Heart Makeovers

There’s something I’ve been thinking about, lately, and I doubt it’s going to be a neat and tidy blog post. My thoughts are a bit jumbled and I’m going to use this blog as an excuse to unscramble them.

At the first mother’s group I attended last week, the topic of “having joy while mothering” surfaced a lot. At first, I came away from the group a little disappointed that nothing really eye-opening was illuminated by the devotion and talk. But as the week wore on, I began to see that “joy” was an area of my life that needed a complete makeover.

I still find concepts that exist in my mind in their “pre-catholic state.” Vague, much-to-watered-down, cheerful soundbites that I have learned to spit out without them ever touching my heart or soul. Before I converted, happiness and joy were things I learned to proclaim that I had in the culture I was in. Much like when a baby learns to wave on command… That baby doesn’t really know that he’s greeting someone or wishing someone farewell… He doesn’t understand that concept, he’s merely imitating what he’s been taught for an audience. With that analogy, my faith life before 2013 sounds incredibly shallow. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t completely without Jesus, I just didn’t understand so much because of the culture of one’s spiritual life being very personal, and very individual… I didn’t know how to learn when I was left to myself. (Sure, I had quiet time, and I read the Bible, but understanding the concepts I was told to commit to my heart just didn’t happen on my own.) So I often just imitated what I saw others do in Church or talked how those around me talked. In my heart, I knew it was fake, but at least no one else saw the problems and I desperately reached out to God in my prayers to teach me what I didn’t understand.

One of those “cheerful faith soundbite concepts” that I never learned well was that of joy. To me, you threw around the words “blessed” and “Jesus” a bunch and focused on the positive things in your life. I’m kind of ashamed to see that written out, but perhaps I can learn some humility in this post too.

Anyway, when I took a look at that area of my heart after the idea of “joy in mothering” just kept coming back to me, I realized that my heart just hasn’t entertained true joy. I’m not sure I’ve ever really let the concept of joy enter my heart, it’s really only been in my head and coming out of my lips… How well can you understand a concept if you don’t open your heart to it?

I’ve been praying about it and thinking on it, and two Sundays ago, the gospel reading revealed some hard truths. The priest said, “if you don’t remember anything else from this homily, I want you to remember this question; where is your treasure?” It was then that I began to realize that my “treasure” was not in Jesus first, and that was why I wasn’t understanding the true concept of joy.

Joy isn’t a southern and spiritual cheerfulness we show off to strangers. Joy isn’t just the blessings we’ve been given. My husband, my child, my apartment, my faith even… Joy is what we are given when Jesus is our treasure, and no one can take it away. Sure we can give it away to anger, to jealousy, to fear… But if we KEEP Jesus as our treasure, it will stay.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling to find joy, even though my cup is overflowing. I think the reason is because I just haven’t truly understood it until now. I know it will be a battle to keep those vices from sneaking in and muddying up my desire for Jesus, but I feel a lot better knowing now where my joy is, and that I can ALWAYS have it.

I feel liberated to be able to “enjoy mothering” while having joy in Jesus. It’s not that motherhood is our joy, it’s that we can HAVE JOY while mothering and be happy in our vocation. So as for the mother’s group throwing concepts at me that I feel I’ve already heard a bunch of times, I’m going to say, “keep on keepin’ on, mother’s group. I need it.”

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4 thoughts on “Heart Makeovers

  1. Hannah, I started writing the below several days ago, but my thought started right after I read your post. The below is said the best way I can for the time that I can commit to it. I could re-work it and really turn it into a research paper, but the below is what I am able to send now. Thank you for making me think, even though the thoughts below may be scrambled and not at all what you were thinking. Thank you for being the beautiful person that you are. Give your husband and son a big hug from me for the happiness and joy that you bring each other and to all the others that your lives touch.
    Mrs. O’Brien

