As a woman, I try very hard to maintain ‘control’ over my life. I’ve written about this – repeatedly. Its very difficult to try and maintain order amidst chaos of running a household without some element of ‘control’. I recently wrote about my attempt to instill the virtue of ‘meekness’ in my life. Its not very easy.
I had the blessing of being able to bake biscotti with the Dominican Sisters recently. They are an amazingly joy filled group of women of which I am still trying to determine exactly how I can abscond one or perhaps all of them to come and live at my home. Of course, that’s not the answer nor is it possible. I know that I must be a source of joy for my family. Ultimately, their joy must come from within, but – as a mother – I must be an example for joy by revealing the sources of joy to them.
While baking biscotti, I talked with Sr. Maria about my virtue paper I had received on the weekend of the retreat. She explained to me that meekness isn’t necessarily what we believe it to be, but truly means ‘having an appropriate response’. We didn’t have much time to delve into that further, but I appreciated her insight into the definition. It had given me much food for thought and I have contemplated it during my day to day activities since that encounter. One of the most ‘appropriate responses’ to any given situation is joy.
Over the holidays it occurred to me that I had ‘lost’ my joy. Its funny, but we forget that we are capable of joy until we experience it – even if only momentarily. I had realized this because of two experiences when I felt true joy – one was with theDominican Sisters baking biscotti. The other was during the Liturgy of the Eucharist during a Sunday morning Mass. It was the Sunday morning of my retreat weekend with the Dominican Sisters.
I had returned home on Saturday afternoon and went to Sunday Mass at our local Parish. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist while on my knees in prayer waiting to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, I felt a joy in my heart that I had never felt before during the Eucharist. It was a feeling as though I might burst inside at the excitement and anticipation of receiving our Lord and Saviour. I looked around and saw everyone looking so serious as they filed their way up the aisle to receive the Holy Eucharist. It dawned on me that, while quiet contemplation and humility are appropriate responses to preparing to receive the Eucharist – so is joy. I could barely contain myself. My face almost hurt from smiling so wide. That feeling has returned during subsequent Masses, though not as intensely as that very moment. It was a beautiful gift of grace from God to reveal the love and joy He wants for us to feel and can receive through the power of the Sacraments.
Sadly, I allowed myself to be robbed of joy over the holidays by what was a less than appropriate response to something entirely beyond my control. We had travelled to be with my husband’s family and were looking forward to visiting with them as it had been some time since we had been together. Our little family hadn’t been back to visit for a major holiday since the passing of one of his sisters in May, 2011. It was a bit of a milestone for us. One of his sisters had suggested hosting a lovely Christmas Eve dinner at her home. His parents had booked a photographer for early that afternoon in order that we might have family photos done since everyone would be together. Again, another milestone since the last family photo we had included his deceased sister just months before she passed. On the morning of Christmas Eve, we received an email from his sister hosting the dinner to advise that she had left town with her family to be with her husband who was away on business and unable to return for Christmas. She wanted to surprise him and take her kids to be with him. The email indicated that they had just landed and she was sorry for any inconvenience it would cause.
My response – I was livid. I was over the top and almost out of control livid. My anger completely overtook me – and I let it. In the middle of an absolutely crazy month of projects, I had done all of our Christmas shopping and wrapping early in order that we could pack everything and take it with us to his family’s Christmas. While we were only traveling for a few days, I packed for my kids and myself and took care of all the necessary details for our road trip. I did this with a sinking feeling in my heart because all I really wanted to do was stay at home and be in our comfortable little abode. I have been feeling anxious and overwhelmed with managing the work on my plate and the details of Christmas and planning a trip nearly put me up over the top. Needless to say, when I heard of part of his family’s decision to leave town without advising anyone after the efforts we had made – I felt utterly betrayed.
‘How could someone invite someone to come and spend the holidays and then leave after they arrived – and without telling them?’
I was ready to pack up the car and head home. I was a mess. My kids were upset at seeing me upset so I packed myself up and went out for a drive trying desperately to figure out how to pull myself together. I drove around looking at Christmas decorations. I even went to the Mall to try and find Christmas spirit there (not exactly an ideal choice on the day before Christmas!). I finally felt marginally acceptable to be around and decided to return to my husband and our kids at his parents’ home. I turned to prayer. I was so closed off to receiving any gifts of grace at that exact moment that even God couldn’t break through my armour of anger. I was still highly volatile and really not ready for prime time. I hadn’t yet been convinced I was even going to participate in the family photos. What was the purpose? Not even everyone was there!
When I returned, I saw the sadness in my daughter’s eyes and realized that I needed to get it together. I had allowed my joy to be robbed and it was robbing her joy. I was being entirely selfish and entirely inappropriate in my response. Yes, I had reason to feel angry – but I had no right to allow it to consume me such that it would destroy how everyone else was feeling. We were all disappointed and sad. I picked out a present from under the tree for my daughter to wear so she’d have something new and pretty for our dinner.
We ended up at my sister in law’s house for the photos and dinner. We did what we could to make the best of it. We took our family photos with our marginally sincere smiles and we enjoyed the company of those who were there.
Had I been a bigger person – or perhaps a little less overwhelmed to begin with – I might have responded in a way more in keeping with the idea of ‘meekness’. It was a great lesson in ‘joy’ because it was a moment where I allowed myself to be robbed of my joy. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of our Lord and Saviour. I had lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas. I had lost sight of my children and what Christmas meant to them in the excitement of seeing their cousins again. I had lost sign of what it meant to my husband to be with his family who were still there. I had lost sight of what it meant to be ‘meek’ and allow myself to feel joy.
The beautiful thing is that I have been able to reflect on what I have learned and it has provided me a reminder of being aware of those things that can bring joy – and hopefully be reminded to not rob myself or others of joy in the future. I stop and look at my beautiful children and find joy in their laughter. I look at the beauty of my surroundings in nature and find joy in the canvas that God has painted for me to look at. Perhaps most importantly, I can attend Mass and experience the joy that comes through the gift of grace received in the Eucharist.