Who Gets to Be Happy?

I wonder why it is always more difficult to accept happiness and joy than it is to accept misery. The Angel Appears to Zachariah (Luke 1:5-25):

 “Do not be afraid, because your prayer has been heard…you will have joy and gladness…”

 

The Angel of God has told Zachariah exactly how his prayers will be answered– that he will have joy and gladness– but Zachariah does not believe it.

I am convinced more than ever that it is necessary to wage war on the voice of self-criticism. I will not refuse to be happy. I will not create low-grade conflicts in order to postpone or prevent my own joy and satisfaction with God, and with what I have.

 

Example 1: During prayer, the voice of criticism asks, “Why, Betty, do you always think about yourself when you’re praying? Aren’t you supposed to be contemplating the Divine Mystery?”

Self-ignorance is not the same as humility. If I constantly sabotage the pursuit to know myself honestly, to understand who I am and why I do what I do, I will remain in a state of spiritual chaos and unhappiness. Knowing God is one part, but self-examination is necessary in order to reconcile and change.

 

Example 2: When writing, the voice of criticism says, “This sucks. It will never be anything. You’re wasting time and indulging in a selfish and fruitless activity.”

It is not humility to remain always in a state of inactivity and yearning. It is not humility to deny myself the use of God’s gifts. In fact it is self-indulgent to remain in stasis, to cut off a bud before it has a chance to bloom. I don’t know what I could write if I don’t allow the time and attention the work requires. Valuing where I am, and what I currently produce is a way of honoring who God made me, and accepting the joy that He’s offered me, because writing gives me pleasure.

 

Example 3: Concerning my appearance: Self Criticism says, “You’re overweight, getting old, and you lead a boring life. You need a pick-me-up. Commence shopping for a miracle.”

It gets tiresome, never being satisfied with how I look or what I do. And yet the dissatisfaction provides hours of truly selfish and fruitless entertainment in the form of shopping or browsing online, a distraction from the joy God wants me to feel in having a healthy body and an appearance that serves my state in life quite well. Teeth a little yellow? A new whisker on my chin? The marsupial pouch of having carried six children? I’m not going to lie and say–It’s ALL BEAUTIFUL! But it is what it is. It is who I am. It’s not going away with a new pair of boots. It is not humility to hate myself and what I look like. In fact it is pride to imagine that, beyond  a few gentle measures, I can altar the clay of which I’m made.

 

Example 4: Concerning my home: Self Criticism says,  “First world activity! You and your hearty shelter! Trying to make things neat and pretty! You’re a jerk for caring.”

Refusing beauty is not the same as humility. Curating a house, creating order, is a way of fostering an environment that is conducive to hospitality and creativity, which is a gift to my family as well as myself. My attitude towards objects in the home should be liberal enough to inspire, and conservative enough to enable. Get rid of things that are not useful or beautiful. Keep things that I really appreciate and that serve a necessary function. Ignoring my house is a way of letting the things usurp my freedom of movement and freedom of mind.

 

The voice of self-criticism is almost always the voice of self-indulgence in disguise. It always strives to entice me into doing exactly what I want rather than what I need to do. It says, “Hey! Don’t pray. Don’t write. Don’t clean. Go shopping!” And then you can always be unhappy and dissatisfied and convinced that the joy God promises you is not for you at all. It’s for other people, better people, more worthy people, younger, prettier, thinner people.

The voice of self-criticism needs to be silenced.

Joy is for me. God wants joy and gladness for me.

About Elizabeth Duffy

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