Betty Duffy

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Advent-y Re-run

My friend Pedge never yells at her children. I’ve been watching for many years, hoping to catch her in a weak moment. So many mothers yell, if for no other reason, to let witnesses know that they care about their child’s misbehavior. Not Pedge.

I’ve asked her husband, “So what really happens when we’re not here? Doesn’t she ever just go crazy?” No. Her husband attests, she does not raise her voice.

Irene and I asked her the other day, how she does it. What kind of superhuman power is required to rear five children and never raise your voice?

“I just tell them, you can get dressed, or not get dressed. I’m leaving in ten minutes, and you’ll be in the car in your clothes, or your pajamas. But you will not steal my joy. You want to throw a tantrum about something? That’s fine. I’m going to continue what I’m working on and I’ll get back to you when you’re done. But you’re not going to steal my joy. It’s mine, and you can’t take it.”

Genius. Why should I let the misbehavior of my children blindside me into getting angry? I didn’t ask to be an angry person. In my bones, I am not an angry person. If I spend too much of my life being angry, it’s probably because I give away my joy too easily. I’m not going to do it anymore.

Last night, one of my boys attempted to kick me when I took his book away to turn out the light. He knew better. It was uncalled for. My husband’s out of town this week. We’re all tired, and on any other day of my life, I might have unleashed on him a mouthful of spittle words and flying spank hands.

But as much as I didn’t deserve to be kicked, I really didn’t deserve to have my day end in anger and regret.“You may never kick your mother,” I said, firmly, but not yelling. I took him by the shoulder and marched him downstairs. “You’ve got five laps.” They run laps to our fence and back, which gives us both time to calm down.

“But it’s cold!” he whined.

“That is why I have purchased for you a hat and coat.”

“But I’m tired!” he whined again. If anything steals my joy, it is unrelenting whining. I can be calm through the first few times, but after awhile I pop.

“That’s six laps. And I’ll give you another lap for every word you say. You can run all night if you want. But….You Are Not Going To Steal My Joy.” He didn’t know what to make of that. I think it was the first time he had heard his behavior framed in such a way, that it had potential to steal something from another person. He went out to run. And then he came in and went to bed. I didn’t hear another word from him all night, except for an apology.

My success caused me to look at some other areas in my life that are robbing me of my joy. I’ve felt lately, a little man-handled by “Christmas Spirit.” The pressure to spend money, to prove that I have a benevolent heart, that I can help the economy, that I love my children, that I’m game for a gift exchange comes from every corner.

My kids are old enough to be aware that the Santa who comes to their house is not the same Santa who visits their friends. I’m not getting them much this year because they have more than they need, and can comfortably store. And I’m not going to beat myself up about it. My joy will not be less on Christmas morning because there are fewer presents under the tree. Not sure what to do with their disappointment yet, but I know it’s not going to steal my joy.

I’ve noticed a creeping sense of grinchery on my part, as I go to Church and one of the petitions is, “And in this busy month of Advent, let us not forget to pause, and remember the real reason we celebrate the Season.” The school principal offered a similar platitude after the school play Tuesday night. Our kids had just spent two months learning songs about Santa and how they don’t want slippers for Christmas, but simply by “pausing” to offer Jesus a quick thought, everything is put into perspective?

Well, I’m Not Going to Let it Steal my Joy. This experiment has helped me to realize something about the nature of joy. First of all, it’s a practice. I’m not saying that as soon as I decided I wouldn’t let anyone steal my joy, I never yelled again. Matter of fact, I yelled five minutes ago, while I was writing this. But it caused me to examine, “Where is this impulse coming from? And what can I do to prevent it?”

Where platitudes are concerned, I dislike them because Jesus is not just the reason we celebrate the season, he’s the reason for my entire life. I don’t like the idea that I have to cue up warm fuzzy Advent and Christmas feelings simply because I’ve pressed the pause button on my crazy life. It so rarely works and then I feel disappointed.

My anti-commercialism cannot remain satisfied in its anti-ism. It has to find its purpose in an embrace of finer things. Hence, for my joy to be authentic, for it to work in suppressing my anger, my faith must be something that I am always doing rather than something I am always seeking to feel. I want my children to receive that joy for Christmas, the joy of an active, practicing faith. And I want them to keep it through their entire lives.

