What About Joy?

People have had a habit of asking me two questions over the years.  “Do you know anyone nice I could date?” and “Considering all the tragedy in your life, how do you maintain your joyful attitude?”  The answer to the former is always the same: “No, I am sorry, I do not.”  The response to the latter is more complicated and challenging to explain, so I generally fall back on simplistic answers like, “I believe in God” or “My faith sustains me”—both of which are true as far as they go, but they don’t really attempt to answer the question.  So, today I’m going to reach deep and try to answer this latter question more honestly.

First, it seems to me that part of the answer is in my DNA and my natural tendency to really love life and living.  I may be a senior citizen with an AARP membership, but I love this life!  The first snowfall makes me giddy, as does the first 75 degree day in May when it’s sunny and beautiful.  I also love to play, whether it’s on a swingset or rollerblading in Foster Park or playing tennis or “turning up” at a rave.  It’s all good and I love it all.

This leads to the second point, which is that there is no one secret for living a joyful life. Those of us who move through life joyously have not necessarily been blessed with lives of abundance, love, success, and prosperity. We have, however, been blessed with the ability to take the circumstances and storyline we’ve been handed and creatively make them into something great. I’ve often used the line, “Perception is reality” and I say that because our individual realities are colored by perception: delight and despair come from within rather than without. Situations we regard as fortuitous engender positive feelings, while situations we judge inauspicious cause us no end of grief.

Because this is true, we can move to the third layer, which is that if we can step back a bit and look at all we have accomplished in life without dwelling on our perceived misfortune and make each new circumstance, each bump in the road our own, the world as we experience it becomes a grace-filled and graceful place. A simple shift in awareness can help us recognize and unearth the hidden potential for personal and outer world fulfillment in every event, every relationship, every duty, and every setback.

So, now you know the rest of the story! Have a blessed and joyful week.

Fr. Michel

I’m not saying that life is easy: it is not.  Nor is it for the faint-hearted.  The universe is often an unpredictable and chaotic place, and for many the tendency is to focus on the negative and assume the positive will care for itself. This doesn’t work because life can never be more or less than what we make of it. For example, if we are working in a job we dislike or where we feel limited, we can concentrate on the positive aspects of the position and approach our work with positive energy, knowing that we are open to learning whatever it is God needs us to embrace. The job may never become something we “love”, but we can learn to perceive parts of it that we do love.  Likewise, when faced with the prospect of undertaking a task we fear, we might view it as an opportunity to discover how far we can bend to accommodate the new challenge. By choosing to love life no matter what crosses our path, we can create an aura of joy that is truly infectious and serves as a harbinger of fun for all those around us.  A change in perspective is all it takes to change our world, BUT we must be willing to adopt God’s own optimistic, hopeful mind-set.

To make a conscious decision to be “happy” is not enough. We have to learn to observe and embrace life’s complexities through the eyes of our inner child,  seeing everything for the first time. And we have to furthermore divest ourselves of preconceived notions of what is good and what is bad so that we can appreciate the rich insights concealed in each stage of our life’s journey. What we have in this stage of life needs to be embraced joyfully and fully because if there’s one thing we know for certain it’s that life’s circumstances are always shifting. As we gradually shift our perspective, our existence will be imbued with an authentic  joy that will carry us through whatever life gives us.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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