Sunday, November 28, 2010

Choosing Happiness

I'm still feeling a bit stunned by an experience I had tonight while watching a movie. I want to just hold on to that for now, so that's all I'll say about the movie. But in response to it, my heart feels like making a sort of declaration: I am going to be happy.

Now, this isn't a statement of a future plan, as if I'm feeling unhappy, currently. It is more of an assertion that I deserve to be happy. Maybe it feels more theologically comfortable for me to say that God created me for happiness, and I will live as God created me to live. Maybe that's just too complicated. For the moment, I'll stay with "I deserve to be happy."

Seems weird, doesn't it, for someone to struggle against their own happiness. We are made for happiness. I once wrote a whole blog post about what the Catholic Catechism has to say about it. All I can say is that I have been at war against my natural desire for happiness for as long as I can remember. Maybe we all do that? I don't know enough about every other person on this planet to answer that. (Tell me if you think it's true for you. I'm interested.) I think that somehow I felt that my happiness would hurt others around me, especially those who were not happy. Happiness became something I had to hide, squelch, sneak, or deny in an attempt to... keep others happy! How stupid! But how perfectly descriptive of how I have lived! This has really affected my spiritual life over many years, because I "had to be" so private about my happiness. So many life decisions I hesitated over because I feared that the happiness I found in my decision would wound someone close to me. Or, because I was so bound up worrying about disappointing or upsetting someone, I failed to put energy into discerning well the decisions that were in front of me.

I think this all goes back to a child's wish to be able to wave a magic wand and to make all the world's problems go away. To make all my world's problems go away. I remember several years ago, maybe ten now, watching Shirley Jackson's The Lottery (the movie version, obviously). I remember that two things struck me: First, the people were performing a sacrifice, a horrible, unthinkable, and deeply anti-Christian sacrifice, in order to keep the world as they knew it in orbit. Second, this mirrored something in my life. It was deeply disturbing, and I remember going to Mass soon afterward as if I were waking up from a bad dream, and thinking about the sacrifice of Christ and how it was for me... as if I were meeting this truth for the first time all over again. Grace works deeply, and God is so patient to see His work accomplished. To seek to kill off one's own desire for happiness to accomplish the "salvation" of someone else is anti-Christian. My desire for happiness is my desire for God. Unhappy people in my life do not need more misery to surround them. Just like I do, they need God, the One they, in their unhappiness, are seeking.

It's hard to be happy around an unhappy person. I'll never forget a brief exchange I had with a priest, my former spiritual director, Fr. John Campbell, S.J. He wasn't my spiritual director at the time, but it was a few weeks before the first time we met in that context. We had already been introduced and I'd been attending his daily Mass for many months, so we knew each other to a degree. It was after a Sunday Mass, and for some reason I don't remember, after Mass I was sobbing my little eyes out. I was standing in the main aisle of the church when he passed by me and said, purposefully, "Have a good day." It seemed such a strange thing to say to someone who was so obviously sad. But it struck me that rather than him trying to wallow down into my sadness, he was trying to invite me to come out into something better.

Is it not so much better to feel one's powerlessness in changing another person but stay united with Christ in hope than it is to gain some sort of twisted sense of power by making of oneself a pagan holocaust? If I just make myself miserable, that will help you! How silly. The only good I can ever offer anyone will come from Christ through my relationship to Him. That relationship comes first, at all cost.

Even the cost of finally accepting that God wishes for me to be happy, and therefore I must embrace that wish of His as my own.

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