I don’t suppose my kids would grow in their love for Christ if my actions are to smack them when I’m angry, tell them I thought their play stunk, said that my Church lector wrote the petitions badly, and then followed it all up with: “But Jesus is the reason for everything I do.”

As long as my joy is my Christ, no one can take it from me. But I can squander it, as easily as I stop “doing” my faith. If I am not practicing my faith and my joy every day, then it’s no wonder I feel nothing when I pause to remember the reason I celebrate anything.


Erin said...

Love it! Love it! Love it! Betty, I have been reading your blog for a about 2 months now and have been wanting to comment, but haven't until now. I immediately connected with your words, feelings, thoughts, particularly "I did my work, time went by..."

Anyway, I really love this and can relate as I am a middle-aged 43 year old woman who married at 37 and is now trying to raise 2 very active little boys (almost 3 and 5 years of age). I yell alot. Sometimes I think that I am still trying to live as a single woman and feel resentful towards my husband and kids for "stealing" my peace and joy or "disturbing" my relationship with Jesus. I know it's ME who allows things to take my peace and joy AND I know that by serving them, I serve Jesus, but it's still been a long, hard road. I have also discovered that my not giving all of this to God is a huge part of my problem.

Thanks for this!!!!!

The Cottage Child said...

"Where platitudes are concerned, I dislike them because Jesus is not just the reason we celebrate the season, he’s the reason for my entire life." Amen - I too easily fall for the (not altogether bad) sentimentality, the pleasure, of Christmas, rather than the Joy of my very life, His life.

And double-thanks for the reminder that being gentle with our children is also being gentle with ourselves - getting riled up and angry is wearing on everyone involved, and ultimately accomplishes little. No joy, there.

Elizabeth said...

I just read this last night from your archives. Very timely for me.

Lizzie said...

Delurking to say that this is exactly what I needed to read today. Exactly.

juliea said...

I am posting a 7-day examination of conscience on my blog in preparation for Christmas. Today we dealt with anger, so your post was very timely! I just had to link to it from my blog,
Thanks for the great inspiration!

Haus Frau said...

Wow--thank you. I need to remember that as I deal with relatives sometimes.

Elizabeth C. said...

Wow! Just wow! How this tone, message, habit of mine keeps coming up again and again.

But I relate to your words and am walking away a little better than b4 I read them.

Thank you!

And thank your friend too for me :)

Jenny said...

Hence, for my joy to be authentic, for it to work in suppressing my anger, my faith must be something that I am always doing rather than something I am always seeking to feel.

AMEN!! Oh my AMEN!!

Peter and Nancy said...

I've been around for a while, so this is my second time reading this post . . . but I love it just as much the second time around. As is true with all good writing, the reader gains something different from each reading. Thanks for re-running!


Sue said...

Even better the second time around... thank you!

Pentimento said...

I just came out of a long blog-reading hiatus TODAY, and I got to read this, which was fantastic. So glad I'm back reading here again.

BettyDuffy said...

P! I've been missing you! And am praying for your mother.

Lizzie said...

This is one of my all time favourite posts of yours - so glad you have re-run it! I love love love your writing...Thank you.

Calah said...

Ah, thanks. Anger is the albatross around my neck, and I'm trying to tackle it this Advent more directly than I ever have before. I've never thought about it this way before. Thank you so much.

Ashley said...

I absolutely love you writing. I've already told you this, haven't I? I'm so grateful when I get a chance to sip coffee and let your thoughts roll through my mind like soothing waves of truth and beauty. I get so exhausted by the pomp and circumstances which edges other bloggers. Thank you for the very practical message as well. I'm using this tomorrow in my classroom and forever after.

Allison Welch said...

Great post. I teach morality to high school students and this is an attitude I need to adopt-- Not gonna steal my joy! I often give the "negative" too much attention and energy. "I have put before you the blessing and the curse. Choose life." Choose joy.

I'm also really struggling with the popular idea of Christmas. I'm resentful. I don't want to "do." I want to "be." And this time of year I just want to check-out. I'm not playing. I'm seriously thinking about starting a new family tradition - a mission trip over Christmas!

This Heavenly Life said...

I loved this last year, and I love it today -- thanks :)

Misha Leigh. said...

This just made me cry. It's exactly what I am thinking about. I am so challenged by this not-letting-joy-be-stolen-thing. Thank you for this.

Margie said...

Loved this last year, and love it again this year. More than once in 2010, I've said, "(Object/person/situation) will not steal my joy."