At the beginning of the school year, our headmaster asked everyone to write a personal professional goal. I’m sure many focused on classroom management, lesson planning, sequencing or myriad of other teacher-related professional goals. But me? Mine was simple – and utterly difficult. A goal people work at their whole lives. Mine was – Be Happy. Yes, be happy. Two small words that pack so much punch, while simultaneously leaving you saying, “whatever that means….” For me – a person who tends to be overly critical, perfectionistic, ever self-improving and what I often call “realistic” (which is really code for a less dramatic pessimist) – being happy meant being more flexible, relaxed, open, and able to let things go in my life. It also meant enjoying my family and students as more than little vessels that I can task-master around. And when I made this goal in August, a small nagging little voice in my head said, “are you sure? When you make goals like this God often tests you.” I rolled my eyes.
And so the year began – with eye rolling, just what every truly happy person does. But really it started off well. My class this year is great. They are fun, excited about learning, easy and perfect for me because they are so task-oriented. Truly, I give them a task or directions and they get right to it (well most of them because you know….there are always those few….). I have never felt calmer or more at ease with myself. I have laughed – really laughed – with them this year, and been sillier than I have been with other classes. I have invested in getting to know them and introducing them to my family. We have a mutual love and respect for each other. Maybe year six of teaching does that to you. Or maybe they are special. Or maybe being a mom has made me more comfortable in my own skin. Whatever the reason – I have never felt happier. “Be happy!,” I excitedly exclaimed.
And then as the school year continued and Britton and Charlotte grew, we started to really seriously talk about moving. Just when I was starting to feel happy, I had to work through all of the emotions of leaving a place that has helped me grow up. I now felt nervous, sad, anxious, happy all at once. I also felt like I might be losing my identity by becoming a stay-at-home mom. I’ve always worked, always been doing school, who would I be now? The more I worked through it though, the more I realized maybe I could be happy doing that was well. I wasn’t sure yet, but I just kept chanting, “be happy, be happy,” hoping that my Dory-like attitude would make it come true.
But that little voice in August was right. And it recently emerged full-force, hand on hip, three snaps in the air finger wagging, and said in it’s sassiest voice, “I told you so. I told you, you would be tested. You didn’t listen.” or maybe life just happened. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
On February 27th, our sitter told us she could no longer watch our kids effective March 1. The next day would be her last. All her reasons for leaving only made us more upset. So I panicked and did what every person in the history of the entire world has done when things aren’t going well – I called my mom. And she re-arranged her life to fly out on Wednesday and watch the kids for a week or so, while we scrambled to find a permanent arrangement. But all we found were waiting lists, prices we couldn’t hope to afford, and dead ends. In fact, we are still searching for somewhere for them to go. And I attempted to whisper into a tear-stained pillow – be happy.
Then the following week, my fourth grade team and I underwent some major changes. This change required re-arranging teachers, adding responsibilities, and asking what seemed like endless questions. And so through rather gritted teeth, I grumbled “be happy.” But I didn’t feel happy.
Then I started thinking. None of these situations are happy ones – frustrating? Yes. frightening? Yes. Sad? Yes. Emotionally draining? Yes. But happy? No. And the more I tried to be happy the faker I felt. Happiness seems to cause us to deny our true situations, to mask over the reality of what we feel, to put on a smile and nod “fine” when we are really dying inside.
I realized maybe happiness was the wrong goal. Maybe I should have been attempting to find joy. God-filled joy, which acknowledges the hardship of one’s circumstances, but also turns your eyes back up to the heavens, and helps you to say, ” Everything seems bad, but God is still good.” It doesn’t put a smiling mask on your face, disguising the realness of life; instead, it gently tilts your chin up to help you see beyond the dust and dirt at your feet, to see the life that still exists. It lifts us out of the mire we feel stuck in, and helps us to say, “Lord, I trust you.”
Joy is realizing that although you need a shoulder to lean on or even to cry on, that you are lucky to have so many friends who have lovingly outstretched their arms to you, attempting to safeguard you from a small part of the storm.
Joy may not be loud. It may not be had with jumping or skipping or a sprawling smile. In fact, it is often just a “small and broken hallelujah.” But it is also deeper than happiness. It is deeper than happiness because it reveals more than it masks. It is deeper because it is from God, who acknowledges our sufferings, but loves us through them. He even calls us to rejoice in them.
I know that happiness will return one day, but right now I will keep working on finding joy.
And so this song has become my new mantra:
Although we are weeping
Lord, help us keep sowing
The seeds of Your Kingdom
For the day You will reap them
Your sheaves we will carry
Lord, please do not tarry
All those who sow weeping will go out with songs of joy