Monday, October 28, 2013

Lessons in joy

Over the weekend, Justin and I watched Light of Love:

It was so absolutely beautiful, and the sisters are just so absolutely beautiful.

When you watch it (which you absolutely should), there's something inside that (Catholic or not, woman or not) makes you say "I WANT THAT!"  Not, necessarily, the life of poverty and celibacy, but the overwhelming peace, joy, and love that these women exude.

I was thinking about it again this afternoon, and I got to thinking that we should want that - and not in a lofty, oh-that-would-be-nice way, but in a I'm-going-to-fight-for-it-because-I'm-made-for-it way.  God didn't say, "OK, you few that I designed to be really joyful and peaceful, you all go to the convent - and, well, the rest of you, just muddle through in the real world, alright?"  I don't want to belittle the differences in the various vocations - single, married, religious life - but I want to address the idea that true peace and joy is exclusive to just one.  There are obvious differences in the lifestyles (I wryly thought "the sisters don't have this problem" when I got up with Anna for the third time in the middle of the night after watching the film - but then I also got to sleep through their 5 AM prayers) that mean there are unique challenges and unique blessings for each.  I don't know that it's necessarily easier for the sisters to be joyful (they've given up so many of the things that - at least theoretically - bring the rest of us happiness) - but they have (sweeping generalization here) found it more consistently than the rest of us.

So why is that?  And how can we get some of the joy?

Here are some of the aspects of their lifestyle that I think can be adopted to any vocation (without denying the unique beauty of each vocation and general enough to be applied within each varied context).  I know they're all things I hope to foster in myself and in our home with a renewed vigor after seeing the film.

1) Discipline.  There's the big, obvious examples of self-control and discipline (e.g., vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience), but I was struck even more by the discipline of schedule.  They wake with regularity, pray with regularity, and eat and work with regularity.  Granted, they don't have toddlers - but I've found that routine and schedule are anecdote to some of the stay-at-home-mom malaise.  Constantly worrying about what has to be done or when you can possibly do it (or being stressed that it wasn't done) can steal your joy - but just doing it when it's time to be done ends a lot of turmoil, both internally and externally.

2) Prayer.  The sisters spend more time in prayer - partly because they have more time to spend, but also because they make more time to spend (see above point: discipline!).  I catch myself and others blaming lack of time on the demands of life with little kids without giving the fair share of the blame to the Internet.  By design, parents will never have as much time for prayer as the sisters - but I bet almost all of us have more time than the amount we're currently devoting.

3) Full presence in the moment.  Whatever the sisters were doing, they seemed to be doing with their full heart and full mind; not forgetting, of course, the constant lifeline of prayer that underscores every moment.  This points back, I think, to the discipline - they don't worry about washing dishes or making dinner while they're in chapel or working in their ministry because they washed the dishes and made dinner when it was time to do each of these things.  Note in particular the scene of the sisters playing games and working on crafts - they are free to wholeheartedly enjoy this moment.  I crave that carefree fun for our family, especially on Sunday afternoons (presumably when that scene occurred in the film, too).  I find that typical lifestyle now is more about simultaneously doing six things (of varying importance and productivity - ahem, checking Facebook) than it is about working when its time to work and playing when its time to play.

4) Service.  Everything the sisters do is in service - to God and to His people.  For many of them, their daily work is as messy and mundane and back-breaking - or perhaps more so - as being a homemaker, but they view it in the proper light.  They see the people they serve and God's mercy they help share, not the work of the task at hand.  Changing diapers, cleaning bathrooms, cooking dinner, doing laundry all feel awfully mundane and don't provide much joy - until they're viewed as acts of love.

I'm not making the case that family life can - or should - adhere to a schedule as neat as a convent, or that we should try to remove the unique aspects of each vocation and meld them into a one-size-fits-all lifestyle.  There are different vocations specifically because there are different people - and each of us grows in holiness and is called to serve in very different ways.  However, we are ALL called to have joy in loving God and knowing His love.  The four things above aren't the source of that joy, but the tools we can use to find it - tools demonstrated so beautifully by the joy-filled sisters.

Update, 5/30/2015, I've updated this post slightly and linked it to the Blessed Is She "Joy" link-up.

If you're interested in some of my more recent writings about finding joy through simplicity and discipline, go here and here.

Also, perks of living in Steubenville: we met one of the sisters in this film after Mass one day :)  It was a sort of full-circle moment for us, as we watched this initially a few days before Justin's interview, and we kept wondering if we'd soon recognize some of the places shown in the movie (we do!)


  1. Did I tell you about this movie? We watched it as part of busy-persons. I like your points!!! : )

  2. Great tips for finding more joy in life! Thanks for linking up with Blessed is She!