Saturday morning, chore day. There is a to-do list as long as my arm, and I am trying to decide where to begin. The girls had a sleepover the night before, and the boys are attending a Men’s Breakfast. I relish a few precious minutes to sit, think and read before the rush.
An hour passes, and my son comes in the door. He looks crest-fallen as he was invited to go to his friend’s house for the afternoon, and his father decided against it. He asks me to use his video gaming system, and I remind him of the weekend rules. Video games are off-limits on Saturday mornings in lieu of chores or other activities. The face turns from downcast to angry. He storms off to his room, and I find him a few minutes later crying. In his mind, there is nothing to do (when one is not playing video games, that is), and thus everything in life is boring and at the bottom of the barrel. He says negative things impulsively that I know he does not mean. But still. I don’t know quite what to say to all this. So on a whim, I distract him with a project.
Cleaning his room.
We begin to sort through his belongings and then start the process of de-cluttering his room. Surprisingly, he enjoys this activity as I have promised he can sell at the flea market what he discards today so as to buy a new bike. This works for him; I now have a committed, eager helper.
Two birds with one stone.
Slowly, a pile of items fills up the center of his bedroom rug. One thing after another is placed either back on a shelf or on the discard pile on the floor. We straighten bookshelves, vacuum under his bed, fold clothes and move furniture. The project takes the better part of two hours. When we finish, we are both in a better mood. I am happy the room is clean. Ever the business man, he is happy that he has so much to sell.
The remainder of the day goes better because of this one pivotal moment in the day when he chose to make an attitude adjustment from moping around and feeling sorry for himself to getting busy and keeping his mind off his current situation.
I can’t help but think of my own responses to life’s roadblocks when things do not work out as I plan them. How often do I get discouraged by the circumstances in my life that cause my path to twist and turn? When things don’t go as planned. When I am hurt or wounded, intentionally or not. When I feel lonely and isolated. When communication breaks down. When I don’t get my way. When I suffer. When I am downcast. In all these, it is easy to throw in the towel and just make blanket statements that life is awful or that nothing ever works out. What is the point in trying to feel joy when there is always going to be another roadblock along the way? Or, to put it milder, we sometimes say that life is a bowl full of cherries: it’s the pits.
It is hard to feel joyful. Most of life is hard, and a fair bit of life is down-right difficult. But, joy is not a feeling. It is a choice. We can choose to embrace it or not. Through our actions and by our attitude.
I spoke with a woman the other night about my interest in joy. When I told her that joy is what I am pursuing, she said to me, “You mean exuberant joy?” Not quite. Although that may be possible the close I get to knowing. What I am really searching for is a joy that is based on peace and contentment. Gratitude. Acceptance.
“No,” I replied. “That’s not what I mean. I am choosing joy even when it is not how I feel.” It would be nice to feel like I had laughing gas inside me for a while. If that is what exuberant joy entails. But, I would get tired of laughing continuously after a while. Life is not always that funny no matter how hard we want it to be. Exuberant joy. That’s not the kind of joy I’m after.
I want to feel that in the midst of my daily grind, there is something more that keeps me going. I can give in to the situation and allow myself to deflate or I can fill myself with a joy that allows me to see the best in whatever circumstances I might find myself to be. That is joy.
I want that kind of joy.
I watch my son in the pool tonight. Our family reward for a hard day’s work. He is happy and not showing a bit of the earlier sadness I saw this morning. He shows me his front crawl that he has almost mastered. I marvel in his strength. His eleven year old boyishness.
I do not ask him for I know. He chose joy. And for today, it has made all the difference.