Category: Joy

Choose life!

You’ve made it to the final entry of Lent in our search for Joy!

One last author that I recommend you consider: Matthew Kelly is a 30-year-old Catholic who travels the world speaking to young and old about God’s dream for each of us: that we become the best version of ourselves.

He says we are physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual beings and that life is all about love. To be truly happy we must pay attention to our needs in these four areas:

  • Physical – Eat healthy foods, sleep enough, and exercise regularly.
  • Emotional – Focus on our relationships. Every relationship will blossom if we regularly spend carefree timelessness with the other, whether spouse, friend, or children. With time spent as if on vacation, we will move into the higher levels of intimacy like sharing our hopes and dreams, our fears and needs, and our efforts to become the best version of ourselves.
  • Intellectual – For ten minutes every day, read a book that challenges you to grow.
  • Spiritual – Our spirits need solitude, scripture, silence, and the sacraments. Matthew recommends we attend to Mass, asking God to show us just one way we can become better versions of ourselves this week. Somewhere in the readings, music, prayers, homily, or silence, we will be given that one message.

 

Matthew insists we all know deep down what will make us happy and better people. Yet, we don’t do what we know will make us happier and healthier. Why?

Because we are too busy.

What are we too busy doing? Working to attain things that we want, thinking they will make us happier. Instead, we should do the things he lists above, the things we need.

Things that really will make us happier.

He recommends we slow down enough to determine every decision by whether it will help us be better versions of ourselves. What we own does not matter. What matters is how we love – ourselves, the people in our lives, and our God.

When my daughters were in grade school we celebrated the approach of Easter with a poster that began with a caterpillar and a seed. Over the weeks of Lent the caterpillar grew through stages of development until it was a butterfly. Likewise the seed sprouted two leaves, a stem, a bud, and eventually flowered.

Now as Lent draws to an end and we prepare to celebrate Easter, the celebration of new life, let’s resolve to choose life.

  • Choose gratitude, rather than complaints. 
  • Choose simplicity over materialism and complexity.
  • Choose relaxation and renewal over busy-ness.
  • Choose trust, rather than insecurity.
  • Choose service, rather than meaningless pursuits.
  • Choose life!
  • Choose love!

 And may your choices lead you to Joy!

 Happy Easter!

 Betty Arrigotti

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants,   by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

For more information, including books and cds see www.matthewkelly.org

Service and Meaning

Let’s look at another path to Joy.

Viktor Frankl writes in Man’s Ultimate Search for Meaning that we all search to bring meaning to our lives. Some achieve it through doing or creating: an act of heroism, a painting, a garden, or a novel. Some discover meaning through relationships, by loving deeply and well. But most rewarding according to Frankl are those who, facing the unchangeable like suffering or pain, change themselves for the better.

Author Matthew Kelly writes in his book,  A Call to Joy, “Suffering puts us in touch with what is really important. Sacrifice spells out our commitment and confirms our love.”

Frankl says of a person who grows through life’s challenges, “He is actualizing himself precisely to the extent to which he is forgetting himself, and he is forgetting himself by giving himself, be it through serving a cause higher than himself, or loving a person other than himself.”

Jesuit priest Fr. Robert Spitzer speaks about  four levels of happiness.

  1. Satisfaction of the senses, the moments when we are enjoying tastes, sounds, aromas, sights or sensations. It is a low level, because it is transitory and self-focused.
  2. Comparative advantage – you feel better than another. Competitors understand this elusive happiness.
  3. Seeing good in others and doing good for others.
  4. A reach for fullness or perfection through the pursuit of goodness, beauty, truth and love.

“We get glimpses of the sublime nature of beauty, truth and goodness at rare moments in, perhaps, the arts (music, story, film) or nature, or when we are loved by or love others.’  But for lasting happiness of this level Spitzer says, “Only God in Jesus is perfect and, according to Christians, our ultimate happiness is found in relationship with God through Jesus (prayer, obedience to his teachings etc.) who overcame sin (separation from God).”

Frankl, Kelly, and Spitzer concur that one way to truly feel you are making a difference is by being of service to others. I watch the generation above mine and am humbled by their acts of service. My mother is approaching a major milestone birthday (beyond typical retirement age) and still is secretary for several organizations and serves her parish daily. My husband’s parents have also lived lives of service, from St. Vincent de Paul to Scouts, from backstage management to helping children with reading difficulties.

That’s fine, we might say, for people who are retired and have time, but how can I possibly add one more thing to my busy life?

They started early. Their retirement years are simply continuations of earlier years of service.

However, service doesn’t have to be a large commitment of time. In fact, you are probably already of service and just haven’t realized it. Every parent serves the needs of little ones. And every adult child can help her parents or his siblings. Beyond family, you might take a friend out for coffee, knowing they needed a chance to talk, or watch your neighbor’s children while she goes to a doctor appointment. Look at all the small services you do for people, and acknowledge the spirit of service within you. Focusing on that spirit, rather than feeling taken for granted, can shift our attitude and put us solidly on the road to Joy.

