Walking quietly into the small chapel, I reached my hand to the holy water font and made the sign of the cross. Holy Spirit, protect me from all that would try to rob my joy.
I felt like a living contradiction. I had recently suffered my sixth miscarriage. My four young children were taking a toll on my health and my energy. My husband’s very demanding job as a young lawyer required him to be away for many hours. And it was the start of winter. But I was a Christian—I should be happier.
Recently, someone asked me if I was happy. I said “yes,” but later I thought about it and wondered if that were really true. I was still mourning the young child that went to be with the Lord, after all. And I was still experiencing the aftermath within my body—fatigue and hormone imbalance. On this day, though, in sight of the tabernacle, I thought of the Scriptures I had heard at Sunday’s Mass, the same ones we heard today:
For God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.
The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy. Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.
And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
There it was again—joy.
And then I realized that “happy” was the wrong word to use for my life. “Happy” was when something fun was going on, and I was part of it. “Happy” was my response to something outside of myself.
But my life was hard. Mothering four children from age one through six took everything I had. Before I had children, I was happy when singing with my folk group. I was happy practicing the piano. I was happy dancing. Those activities weren’t entirely lost, however, now that I was a busy mother. I was filled with joy when I sang “happy God songs” with my children. I was filled with joy playing the piano, despite my children playing along beside me. And I was filled with joy when we all danced together.
Unlike “happy,” joy was a choice I made while living out my vocation. I made that same choice every morning. Joy was knowing I was living in God’s will. Joy was experiencing a deep and abiding peace, even when times were tough or I was in mourning. Joy was living in God’s presence, asking for the blessing of his Spirit, receiving him in the Eucharist. I did not need excitement to be filled with joy. I simply needed to choose him.