vested interests who have worked so hard to thwart my efforts at every turn?Yet as human as these emotions are, they will do little to win a safer and more habitable future for ourselves and future generations. Social scientists have reported for years that while a bit of justified anger can spark someone to action, it can just as quickly burn itself out.For sustained, long-term action — the kind needed to face down the threat of climate change — we need more than anger. Every one of us needs a sense of agency. We need a community of belonging. We need hope that our actions can make a difference. We need joy.But joy can be a hard sell. In the climate movement, cynicism and a simmering rage are often worn as a badge of honor. They are coping mechanisms against the daily trauma of watching the beautiful, wondrous world die a little more each day — self-medication from, as author and naturalist Aldo Leopold put it, “liv(ing) alone in a world of wounds.” I’m certainly guilty as charged. Joy can feel extravagant, like the purview of the privileged and the ignorant alone.But I need joy. We all need joy. And it’s there for the taking.When I began my journey toward climate awareness in college, I started to look for opportunities to align my values with my newfound knowledge. Shame of my staggering ignorance and profound guilt for my complicity in the status quo precipitated sweeping changes. I hung my laundry to dry, composted my food scraps, and took buses and rode bikes instead of driving my car. The US is back in the Paris Agreement. Now what?The US is back in the Paris Agreement. Now what?The US is back in the Paris Agreement. Now what?Yet my efforts were untethered to anything deep or abiding. They were enacted through gritted teeth and done out of overwhelming obligation. My resolve soon began to slacken as burnout licked at the edges of my will.Then I found a community that could transform my atomized acts of penance into collective offerings of joy. It happened slowly at first. In a 15-passenger van hurtling along a predawn interstate carrying new friends to the halls of Congress to fight mountaintop removal coal mining. In plant-based kitchen experiments with housemates and my one-day spouse, discovering new skills and appreciation for food at tables laden with flavor and love in equal measure. In shared celebrations of those rare and exhilarating policy successes — like convincing our Republican congressman to co-sponsor a measure that would tighten regulations on strip-mining — the products of our communal courage and conviction. I began to notice a curious alchemy as I continued to plunge my hands into the earth and look my neighbors in the eye on the bus and cook new plant-based meals with friends. Guilt was slowly transforming into gratitude, despair into joy.Right now, the climate movement has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to hold out that same invitation to joy and delight — to show what’s possible when we find common cause with people who share our desire to create millions of good-paying jobs and secure a healthier planet for all. Get our free weekly newsletter

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But I’m afraid it may be squandered. I’m afraid that this window of political opportunity, decades in the making, will lure climate activists (myself included) into an urgency trap from which we won’t escape. I’m afraid we’ll forget to keep cultivating communities of belonging. I’m afraid we’ll stop telling stories — our own, each other’s, and of the better future we are striving to achieve. I’m afraid we will forget to attend to the work of joy.When I think of the world my son is set to inherit, my stomach clenches. But even in those moments, I can find joy again when I think of the world we could all create, with enough political will and commitment to the common good. When I think about that world, and the millions of everyday people cultivating communities of belonging in order to dream it into being, my heart sings.

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