It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy – Part 215 July 2014
The Lord in His mercy has taught me a hard lesson. You see, I’m the type of person who complains—a lot! My entire life I have tried to find that mystical and mythical pot at the end of the rainbow—I have been searching for the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect school for my kids, I have been a restless soul always on the lookout for the next big thing. No matter how many blessings the Lord has bestowed me with I have had cause to grumble. Why can’t I be happily married? Why can’t I live in a big house in the suburbs? Why oh why oh why? Why can’t I have a well-paying respectable job? Why me?
In my thirst to better myself I have trekked around three continents, changed addresses 35 times, dreamed of paking my belongings and moving to jungles in Costa Rica or island villages in India. I am absolutely nuts! I have never been happy with what and where I was. My daughter who has suffered through all my mad dashes to “get ahead” which have resulted in her changing elementary school four times before she got to middle school (changes that included a mid-transcontinental move to the Midwest and a transatlantic move to the Middle East) has summed up the matter for me very succinctly: “Mom, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you do, you will never be happy anywhere.” She is absolutely right. I am so restlessly unhappy I cannot find fulfillment anywhere. I keep circumambulating the globe thinking I can find that place I yearn for where people are connected , where they share sympathy and apple pies along a long picnic table. But this place doesn’t exist. I used to think in the rosy glow of youthful idealism that I found that place; it was called Barcelona and the Costa Brava. But then the man I had married at that time relapsed into drug addiction and I had to abandon a great job and a great apartment in a chi-chi section of that city to escape in the darkest midnight with a 5-month old baby swaddled in a hanging baby carrier under the threat of his killing me and denouncing me for kidnapping. I lost everything in a matter of a couple of weeks. Hell kind of blew up in the middle of what heaven I was concocting.
Now that I am older, the glasses are off and the stark reality of hard won experience has set in. There is no heaven on earth. A woman can travel the whole world over looking for something but in the end has to return home to find what was missing.
That “home” is the true heaven, the one we can only find through a close intimate connection to God. Christ has taught my soul a deep lesson—that one thing I was looking for was Him. No one can find peace without the only peace possible and necessary. It is the peace that lies within. Every attempt by human beings, however ideal and well-meaning, to create a communal utopia, a heaven on earth, has ended in delusion, disappointment, and worse, tyranny. The closest I have seen to utopia is a monastery. And that is because the focus of such a community is God. “Our souls will not rest until they rest in Thee” St. Augustine remarked. Our soul will not find fulfillment till it has established a home for the Holy Spirit within it.
Now that my life has become really brutal—now that I have come to grips with really a bitch of a boss, with real economic uncertainty, and real deprivation—I look back at my grumblings and want to kick myself in the butt. How stupid! How foolish I was to confuse blessings for troubles. How ungrateful! What an overbearing grumbling tiresome woman I must have sounded to the Lord. No wonder He’s put me through “hell” to make me see how in all things I must glorify God. Now when people ask me, “How are you? How’s your job? How’s your kids?” I stop myself from complaining and say, “Doxa to Theo,” “Glory to God, I am good.” For now I have learned that it is not what troubles and persecutions you are put through that determine whether you have it “good” or whether you can have peace or not, but rather the spirit of holiness, of patience, and gratitude that makes you happy.” The kingdom of heaven, the Lord has said, resides in you. And in order to acquire heaven, peace, or “home,” I have had to learn to stand still. I cannot move anymore. I have neither the money nor the time and three children act as pretty good anchors.
I have been taught the hard way to seek the Lord quietly, methodically, patiently—like a bird watcher or one who wakes early to see the sunset creep and then explode in majesty before them. Through my daily prayers, through the cycles of the seasons and feast days of the church, through my obedience to the counsels of my spiritual father (he warned me about moving to faraway places), I am learning to make heaven out of this plot of hell I am standing on at the moment. And there is no heaven without listening to the voice of God, that whispers in the secret chambers of silence that curl into sinuous swirls of eternity like some Caribbean conch. Only by learning to bless even the darkness of my pathetic, sin-filled life, only by learning to bless what I once cursed, can I find the heaven that exists in the everyday hell I live through. “Be ardent in your labor and you will find God in your cooking pots,” Theresa of Avila said.
And I know the closer I come to the Lord, the more the spirit of peace I will acquire and the joy, that ineffable joy that I lost through the dark journey through Mordor and the valley of the shadow of death, that joy will return again. And I will with a joyous heart filled with peace cry out to the Lord for the whole gift that has been my life—“Doxa si Kyrie”—“Glory and thanks be to You oh Lord. I am truly thankful.”