We all know the studies and statistics about Christmas being hard on both our stress levels and our pocket books. Every year advice columns tell us to not put so much emphasis on the “perfect day”, the “perfect gift” or even the ever illusive “perfect family or relationship”. Often the advice is to drop all of our holiday expectations and do whatever makes us happy. However, often that too begs the question as to what really will make us happy. Most of us are keenly aware that self-serving behavior rarely gets us the joy we long for (If you are unfamiliar with Dickens they have made a movie about Scrooge which I would highly recommend. I particularly liked the recent animated Jim Carey version…). So where does joy come from? How do we find the “Eldorado” of inner peace and contentment?
Believe me I cannot claim to have access to the treasure map to help you find the happiness you seek, especially at stressful times like Christmas—and no one knows holiday stress like Ukrainian women who aspire to a “perfect” Christmas while preparing 12 dishes which include some of the most labor-intensive recipes known to humankind. However, I can tell you that although I am not “happy, happy, happy” I have a kind of contentment this year that I have rarely experienced. Before I go into my own story I would like to relate another.
My daughter worked as a server at a local restaurant. She told me about a lady who was one of the regulars who it seemed was a cancer patient. It appeared as though she had lost all her hair. On the other hand, she was always well put together, wearing lovely hats and outfits. But the most striking thing about this particular woman, according to my daughter, was her joy and peace. She positively radiated. My guess is that because of her illness she was on to something that most of miss in our day to day lives. It is this “something” that I believe I have come to know this Christmas.
In November, after taking ill in Ottawa while I was attending a Catholic Organization of Life and Family Board meeting, I ended up in hospital. While investigating my apparent intestinal infection I was told that a large mass had been discovered on my ovary. The news hit me like a “ton of bricks”. At that moment, everything changed. I went from everything going along fine, with a few bumps in the road that are to be expected in life, to a situation that was potentially life threatening. My mother had barely survived ovarian cancer when I was a teen so it was not unfamiliar territory, it is just I never thought it would happen to me.
Over the past month and a half, I have begun to navigate territory completely outside my comfort zone. I have dealt with uncertainty and delays, pain and sadness. I have also experienced an outpouring of prayers and support that is nothing short of miraculous and extremely humbling. I have not always been gracious and patient. I have often been short tempered and angry, living on the verge of tears. I have been through major abdominal surgery and experienced a level of debilitation that my fit and energetic self is completely unaccustomed to. I am still recovering very slowly. I still do not know if my cancer has been eradicated or if treatment will be required. Is cancer ever “eradicated”? It is a roller-coaster.
Through it all however, I am hopeful, joyful and at peace. In a large part, it is because of all the love, prayers and support that surrounds me. One thing about being very sick is that it can increase one’s ability to receive. This is not something I find easy being the mother of six and used to being the one who does for others. Really though I think all of us struggle with this to some degree. When you are flat on your back and cannot move, there is little else to do but receive. It is a ‘difficult’ grace.
You might say that the reason I am not experiencing my usual seasonal angst is that I have had bigger things to worry about. That may be true but something is different. I have had to articulate to myself and others what I really believe and what I choose to do about it. So, what is that, you ask? Well simply stated bad stuff happens to us all. God does not will it but He can and will bring good from it if we allow Him to. This does not mean I will understand it as the mind of God is so much more than I can comprehend and it is “ultimate goodness”. I do know that He loves me and desires good for me. When bad stuff happens, He can and does bring good from it even if I cannot see it. (Romans 8:28)
How does that impact what I choose to do? Well my life is in His hands. I will do what He allows with the time He gives. I will choose to love. I will choose hope. I will choose peace. Reality demands that I recognize that life is short—however much time we are given it will likely never be enough. And as Mark Twain has said “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
So, I choose to be happy regardless of my messy house, absent family members or imperfect perogies (along with my many other imperfections)! You can choose happiness too. What have you got to lose? God is with us! Jesus is knocking at your door. You are the innkeeper. You can choose to let him in or refuse to make room as you clutter your life with worries and unrealistic expectations. The time is now. What are you waiting for…Christmas?
Check out this TED Talk (click on the link below) for some science that speaks to the importance of building solid relationships in order to have a happy life. It is all about our decision and willingness to build connections with others–God, family friends and community. I would suggest that it makes a good argument for not only building relationships with family and friends, but also investing in a solid community life (Parish) within which we can support each other, work together to not only worship and connect with God (who created us, loves us and only wills our good) but also to become more “Christ-like” and make a difference in our community, our world and all creation. Yes, relationships require work, sacrifice and commitment, but what is worthwhile in life that does not require something of us? (Note: the TED Talk does not directly address the life of faith but if we understand our faith life as we should—a love relationship with God that spills over, sets right and blesses all our relationships—it all makes perfect sense.)