I found it difficult to be a cheerful giver. So my spiritual director, who was always inclined to go easy on me, suggested, "Service with a smile." I thought that might actually work out, and I imagined a twinkle on my incisor as I placed a bowl of Shredded Wheat on the table in front of one of my kids.
But kids don't really care that much if you're smiling when you feed them. They want sugar on their Shredded Wheat. They want a different bowl. They want a spoon. They want as much as their brother has. They want more milk, or less milk, or they've decided they're full after two bites, and they're wasting perfectly good food, and they're not taking their bowl to the sink, they're spilling it on the floor, and screaming, because now they actually want their cereal. At least that's how it goes at my house--multiplied by five.
So I went back to my spiritual director and told her it wasn't going well.
So we took another step back. She said I needed to regard myself as I regard my kids--like a child--maybe my expectations were too high--as though just knowing that I lacked joy would bring it, that if I concentrated hard enough all my woes would be gone.
So I went back home to do my duty, cleaned my house and it got messy again. Then my husband came home and thought I hadn't cleaned it. I made dinner, and no one liked it. There were other difficulties as well, like I was tired, and I felt like my energies were too precious to waste on things that would be undone in a matter of seconds. I was also grouchy about stuff, and that made me a bore to be around.
And…that's pretty much where things stand.
I have one more slogan in my life that I've heard so many times it no longer has meaning. It grows tiresome, formulating new systems and salves for my broken nature, and then berating myself when the desired effect never comes.
I read in an old journal recently, some notes from a retreat attended many years ago:
"Treat others as the image of God whether or not they have treated us that way. There is self-centeredness in our service:
If they didn't do it for us…
We serve others especially if they didn't do it for us, because that is what Christ does."
And at first it troubles me, because Christ and his ways are not always on the tip of my tongue. Jazzy slogans are easily recalled and easily dismissed, but Christ, and his ways, are a challenge to recall, but impossible for me to dismiss.
If I didn't, I would be lifting my skirts to France.
There is a bigger picture that only reveals itself over years. On a day to day basis, it's easy to believe that I have failed in my vocation, because I yelled at my kids and went to bed grouchy, even as my heart has yearned for God.