Choose Joy

As I was reading online the other day, a quote by Sally Clarkson, author of numerous excellent books for mothers, caught my eye. She wrote, “Loving one another, as adults find out in marriage quickly enough, is a choice, not a feeling.” There was really nothing earth-shattering there. I think we can all agree that over the life of a marriage, spouses are presented, time and time again, with opportunities to choose to act with love, even when they don’t especially feel a surge of romantic emotion. Sally goes on to write, “Honor given to another is an attitude of humility and respect that is trained into a young child and practiced over many years. So, those who cultivate love and respect find it blooming more than those who leave it unattended.” Her point is that children need to be taught intentionally to behave charitably and to respond to their fellow man with the virtue of love. When they are deliberately taught to love, they do love.

As I thought about her wisdom, I thought about the other virtues. Don’t they all require a choice? Can we not choose to act in virtue, despite our feelings, time and time again? And can we not intentionally teach our children to choose virtue. Lately, my family has been looking at the virtue of joy. Specifically, we’ve looked at the outward sign of Christian joy: cheerfulness.

This morning, I breezed by the Facebook page of an old friend to wish her a happy birthday. And I smiled to see her recent pictures. We’ve lost touch over the years, but she still looks very much like I remember her. Her smile beams exuberantly from shot after shot. I noticed someone wished, “Happy Birthday to one of the happiest people I know!” Someone else said, “I don’t need to tell you to enjoy the day; you enjoy every day.”

That’s the person I remember so well, the person who saw more sorrow before she was 25 than most of us have seen by 50, yet who was known then and is still known now for her predictable, perpetual cheerfulness. I remember loving being a guest in her home during our high school days. Her parents were kind and gracious and some of the happiest people I’d ever met. Joy lived in that marriage and when those dear people named their only daughter, her middle name, literally, was Joy. Did she inherit their joy or was it taught?

A little of both, perhaps.

We all have days when cheerfulness seems elusive, just like we all have days when we don’t feel particularly loving towards the people God has given us to love. Spiritual maturity demands us to be cheerful anyway, to smile warmly, genuinely, and with joy. In order to love when we don’t feel loving, we call upon the grace of the sacrament of marriage and, truly, the other graces of the Church. That grace is available to us as we strive to live all the virtues.

St. Josemaria Escriva writes, “A piece of advice I have insisted on repeatedly: be cheerful, always cheerful. Sadness is for those who do not consider themselves to be children of God.” I think my friend’s joy bubbled up from the inheritance given by her parents and then was fostered by their example. She was born into joy. If we are children of God, we are all born into joy, aren’t we? Sometimes, we need to reminded of that; we need to be reminded to be always cheerful. Truly, we need to live it for our children so often that it is instilled into their very beings. We need to smile.

We need to choose joy.

--reviving this one from the archives at the Catholic Herald today (they've reformatted the site there:-) as we work at home. It's Boot Camp week before our autumn rhythm moves into full swing. I'm posting this as a genuine reminder to myself.  We're working hard to prepare the environment for our studies and to establish excellent habits so that each member of this family can serve the others well in the coming term.