hap·py – adjective \ˈha-pē\
: feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.
: showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment
: pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc.
Last night before heading to bed, I noticed popcorn bowls and juice box wrappers laying on the end table in the living room. I already had spent a good part of the evening straightening up the house, making sure mail and homework were accessibly stashed, and negotiating with our oldest son to put away the chips and salsa if would throw away his beverage container. (To be fair, he did put the popcorn container away for me when I couldn’t reach.)
“You guys need to bring your popcorn bowls to the kitchen and throw away the Capri wrappers,” I announced to the other two boys, no longer willing to negotiate. They hesitated, they groaned, but eventually they shuffled into the kitchen and put their things away.
We need a better system for the clutter that accumulates around us. Otherwise, I spend a large part of every evening cleaning up after the high tides of pre-teen and teenage boys that leave trash and laundry and toys and ear buds scattered in their wake.
We’ll figure it out, eventually. We did, afterall, solve the towel-on-the-floor problem.
At our old house, I would often go upstairs after morning or evening showers and find wet towels mingled with smelly clothes strewn across the boys’ bathroom floor. The only time we didn’t find such a mess was when we remembered to say, “Don’t forget to bring down your towel and clothes when you’re done.”
At our new house, we solved the problem. We put a laundry basket in the bathroom! Now, the wet towels and dirty clothes end up in the basket, and I haven’t once had to ask that they be picked up off the floor. Why did it take a new house to arrive at such a simple solution?
It’s like the sidewalks from my college days. When I was a student at Taylor University, students often took shortcuts through the grass. But so many students eventually started bypassing the walkways that soon the grass was worn away and replaced with a dirt path, muddy when it rained. University officials were unhappy. Announcements were made about walking in the grass. Ambling was allowed, tramping was discouraged. Rumor had it that one grass-loving accounting professor threatened to lower the grades of anyone caught walking deliberately.
What could be done to solve the problem?
The next year, we returned to campus to find a new sidewalk where the muddy path had been worn. A simple solution. Why didn’t we think of it sooner?
In my life, many things are going well. In my spiritual life, family, church, neighborhood, friendships, and work, I am experiencing growth, finding fellowship, enjoying success, solving problems. I spend big parts of every day happy and satisfied.
But at the same time, some things just aren’t working. I am not as patient as I’d like; I don’t communicate well sometimes; I don’t see my friends very often; I don’t know most of my new neighbors; I don’t get as much done as I want during the day; I have to turn off the light in one sons bedroom every day. And this is just the list I’m willing to share. There are others.
Some things I can change. And I do. Some things I can change, and I don’t realize it yet. Some things just can’t be changed. And no matter how many solutions I come up with, no matter how many things I tweak and adjust, I’m stuck.
Or, maybe I’m not.
Not too long after the university added a sidewalk to replace the grass path, students began bypassing that sidewalk, too, wearing another path in the grass to create yet a shorter cut to class. Was another sidewalk the answer?
If I remember correctly, they did add another sidewalk or two, just enough to keep most of the students from tramping on the grass. Those who did weren’t enough to wear new paths.
And in the end, there was enough grass for ambling for everyone.
I couldn’t help but think of the Serenity Prayer that has become a staple of 12-step programs and inspirational posters, the prayer penned by Reinhold Niebuhr that actually goes beyond the stripped-down popular version.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
It’s not just the serenity and the wisdom that are important here. It’s also the grace. And it’s not just accepting that’s important, but the trusting and the surrender.
And truly, it’s not just about being reasonably happy. It’s about one day being supremely happy with Him forever.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
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