I’m reprinting this old article today because, even with all the stress and anxiety that come with the pandemic, I’m enjoying myself. My kids are all home, spring is on its way, I don’t have to spend hours every day driving, we’re drawing and reading together daily, and the family is spending more time in prayer. I’m getting a chance to teach again, and we get to set the alarm a full two hours later than normal. A lot of things are pleasant for me right now. And I feel bad about it!
This morning went poorly. I was afraid I’d sleep through the alarm, so I kept waking up; but then when the alarm did go off, I went right back to sleep, and so we were running late.
The kids’ hair was unbrushed, I forgot to pay the aftercare check again, my stomach was being weird, and the world was just generally grim, gritty, and disappointing. The last thing I wanted to do was head to my therapy appointment after the school commute, but it was on the schedule, so I dragged myself in.
It turned out to be a really good, fruitful session, and I left smiling. I checked in at home, then took myself over to the adoration chapel and made a short visit; and that was lovely, too.
The radiators hissed, the kneelers creaked, and Jesus sat quietly and watched me watching Him. I thought, a few times, that I ought to be praying better and using my time more wisely, but then I wisely just sat quietly and watched Him.
Feeling better and better, I remembered that I had set aside some extra cash to replace my torn and stained winter jacket, so I headed over to my favorite thrift stores, where I scored not only a new jacket, but a stained glass window (well, glass with a giant sticker stuck to it) of the Madonna and Child, which is possibly on the tacky side, but it’s also guaranteed to thrill my seven-year-old to the core. AND, I got a sweater, and a shirt! And a pair of earrings! And, um, some silicone cupcake holders with feet! Which we definitely need!
The cashier gave me my receipt and wished me a good day, which I was ALREADY HAVING! I felt almost guilty as I swung my loaded shopping bags into the car and headed for home, where, to my amazement, one of my teenage kids was giving the toddler a bath and patiently unsnarling her curly hair, and another was moving forward with her plans to make enchiladas for supper. Better and better and better.
Even the mail was great: A check and a wonderful book I forgot I had ordered for the kids. I couldn’t wait to read it to them when they got home.
It wasn’t until I was halfway through my lunch, which was an absolutely heavenly dish of black beans, fresh lime juice, salt, and chili powder, that I felt a shadow of unease that didn’t flit away. “Well, well, look who’s having such a nice, nice day,” said a little voice. And so I began to chide myself for how much I was enjoying this randomly wonderful Thursday.
Who was I to be sitting there in a shaft of sunlight, eating one of my favorite meals, basking in the good will of my family, not producing anything, and just reaping the fruits of all this care and attention that are showered on me?
Why did I deserve to be so happy, when other, much more virtuous and deserving people in the world are cold and unloved and running headlong into one bit of bad luck after the other?
Must be nice!” the voice sneered. “Must be nice to have such a great life, but what makes you think you deserve it? And how long do you think it’s going to last? Beans, wow. A used shirt, gosh. You really know how to live. And you know very well that as soon as the kids come home and the bickering and rushing begins, it will all fall apart, like it always does. But sure, have another forkful of happiness. Must be nice.”
I looked down at my plate. It was just beans. It was just a shirt. Just a jacket. Just a cheap sticker on a piece of glass from the thrift store. Just a . . .
Wait. I had heard that phrase before, “must be nice.” My friend Leticia Adams, who has had ten times her share of troubles in life, said this on social media the other day:
“Today a co-worker said it must be nice to be able to take a week off work for Christmas break and instead of doing the usual thing where I act like it sucked somehow or I apologize, instead I said “yep, it is nice.” And walked away. I don’t owe anyone an explanation or an apology for my life. Welcome to 2019!”
And there it is. It is nice. My life, as of that moment, was nice, lovely, happy, joyful, full. My happiness doesn’t detract from anyone else’s. The fact that it would pass didn’t make the moment any less real.
There’s not some finite bin of pleasure in the world, and there’s no reason to feel guilty for enjoying whatever measure of it comes our way for as long as it lasts. On the contrary, when I’m happy, I’m much more apt to be generous and patient; and one cheerful person can lift the mood of an entire household. And even if my happiness didn’t do anyone else any good: I matter, too! It’s a good thing to be happy. Why wouldn’t it be?
What an insidious thought it is — a true temptation to sin — to believe that we should tamp down, moderate, or even reject our enjoyment of gifts that come into our lives. That it’s somehow holier, more mature, more responsible to try and keep a lid on joy. It isn’t. Happiness comes from God, period.
Like any other good thing, happiness can be misused. We shouldn’t cling to transient enjoyments, and we shouldn’t give ourselves permission to act badly once they’ve passed us by (as they eventually will).
We shouldn’t let our good cheer blind us to the suffering and struggles of other people; and we absolutely shouldn’t smugly believe we’re feeling good because God loves us more than He loves people who are feeling bad. All of that is dangerous nonsense.
But when things are going well for us, that is a gift from God. When God gives you something good, it would be rude to talk yourself out of receiving it with happiness, and that’s the case whether it’s a plate of beans or a quiet 20 minutes with the Lord. It IS nice. So smile, thank Him, and enjoy.
This article was originally published at The Catholic Weekly in 2019. Reprinted with permission.