PRAY TO STAY CHEERFUL
We live in a sad world. It becomes even sadder when we lose a loved one or meet with some disappointments, even devastation. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Outside I laugh; inside I never laugh; the world is too sad” (Wa.186). In the early Church, sadness was the eight cardinal sin. The wise man held, “Even in laughter the heart is sad, and joy may end in grief” (Pr.14: 13). Modern man is being taught that he has the right to be in pursuit of happiness. If he plays his hand right, joy will come to him. Unfortunately, there are just too many of us running after the same things that supposedly could make us happy. What really can make us happy or what can cheer us?
Man is not some vessel with a lid. Open the lid and pour in cheer or joy whenever he needs it. Men and women differ immensely in what makes them happy. The definition of happiness, itself, is obscure and personal at the same time. We are very much led and governed by our feelings and needs, and not by our reasoning or rational minds. I know first hand what feelings will do when a loved one is being threatened. The heart, and not the mind, takes charge. Our likes and dislikes become the measure by which we measure. Feeling is guided by our desire to create happiness. When we shut out the mind, before we taste what could give us joy, we may end up bitter rather than cheerful. This precisely the first lady of the human race did. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made covering for themselves” (Gen. 3:6-7).
Every human being has repeated what Adam and Eve did. What their hearts and feeling desired turned their stomachs. When they woke up, from their intoxication, they were not wiser, but shameful. They had a terrible hangover. More than anything, they felt guilty for having disobeyed their own minds. Their attempt to induce joy turned into a life long sorrow. How long did it take to feed their desire and feelings? How long does it take to destroy a human being for the sake of pleasure? Alcohol, drugs and lust cause temporary outbursts of delight and then the doldrums set in and disable the mind. A mushy mind is no longer capable choosing between lasting and temporary joy. It is the healthy mind that builds a lasting joy that can cheer the human heart and put a twinkle in the human eye. Without the mind, we are but a shell. The heart feels, but the mind thinks and then sorts what pleases the heart. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm” (Doan p.162). The mind is the candle for the soul that shows the heart where it can find genuine and lasting joy.
There is a legend of a king who had six statutes erected to Prosperity, Beauty, Victory, Strength, Duty and Joy. He instructed his gardener to plant appropriate trees to resemble each statute. The gardener planted six palm trees. When the king came to inspect the finished project, he stopped at the statute of Joy and asked “I surely thought you would typify Joy with some flowering tree, like the tulip or magnolia. How can the serious, stately palm symbolize Joy?” “Those trees,” replied the gardener, “get their happiness from manifest and open sources. They live in merry forests and orchards, with hosts of happy comrades. But I found this palm tree fresh and green and happy all alone in a sandy waste. Its roots had found some hidden spring creeping along far beneath the burning surface. Then, thought I, the highest joy has a foundation unseen of men, and a source they cannot comprehend” (La.194).
Joy is one of the treasures we must store in our hearts, souls and minds. It is very much like faith and love a part of a solid foundation that grants us peace of mind in the midst of turmoil. One can be angry, at the world, but happy inside because all is well with our lives. It is the fruit of being at peace with God and man (Gal. 5:22). Someone wrote, “Mirth is never good without God” (Do.136). Jesus said, “Now, I am coming to you. While I am still in the world, I say these things in order that they may have joy, and that it may overflow among them” (Jn.17: 13). “This I have told you in order that my joy may be in you and that it may fill you completely” (Jn.15: 11). I felt such overwhelming joy at least twice in my life. There were many other occasions but the two were phenomenal. The first one was when I had made amends and asked everyone that I could remember to forgive me. I was so overjoyed that I did not even notice that I had been badly burned. The second time, a lovely young lady lifted me up on cloud nine by agreeing to marry me. That day, I forgot my keys to the dorm in Princeton, then my wallet and something else. I missed class that day altogether. I rejoiced because, God had indeed answered my prayers. She was very special for being willing to live with a scared handicapped husband.
Joy like love is not a gift but an attitude that one develops. Joy is something that has to be acquired or build and then stored in the mind. One has to grow with it, even age with it until it is part of us. It requires cultivating, planting and watering. Joy is a fruit and it will not grow or stay on an unattended tree. King George V had discovered this truth when he wrote these words on a Bible, “The secret of happiness is not to do what you like to do, but to learn to like what you have to do.” Josiah Billings observed, “If you ever find happiness by hunting for it, you will find it as the old woman did her spectacles, safe on her nose all the time.” And Maurice de Guerin made this comment, “It is the sweet, fine rain that penetrates the heart and later wells forth in tears” (Wa.161). “A merry heart is good medicine but a crashed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22). Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” (Phi.4:4).
How does one demonstrate contentment? Is smiling an accurate representation of happiness? Some insist that the face reflect the heart. I have sat down with very sad faces. WWII had taken everything from them. They found it difficult to talk about the past. But when they opened up slowly, “Rivers of living water poured for out of their hearts and tears out of their eyes” (Jn. 7:38). They were overjoyed with gratitude to the Lord for saving them from death and giving them a second chance to serve God. Prayers, hymns and tears were their expressions of joy. Their faces were sad, but their hearts were jubilant. They gabbed my hand with both of theirs and blessed me. Their hugs were firm and their hospitality warm. Their good byes were an invitation to return. They were mostly lonely people in an environment that had not experienced what they lived through. These people managed to keep their faith under the Nazis, the Poles and the Soviets. They had Joy in the hearts in the midst of fear. My father’s brother-in-law was a very faithful Christian, but out of fear sold his Bible to my mother in secret. My mother was unafraid to read it and my father had a hard time to explain to the Nazi leaders why his wife did not join in their merry making.
These people, including my mother, took Jesus comforting words in Luke 6:20-26 literally. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. But, woe to you who are rich, for you have already received what comforts you. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
I was ten years old at the time and a bit enamored with the Nazi exuberance. I am not proud to say that I believed in my heart, but did not exercise my mouth. All of us youngsters were cautioned not to incite the Nazis and raise more suspicion. We did have teachers from Germany encourage us to tell on our parents. Well, I of course declared in class that I would not. The lovely young teacher, twinkled with her eye, and said nothing and did nothing. She had to announce what she was instructed to do, but she did not report any one. She was a very cheerful and pleasant person.