Yesterday I spent two hours trying to get E to take a nap, finally putting her in the car and driving her around until she fell asleep. When I was taking her out of the car, the elderly man next door walked out of his house with his unleashed dog, who proceeded to run towards me barking loudly, causing my neighbor to yell and scream and my dog (from his perch at the window inside the house) to howl in fury. Not only did this cause E to awaken, but now she was actually crying hysterically.
This incident clouded my entire day. It became a no nap day. My frustration levels skyrocketed, and E and I both suffered for it. My stress fed her grumpiness until we were both deliriously crabby.
Lying down to go to bed (finally, oh the wonderful sigh that comes with the feel of my pillow), I discovered in my reading that it was the feast day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. And just like that, before my eyes, I realized exactly where the day had gone wrong—and it wasn’t about the nap or my less than considerate neighbor.
The little daily lesson: to keep soberly and quietly in His presence, trying to turn every little action on His will, and to praise and love through cloud and sunshine—this is all my care and study.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
I had allowed my frustration and anger, my wants and desires, to get in the way of finding true joy in my day, and as a result had negatively impacted my daughter’s experience as well. Praise and love through cloud and sunshine. Before all else, let that be my goal. I should exert energy in that direction only; everything else will fall into place.
As if that message weren’t clear enough, I opened up my copy of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. She discusses foreboding joy, one of the ways we prevent vulnerability. We are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. When things are going well, we hold our breath, fearful that doom lies around the corner. Fearful of being truly vulnerable, we allow thoughts of disease, loss, struggle, pain, and suffering to cloud our moments of true joy, preventing us from ever really experiencing this profound emotion. We do it even when we don’t realize. Any mother who has ever held her sleeping baby in her arms, peacefully cradling her beloved little one, and thought, “One day she will leave me and go far away, and she won’t be my baby any more,” has done this. It is an easy habit to get into, trying to prepare ourselves, trying to worry our problems away, attempting to cushion the blows that lie ahead. Only its no way to live.
According to Brown’s ample research, “Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster. And we struggle with the worthiness issue. Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections? What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world? Who are we to be joyful?”
I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen into that trap. Who am I that I should have a health baby, a roof over my head, food to eat, and a husband who love me when all over the world there are people going without, parents grieving the loss of children, couples trapped in loveless marriages, people who long just to have clean water and full bellies? Of course we should feel compassion and do whatever we can to aid those suffering, but at the same time, denying our joy, not trusting the blessings God has sent to us, betrays our trust in Him and alienates us from him, ensnaring us in a web of fear.
What is the antidote to foreboding joy? Gratitude. Brene Brown interviewed countless people and conducted years of research, so she has the science to back it up. But before there were researchers trying to help us cope with our shame, there were the saints, guiding us, modeling for us, helping us find our way to Him. They all embraced gratitude. St. Elizabeth knew of what she spoke. Praise and love through cloud and sunshine. In embracing an attitude of gratitude, we praise God for all the blessings, big and small, that each day holds for us.
I open my long untouched journal and decide that today, this year, 2016, I will once again record a few things for which I am thankful, every day, the simple, little, beautiful things that make even a No Nap day one to be cherished.