Must be nice!

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. 

What are you looking forward to?

“What do you look forward to every day?”

Someone asked this on Facebook the other day. At first it seemed like one of those untaxing “get to know ya” questions. But when I went to reach for the easy answer, I discovered to my horror that I couldn’t think of anything.

It was absurd that I couldn’t. My life is full of pleasant and joyful things. I have 10 lovable, fascinating children and a remarkably good husband. I like my job; I like my house and garden. I have friends and family I enjoy being with. I have leisure time every day. My life is studded with pleasures large and small.

But what do I look forward to? What do I spend time longing for every day? I can clearly remember being a child, and always looking forward to something: For the end of math class, for the beginning of summer, for my turn on the swing, for my birthday, for Lent to end so I could eat the cherry sours I unwisely bought ahead of time. My mother used to sing (rather flippantly, I thought, in the face of my anguish): “Enjoy yourself! Enjoy yourself! It’s later than you think.” Her point was that it’s foolish to set all our store in some potential future bliss. All we really have is the present, and if we waste it with various yearnings and worries, we’ll soon be out of time.

So, yes, I used to look forward to things when I was young, but not in a way I want to replicate now. That kind of longing — the kind that robs the present of its charms — is no way to spend a life. I recall the story of the man who was given a spool of string, and every time he tugged on the end, he could skip past some unpleasant part of his life. He kept tugging and tugging, giving himself permission to skip over more and more, until oops! he was dead. He skipped it all. If all we ever do is look forward to some better time in the future, then we’ll miss every joy the present can offer.

But it’s also possible to be so caught up in reacting to the present that we never fully receive it. This is the trap I’ve fallen into.

I think mostly about how I’m going to get through the unpleasant and unavoidable things that plague my day: How will I get myself to wake up enough to do the morning drive? How can I get dinner prepped in time so we won’t eat too late? How can I express the news that it’s time to leave the playground so my four-year-old won’t flip out? I think a lot about how I’m going to manage difficult things, but hardly at all about how I’m going to enjoy the good — even though there is plenty of good. And so the pleasures flit through my arms and are gone again, and off I hustle, arranging myself to deal with the next trial, tugging on that string to get through my day, my year, my life.

Well, that’s no good.

So, determined to realign my life, I set myself to look forward to things I can reasonably expect to enjoy.

And I didn’t have much luck.

I tried to tell myself I can look forward to putting dinner on the table each night, because it’s the culmination of hard work, and I should be glad and grateful to be able to offer hot, nourishing food to my children.

That didn’t go well. I blame the kids, who are terrible.

Then I thought I could look forward to the day itself. Normally, I hear my alarm and groan with dread at the thought of emerging from my cozy cocoon. Instead, I proposed to myself, I could reframe the morning as something to look forward to, and maybe it would help propel me joyfully out into the cold morning air.

That didn’t go well, either. Because I’m not a psychopath.

But then I hit on something else . . . 

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly

Image by Darrel Birkett via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Pain and pleasure, God and the fly

We always ask why there has to be pain in the world, but how often do we ask why there is pleasure? The sleeping fly will wake with a start and buzz off to another day of his meaningless life, driven by impulses, unaware that he is even alive, until one day he suddenly dies.

But I wake up . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Other people’s blessings

I’ve had to remind myself, over and over again, that couples who really do love NFP aren’t just lying. The “Oh, how I love the monthly cycle of courtship and honeymoon!” crowd haven’t drunk any Kool-Aid. They’re not necessarily undersexed, brainwashed saps who have never encountered true suffering.

 

They’re just different from me, and if I expect them to respect my struggles, then I need to learn to respect their joy.

Read the rest at the Register.