    I read your post first thing this morning, then pondered it during my regular prayer time following. “Joy” was mentioned so many times in the rote prayers that I pray every morning, but I didn’t really pay that much attention until this morning after reading your piece. So it gave me pause to think. I think the definition of “joy” has changed over the years. For me, “joy” always meant not necessarily “happiness”, but something that was the right thing to do. So I went to Webster’s and the internet following my prayer time and did a little research. (I won’t include those definitions here, but they were from a current dictionary, and several from the early 1900’s and mid 1800’s.) And yes, I do believe the term “joy” now appears to be almost synonymous with “happiness”, which actually changes the original meaning of it greatly. Happiness is something that is pleasant to the senses as well as the heart: a massage, seeing a beautiful sunset, having a quiet house, having a noisy house, having a great meal, Blue Bell ice cream, having a clean car, etc. You get the idea. But joy is something, as seen in the old definition, something that might not be happiness at that moment, but you know that it will bring happiness down the road; birth of a child (painful childbirth doesn’t say “happy” to me!), getting your college degree (don’t think happiness was the emotion during exam time), cooking that meal and making a complete disaster of the kitchen to produce that tasty meal. So joy is the emotion felt when you know you are doing the right thing, and that the end product will produce happiness. Jesus in the Garden; Jesus on the path of Calvary; Jesus on the cross… I don’t think Jesus’ emotion was that of happiness, but I do think it was one of joy in that he knew what the end would be – and boy would it be glorious!!
    The Joyous Mysteries of the Rosary came into clarity that morning as I prayed them: The Annunciation (don’t think that announcement made Mary happy – I would think more dumbfound would be the emotion); Visitation with Elizabeth (Mary was happy with her cousin, but I think every moment of every hour in the back of her mind was : how am I going to explain this to Joseph and my family!!); the birth of Jesus (the emotion would be that of “now what do I do? How did I keep this baby safe? – worry would be the emotion that she would have had); Presentation in the Temple (wow – someone just told you that you yourself a sword would pierce – yikes! Happiness – I don’t think so); and Finding in the Temple (this absolutely would be a happy occasion, but then it would bring anxiety as to what he had been doing there and that they really needed to keep him close). But would these 5 things be Joyous events, knowing the true definition of joy – absolutely, as we who see from afar can witness.
    I try now always to wish newly married couples “joy” instead of happiness. (I know there will be an acquaintance out there who will produce a long-saved wedding card from me wishing them happiness, but I’ll take that chance.) I don’t know if the recipient couple understands the difference between joy and happiness, but joy is the wish, as it indicates doing the right thing (husband cleaning the kitchen when he rather watch the game; wife watching baby as hubby goes to play golf) And being able to find the joy in cleaning the kitchen; find the joy in getting up with baby every hour for the last 6 hours of darkness; because if you are looking for happiness – those times are fewer and farther between. But if you look for the joy, you just have to be patient and the happiness will follow. In our culture, we want everything instantaneous. It doesn’t work that way for the true, good, and the beautiful. Joy is what we should all seek; and then happiness is what we will find, maybe not every time on this earth, but in the arms of our Lord and His mother.
    So be joyful, always, understanding what true joy means.

    • Wow, thank you, Mrs. O’Brien! I’ve read your comment a dozen times now, pondering your thoughts and sharing them with Daniel. I particularly appreciate the connection you made between Joy and Patience, as it really makes me do a double take when I’m doing something that is the right thing, but also something I don’t want to do. I had a thought that maybe the reason that the meaning of joy has changed in our usage of it is perhaps because of the diminishing place that faith gets in our culture nowadays. I was thinking that we just can’t have true joy (in the older definition) without faith (essentially, without Christ), and it’s no wonder that people are confused about real joy. If the connection between faith and joy is lost (along with patience) than the only thing that is left is “happiness” and “pleasure.” You’re right, it does change the definition greatly!

      I’ve been praying the Rosary almost daily now and finally familiarizing myself with the mysteries. It seems more often than not, I open my little rosary app to find myself facing the joyful mysteries and I’m always pondering those particular mysteries throughout my day, no matter what day it is. What you said about “seeking joy, and finding happiness, maybe on this earth, maybe not yet” really made those mysteries more clear to me!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reflections with me. I’m so grateful to get to have you in my life!

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