My sister has a saying I’ve heard her holler at any of her four children when they are moping or grumbling or just being absolute pills: “Go spread your seeds of discontent somewhere else!”
I love when she says this. I think she may have picked up the saying from our great-grandmother, now long gone, who had 12 children. Great-Grandma Duncan knew how a grumpy attitude could spread like wildfire through her children.
But it isn’t just for children that I like this saying; it is a good reminder for me. I can get cranky. It is in hindsight that I can see how I have sometimes walked into my home, scattering my seeds of discontent thoughtlessly to my youngest in the kitchen and then to my oldest in the front room. My husband watches as I move through the house like a tornado until there are children picking on each other, stomping up and down the stairs, and I know I have succeeded in planting my seeds of discontent that have now taken root.
The Book of Proverbs says, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” (17:22) Sometimes I am better at being the downcast spirit. And yet, I do know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a cheerful heart.
My youngest has a cheerful heart. When he was a toddler, two of his nicknames were Cheerful Chap and Jolly Old Soul. To him everything is wonder and amazement and fascinating. Now at 12, he is a fountain of facts: “Mommy, did you know a shark is the only known fish that can blink with both eyes?” Or, “Mommy, did you know most people fall asleep in seven minutes?”
He is always Johnny-on-the-spot whenever any of us needs a helper. Take out the trash? He’s got it. Bring up the laundry from the dryer? No problem!
And I begin to notice how this cheerfulness is a gift. A grace. For that is what grace means, a gift, something freely offered. Proverbs says, “A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance.” (15:13) My son’s cheerful countenance is simply part of who he is.
I’m not as easily cheerful. When I am not, I know it is because my heart, the core of my being, is not centered on Jesus. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) When I am grouchy, I need to reorient my heart with Christ’s. When my inner orientation is focused on Christ, not on the circumstances swirling around me, my outward countenance reflects this.
Whenever I feel grumpiness, which is a form of unfocus, I return to the Examen. Lately, I enjoy praying the Examen at the start of my day instead of the end. I go over the past day. Where was God present? And where did my emotions take over? The Examen helps me to reorient my heart back to Jesus as I start my day.
I think it might be working. As I prayed through this morning and reviewed my previous day, I was reminded of a moment with a new acquaintance at the gym. When we introduced ourselves, she said to me, “I always appreciate how you have a smile ready for me each morning.”
May my cheerful heart be a gift to her. A grace.
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.