As a couple of lone parents settled in to watch their children’s swim lesson through the glass and perhaps catch up on social media, I sat down nearby with one of my four-year-old twins to wait for one brother’s lesson to end and his to begin. “Mommy, what’s that? There’s a white pole near the pool; what’s it for? There’s a basketball in a bucket; why? The big guy’s in the water with the little guys; what’s he doing?”
I glanced anxiously at the parents nearby, who appeared very engaged in their devices, and I quietly answered my son’s questions while reminding him that others might not want to hear all his thoughts about the pool. “OK, Mama, I’ll sit down. But wait, there’s a turtle! Why is there a turtle on that sign?”
I sighed, and noticing my sigh, my son said, “I’m just so excited about my swimming lesson!” His little body wiggled and shuffled around with the excitement, an excitement that also punctuated every word he uttered as a huge smile enveloped his face. Later, in the lesson itself, his toothy grin was giving him a little trouble, as closing one’s mouth is essential when trying to hold one’s breath under water. Such a clear example of pure, unadulterated joy!
I wonder sometimes at what point in one’s life journey unabated joy like that becomes tempered. When is the last time I couldn’t sit still because joy was demanding I stand up and dance and shout? When was the last time joy in the Lord caused the same reaction in me?
I remember when I was in high school, my theology teacher’s choir was invited to sing for our Mass. As the members of the local Congolese choir (a choir still active today) processed in at the start of Mass, the joy of being a part of the Lord’s Supper seemed to animate every part of their bodies as they danced and sang in unison—a witness to joy in the presence of the Lord. I expect that’s what God wants from us, to delight in God as God delights in us. So what keeps us from embracing and witnessing to that joy?
Several weeks ago during Mass, that same little chatterbox from the side of the pool was again having a lot of trouble containing his joy. This time, I didn’t know the exact source, as he tends to be a pretty joyful kid in general. As that same big toothy grin took over his face (happy despite the many times I had already admonished him for his wiggles), he suddenly said, “Mama, Jesus!” I looked from him to where his eyes were fixed, and I saw two things. One was the figure of Jesus on the cross that adorned the wall behind the altar—the most probable source of his sudden recognition of the Lord. But it was the second that momentarily took my breath away. His proclamation had occurred at the exact time the priest held up the large host that, as Catholics, we believed was now the Body of Christ. I thought, “Yes! Jesus!” and my heart was filled with joy.
Perhaps both of those images should fill our hearts with joy—the image of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the sign of his continued presence in the Eucharist. Lent, a period of penitence and sacrifice, is not often seen as a time for joy. But perhaps, instead of giving something up, we can work intentionally to foster and develop joy in the Lord so that when Easter arrives, we can dance and sing and say, “Look! Jesus!”
Photo by Raphaël Biscaldi on Unsplash.
Thank you for recognizing these Gifts , and for sharing human experiences from
God , to you!!
So true Gretchen! It’s a beautiful thing when children share their natural spontaneous joy in the Lord’s presence. I’m taking you up on your suggestion to intentionally foster my own joy in the Lord during Lent. Instead of controlling it, I’m going to work on sharing it. Lord, open my heart, and teach me to give the joyous child inside me room to grow and reach out to others.
That’s wonderful, Donna!
I love this! During Lent, sometimes I, like your son, squirm and wiggle to be solemn when so much grace abounds — and builds and builds to Hallelujah. Yes, let us adopt fostering joy as our Lenten discipline.
Thanks Carol Ann!
Before Christmas this year my 3 year old granddaughter saw the nativity set her other grandmother had displayed in her home. Upon seeing the baby Jesus lying in the manger she joyfully exclaimed, “Oh Grammy, I know this story!”
That’s awesome! Thanks, Martha!
Gretchen- What a joyful post! I agree and I think we would be giving something up by working intentionally to foster and develop joy in the Lord, we’d be giving up our own selfish focus on ourselves, our self-pity, and we would focus on how much God loves us and how blessed we are. And have the same smile as your son!
Wow, Joy! Yes pure unadulterated joy at the start of lent. Yes, it is only Friday after Ash Wednesday. Start of Lent. And I am startled by your article Gretchen. Why? Because the company I helped start 5 years ago is about to shut down. I just fired my second President. The first resigned 5 years ago. The current President gave the impression things were doing great. Then just a week ago she tells our small mancom, “we need to call for capital.” And I am feeling like a kid, about to explode with joy. Strage, this mixture of joy in the mudst of pain. So much pain. And by the end of this 40 days, I expect to EXPLODE with pure unadulterated JOY. Why? Because of how my Lord is leading me through the daily examen. I stumble into doing a colloquey with Mama Mary. She brings me to Jesus. Together with Mary I tell Jesus, “Lord we have no win.” We are about to go broke. And Mary and Jesus bring my heart to God the Father. I hear Jesus say, “Confront her.” As Mary and I bring my heart to Jesus. And Jesus tells me how to confront. And I do witnessed by my son who accuses me of being “heartless.” Coz I just asked for the resignation of my President. I I’m bursting with Joy. And I believe it can only escalate as I go deeper into Lent. What is going on Gretchen? Imagine you are my Spiritual Director. What will you say?
A friend of mine related this story about her very young granddaughter. Sue had tried to instruct Maggie very carefully about Jesus’ Resurrection. At the Easter Vigil on a chilly Holy Sat. nite as the deacon chanted the Exultet, Maggie suddenly burst out with “He’s Alive” He’s Alive!” and went about hugging those gathered around the fire – even if only at their knees. Maggie was very young. The little guy in this article would smile from ear to ear and dance with Maggie, I’m sure. Thank you for the article.
The traditional ways to practice Lent– prayer, almsgiving, and fasting — are means to help us to be closer to God. A sermon that forever changed my view of lent started with the image of a cat stretched out lazing in the sun. The priest suggested that this should be our posture during Lent, in order to receive fully from God without all of (our own usual distracting stuff) getting in the way. For someone like me, at the time a student feeling burdened to the max w Lenten practices “added on top” of everything else, and an empathic person in touch with the suffering of others by nature,this completely freed me up to sense that joy of God throughout Lent and have it raise up in me even more so in Easter.
There are NO words big enough to contain my gratitude to you for sharing your son’s wisdom.
Honestly – the closest I have felt to really understanding my faith has been thanks to my children’s words (they are now 35, 33 & 26), and now, thanks to my beloved 5 & 2 year old grandchildren.
Continue to be present – as difficult as it can be. (BTW: I am MUCH better doing this as a Nana vs. when I was s young mother.)
Thank you, Karen! Children do provide a wonderful lens to faith!