Do you ever have those days when a dark cloud seems to be hanging over you? Perhaps you didn’t sleep well the night before or health problems are gnawing away at your energy and patience. Maybe your kids are particularly ornery and you can’t get them to stop squabbling, let alone get them to do their school work. Or maybe you had a marital disagreement which has left you feeling deflated and depressed. It sure is hard to be joyful and kind on such days, isn’t it?
Here’s an excerpt from Evangelizing Our Children with Joy that describes the importance of being joyful even in the face of tribulations.
When I was a child, an advertisement came on frequently during one of my favorite TV shows. The advertisement was for a zoo famous for its aquatic shows. It had a perky, catchy little tune, and there were clips of laughing children, smiling parents, and dancing dolphins. The song always ended with the words “Happiness is Marine Land.” I saw this so many times, and the message became so engrained in my mind, that I began to believe it. I had to go to Marine Land to be happy, and I was so convinced that I was able to persuade my parents to take us there.
We saw the dolphin show. We looked at all the other animals. We ate hot dogs and ice cream. It was a lovely family outing. And yet, when I returned home, I had a rather unsettling feeling because I realized that happiness was not Marine Land. I wasn’t any happier for having gone. I had expected that Marine Land would elevate me to a new level of happiness, and it did not. I had been duped by that advertisement with the laughing children and the perky little tune.
All children, like all people, search for happiness. The quest for happiness is part of our longing for God, who alone can fulfill us. But, like any of us, children tend to search for happiness in fun, novelty, and pleasure. We need to show them where true happiness lies, which is in union with God. The closer we are to God, the more we unite our will with His, the happier we are.
It seems to me that the happiness of a soul consists entirely in conforming to the most adorable Will of God, for in so doing the heart finds peace and the spirit joy and repose. – St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
But how do we teach such an abstract concept in a concrete manner that children will understand? How do we prove to our children that true and lasting happiness is found not in toys, candies, novelties, and fun, but rather only in union with God? By our JOY, the joy that comes from living the Gospel.
Children, by their very nature, are joyful, and they are very attracted to joy. The best way to evangelize our children is to be joyful, cheerful, and light-hearted. You can bring them to church all you want, send them to Sunday school, teach them the catechism, and pray with them daily, but unless they see, by your life and example, that the Gospel is, indeed, Good News, and tidings of great joy, it will be hard to convince them that faith is the key to happiness.
“Save us from sour-faced saints!” wrote St. Teresa of Avila. Here is a saint who suffered much: poverty, sickness, painful migraines, constant obstacles, difficult people placed in her way, and forty years of spiritual dryness! It would have been easy for her to be sour-faced. And yet she is known for her cheerfulness, her sense of humor and her contagious laughter. By her joy she attracted many young women to her order and to a life which they knew would be filled with poverty, discomfort and hardship. How attractive joy is!
As mothers, we too can suffer much: complicated pregnancies, colicky babies, sleepless nights, sick children, our own health problems, difficult teenagers, financial stresses, and so on and so forth. On any given day there could be half-a-dozen problems that could cause us to feel moody, grumpy, annoyed, irritated, frustrated, or depressed.
And yet we are called to evangelize our children with joy. Joy! Being joyful doesn’t mean that we have to be giddy or that we have to feel happy all the time. For joy is not simply an emotion. Joy is a state of being which transcends sufferings, trials, and worries and manifests itself in cheerfulness and lightheartedness.
Our children, who are often very in tune to our emotions, need us to be joyful. And while joy itself is not an emotion, it does keep our negative emotions in check. It helps us to control our feelings of anger, sadness, irritation and impatience. As long as we are sad or angry, our children can never feel completely at ease. They are anxious and uncomfortable. In the back of our minds, we know this and perhaps that is why, when we are upset or moody, we often feel like bad mothers. We feel inadequate and discouraged. We must learn to overcome such emotions and beg God for the grace to be cheerful.
As our children get older, if we constantly give into our negative emotions, they will notice the disconnect between what we profess to be our faith and how we actually live it. When children approach their teenage years, they become increasingly critical, not only of themselves, but also of their parents. They will see, with increasing acuteness, our own weaknesses and faults. Does that mean we have to be perfect by the time our oldest turns twelve? Heaven forbid! But it does mean that we have to struggle heroically against our faults. We have to put a continuous effort into being cheerful, and we have to cultivate joy and kindness in our hearts. Then our children will see the unity in our lives, the beautiful cohesiveness between our faith and our every day life. They will see our joy in spite of our tribulations. And they will know, by our example and through the grace of God, where to look for true and lasting happiness.
So how do we arrive at this state of being, joy, which is so essential in evangelizing our children? Joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. The others are patience, gentleness, self-control, charity, peace, kindness, goodness, generosity, modesty, faithfulness, and chastity. The Church describes these virtues as fruits because they are good habits which must be cultivated by constant practice and by God’s grace. It seems to me that if joy is a fruit, then the tree that bears this fruit is our relationship with the Holy Spirit. The stronger and healthier our relationship with the Holy Spirit, the more fruit He will bear in our souls and in our character. And the basis of our relationship with the Holy Spirit, the roots of this tree, I believe, are a clear conscience, gratitude, and trust.
It’s one thing to know that we need to be joyful. But it’s an entirely diffferent matter to actually be joyful. Smiling can sometimes be one of the hardest things in the world to do. Pulling ourselves out of the doldrums can feel like an impossible task, especially in the midst of suffering. But with God’s grace we really can do it. He can help us cultivate that joyful heart and kind spirit which is so necessary in raising happy, holy children.