The day can begin under less than ideal circumstances: a sleepless night, a wicked headache, hormonal craziness, a blood sugar low, a festering argument. Whatever the root, the result is a bad mood. And then comes the defining moment of the day: do I succumb to the bad mood or do I fight for the joy that lies just under the weight of the crosses? Do I grumble and exaggerate, even celebrate, the trials of the morning, assuring that everyone around me knows I'm suffering? Or do I force myself to focus on the eternally present joy of my Christian inheritance and put a smile on my face and persevere in cheerfulness for the sake of the people entrusted to my care? And really, for my sake too.
One thing is certain. I cannot be cheerful under my own strength. I pray for the grace. I stumble. I falter. I persevere imperfectly. But His grace is sufficient. Always sufficient.
God doesn't call us to wallow in our suffering. He doesn't want us hoist our crosses upon the shoulders of the people around us. The sleepless night is my cross. It's not my husband's cross. If I stomp around the kitchen, whining about how tired I am, I foist that cross onto someone else's shoulders. If I "fake" it, and smile instead and force myself to take even more care with breakfast, I bless someone. The thing about choosing joy, even when we don't feel joy? Usually, we end up feeling it too. It's not dishonest. It's discipline.
When we dwell on our suffering, we magnify it. When we accept it and choose to be ever-aware of the joy that comes with being God's own child and to share that joy, despite our own immediate unhappiness, we sanctify it. This month, St. Teresa of Avila reminds us that children need to see us doing virtuous deeds. There is real virtue in cheerfulness. It's infectious virtue. Children can learn cheerful obedience from their mothers.
You know the saying, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy?" That one proves true in most every household. But when Mama smiles, despite her suffering, she blesses. And she is blessed.
There is sadness in our world. There is sorrow -- real sorrow and genuine pain -- in every life. We're called to embrace our crosses. We are not called to hit other people over the head with them.
I think one of my favorite quotes in Small Steps is
From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.
(St. Teresa of Avila)
A sour-faced saint? Can you even be sour faced and a saint?
Do my children whine? Chances are I do, too.
Do my children criticize and complain and gossip about their siblings and friends? Chances are I do, too.
Do my children bluster through every chore, griping and seeking ways to escape the drudgery? Chances are I do, too.
Do my children seem to revel in the suffering, making much ado of it and sighing frequently, ensuring that everyone around them knows how hard life is?
Is the outward expression of discontent and ungratefulness taking hold and multiplying in my home like kudzu in Alabama?
Or do the people in my home smile? Do they do the hard thing with a peaceful countenance even though they don't want to and don't enjoy it (much the same way they decline a second piece of cake even though they want more)? Do they fake happiness for a time and master their emotions, with full confidence that a genuine awareness and effusiveness of joy is right around the corner?
If they do that over and over and over again, it will become a habit of joy. And when it does, they will no longer whine; it will grate upon their own ears just to hear whining. They will no longer judge and criticize; they will encourage and celebrate the best in the people around them, without rancor or envy. They will be more peaceful, genuinely peaceful. They will embrace their crosses with full confidence that there is joy to be found in the difficult things, too. They will see that cheerful joy is their calling and step into the day, singing and dancing with St. Philip Neri:
A glad spirit attains to perfection more quickly than any other.
Did you take small steps towards joy this week? Would you share them with us, let us find you and be encouraged? I'd be so grateful and so honored to step with you.