Remember that old bumper sticker, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty?” It only takes a minute to get a second cup of coffee to share. Or to put away laundry for someone who needs to study for a final. Or to take on a task for a coworker who is swamped. Share small moments of your time if you can’t spend a weekly evening or Saturday helping out.

Of course, there are many opportunities for more formal service to the wider community. Short term commitments offer us a chance to experiment with using different skills and might even help us determine a new direction in our lives. You could discover a talent at carpentry while working for Habitat for Humanity. You might find you are a natural with teenagers or coordinating groups or understanding spreadsheets. Or maybe you will reconnect with old talents that have gone rusty by helping with a school play or teaching Girl Scouts about vegetable gardens. If you have no idea what a new interest might be, or how you best can serve, these short term commitments can be invaluable experience.

Perhaps, though, you are seeking a long term direction for service. If you are looking for a vocation, whether through a career or apart from the work you do, I recommend you take the advice of Parker Palmer in The Heart of a Teacher,

“When I follow only the oughts, I may find myself doing work that is ethically laudable but not mine to do. A vocation that is not mine, no matter how externally valued, does violence to the self—in the precise sense that it violates my identity and integrity on behalf of some abstract norm. […] In contrast to the strained and even violent concept of vocation as an ought, Frederick Buechner offers a more generous and humane image of vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ […] The best inward sign of vocation is deep gladness. ”

Matthew Kelly agrees.  “In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the world, there is a whisper in the marketplace. The whisper is the voice of God. He is calling to you. He is beckoning to you. He is gently inviting you to a quiet place, and His call is a call to joy.

May you hear His call and follow it to your joy!

Betty Arrigotti

Simplicity

Simple Joy

Teachers of both Western and Eastern spirituality concur that one path to Joy is Simplicity.

Isn’t there something universally attractive about those who value simplicity? Think of the Amish, St. Francis of Assisi, the pioneers who fit what they needed into a covered wagon, the Native American culture, the self-sufficient monastic abbeys, or Mother Theresa.

I value simplicity, but I don’t yet live it. My house is cluttered with meaningful things— that is— things that I have attached meaning to. I want flowers in my yard that were favorites of certain loved ones and souvenirs on my shelves to remind me of travels or my girls’ childhoods. I take photos to mark every occasion and think of my boxes of books as old friends.

It is fine to enjoy the memories which our items inspire, but if we give too much meaning to things, they can become too important. Global awareness forces us to realize our abundance causes others scarcity. One element of simplicity is remaining detached from our possessions so that we can share and give away to those in need. The less we own, the less time we must devote to the care of our possessions. That time would be better spent in a myriad of ways: prayer, our own refreshment, pursuit of our life passion, or enjoyment of our loved ones.

That leads me to another break with Simplicity that impedes our Joy, Busy-ness.

Today’s culture declares we must always be busy, always productive, always struggling to catch up with the best. Even though technology advances were expected to provide us with more time for enjoyment, in fact, men and women are working longer hours. A generation or two ago women generally spent their days focused on family life while men focused on financially supporting the family. Now we are all expected to balance and even excel at homemaking, family life, fitness, and volunteering, as well as a career.

Granted, most people need to keep working full time and in this economy we feel blessed to have work. Beyond work commitments, we all want to see our children learning extra-curricular skills like sports and music. And our communities and churches rely on our volunteering. So we are all exhausted. An annual two-week vacation (laptops at the ready) is not enough.

God knew that. He told us that. He said we need a day every week to rest, get refreshed, and have time with our families and friends and time to know Him better. It’s one of the 10 Commandments and yet we seem to think it isn’t an important one. He asks us to keep holy the Lord’s Day reminding us, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27

Without rest, where is our balance? If your neighbor or good friend were sick and needed some help, would you have the time? Where is the time to be creative, to nourish ourselves, to play, and to pray? How can we grow in faith, or for that matter, closer to our loved ones without time to visit and share our experiences?

We need to incorporate respite into our lives. We need to retreat into the mountains or out to the desert to pray, like Jesus did. Nature and relaxation refresh our souls. But our spirits also require time every day in order to get our priorities straight. We need to live with a sense of mindfulness, not chaos, focused on what we are doing. The whole pattern of our day needs to center on God as an integral part of our lives. We NEED daily prayer.

What can we do today to simplify our lives and rededicate them to what is important? We’ll need to be brave enough to say, “No,” when careful consideration tells us that “no” is the right answer. Let’s finish the commitments we’ve made that are important but be very careful before making new ones. Unimportant commitments we can let go of right away. Does the yard really need more flowers or does the organization I belong to really need one more activity? Does the club reduce already scarce time with my family? Do my children really need to participate in sports they don’t like? How much TV is too much?

We could, if we were very brave, go further. Is this house more space than we really use? Do we need this many cars? What would happen if I cut back on my hours at work? Or the work I bring home from work? Can we change our lifestyle?

The path to Simplicity will be different for each of us but it will surely shorten the road to Joy.

Blessings on your week and on your reassessment of your lifestyle.

Betty Arrigotti

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