Robbing Myself of Joy

joyAs 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.

‘Thy will be done.’

Some weeks ago, on Election Day, our parish offered last minute Eucharistic Adoration for the day. We only offer Adoration on Wednesdays every week, but a special request was made as it was Election Day and our Priests very kindly agreed. Given the anxiety, I decided to go – not once, but twice – that day. I went for a short while in the afternoon to offer up prayers. Admittedly, those prayers were for what *I* wanted the outcome of the election to be. Sort of a ‘request’ of God.

As the day progressed and turned into evening, I felt more anxious and sick to my stomach than I had in some time. I couldn’t watch the returns and was determined to entirely tune out the mainstream media as they’d already made their preference for President known for over four years. Our family ate dinner and I felt overwhelmingly restless upon finishing. I had not signed up for a specific hour of adoration, but decided to go back to the Church again and stay as long as needed in order to return to a place of inner peace.

I should clarify and note that the place of ‘inner peace’ had been missing for quite some time. Several months in fact. Perhaps even as much as a year. It had become particularly bad as I was finding myself suffering regular bouts of insomnia where I would wake in the middle of the night with my mind racing through roughly as many topics on Wikipedia and doing so at the speed of sound. To make matters worse, I would drift back to sleep sometimes only minutes before needing to wake up for the day. These sleepless nights weren’t regular – but they were consistent.

I did what any good Catholic would do during times such as these… watch TV or go on the internet. I would pray now and then, but only very briefly. It wasn’t anything deep or meaningful and ended up being more rote than anything. I’m not entirely sure what I was trying to accomplish other than I knew that someone – likely my husband – would ask me in the morning, ‘Did you try praying?’. Of course – other than saying the ‘Our Father’ and some other prayers in a very rote and meaningless way – I hadn’t.

As I made my way into the Sanctuary, I thought about the craziness taking place in the country that day and how much it was contrasted by the calm and quiet at our Church. There were several people already there and they were those whom I would expect to be there praying.

I knelt down on the floor at the end of the pew. The stone floor felt cold and hard but the light was warm and the entire mood inviting. I prayed for God to guide me. I asked Him to share with me for what He wanted me to pray. I moved off the floor and made my way into the pew and knelt along the kneeler. I could feel Jesus’ presence so strongly that night. I took my rosary out of my purse and began to pray. I listened quietly to the intentions that God placed on my heart and began to realize the importance of prayer as a moment of conversion.

Yes, God wants us to pray. Yes, He wants to hear our petitions. But He also wants for us to  be moved in our prayer. He wants for us to experience ‘conversion’ and to move away from ‘my will be done’ and move towards ‘thy will be done’. None of our prayers come as any surprise to Him. God always initiates prayer through an offering of grace. It is up to us to receive that grace and act upon it. He wants us to spend that time in conversation with Him and not only share with Him our petitions, but to listen to Him speak to us in the silence of our hearts.

I saw the beauty in this so clearly during my prayers on this night. Instead of praying for one candidate to win over another, I prayed for a return of our country to His will. I prayed for our country to turn its eyes back to Christ and to accept Him into our lives and to let Him lead. Of course, He’s given us all the grace that each of us need to do that. He *wants* desperately for us to love Him and share our lives with Him, but we – as a nation – have decided that *we* know better and that our time here on earth is more important than our time spent in eternity. We have become the result of the instant gratification that we have been sold through mass marketing.

My prayers that evening became God’s prayers for us instead of what *I* wanted. I could see within myself, at that very moment in time, the conversion that was taking place during that period of meditative prayer. I listened still and quietly and heard God speak to me over and over and over again through the thoughts he placed in my mind and on my heart. I didn’t write it down at the time, but it is clear as day in my mind and I’ve already begun to act upon it in several different ways. I hope to continue to be able to do so as the days pass.

What was, however, the most powerful experience for me was His leading me in prayer. As an ‘organized Mom’, I have difficulty letting go of being in control – its counter to what society tells us we need to do! I learned that if I was willing to let go and let God be in control, even if it was just leading *me* in prayer, beautiful things happen and we experience His grace and His mercy. We can experience the beauty of conversion.