I’ve been surprised by something recently that I shouldn’t have been surprised by: joy isn’t a by-product of happiness. In December on the Feast of St. Stephen, I married the most wonderful man I’ve ever known, who loves me in a deeper and more beautiful way than I ever even dreamed of being loved. We married in one of the most gorgeous cathedrals I’ve ever been in, surrounded by dear friends and family on a snow-covered but sunny winter’s day. We are so compatible and have a really loving relationship built on a solid foundation. He is my absolute best friend. Sharing life with him is such a gift, and my young marriage has been bliss so far.
I wake up each morning to my sweet, former-barista husband saying, “Good morning, love. Want me to make you a latte?”
We live in a beautiful location right outside NYC, in a really incredible community that has been so gracious and welcoming. We’ve got a tiny but adorable apartment that we live in with our sweet and silly cat whom I’ve had since I was 14 and who has somehow survived to well over 18 despite kidney failure. There is a lovely chapel right around the corner from our apartment that has so many incredible church services we can walk hand-in-hand to morning and night.
My job, too, is great. I was hired right after I moved to New York to work with students at a nearby college with a beautiful, old campus, and it’s wonderful. My co-workers are so kind, and the work is rewarding. My circumstances at the moment are the best they have ever been. I am so happy. I don’t say these things for any reason other than to say: even with all of that being true, I can still forget to be joyful and grateful.
The Heart of Discontentment
For most of my life I have had a feeling that I was waiting on something else to happen. When I hit my teen years, the books I was reading told me that God had a love story He wanted to write for me that just required me to wait on His timing. Waiting for something wonderful to happen sounded like something I could do. I came to view God as matchmaker, and I was waiting for my match. I kept waiting and waiting, and as my 20’s came and went and I stayed alone, I felt deep down like God was depriving me of something He owed me somehow.
As I grew in my spiritual life, I knew this shallow view of Him I had held for so long needed to be healed, along with the anger it had caused. As I took these thoughts to prayer, I kept thinking of when Jesus talked about God being a good Father who delighted in giving His children good gifts.
He said, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matthew 7: 9)
I remember praying my frustration and saying to God, “But I don’t feel like you’ve given me a stone. I feel like you’ve held bread in front of my hungry face and never actually given it to me.”
Learning Christ’s Love
A phrase from the recesses of my memory suddenly came to the forefront of my thoughts: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness.”
I didn’t understand it and couldn’t remember where that line was from. I looked up the phrase and realized it was from John 6:31. I turned there and felt myself in line with the people asking for signs as I read.
When Jesus replied telling them of the True Bread from Heaven, and they said “Lord, give us this bread always,” Jesus’ reply of “I am the Bread…” shook me to my core. He was not a withholding Father taunting me with bread I couldn’t eat; He had always been constantly offering me Himself, and I had been saying in reply “…but give me something else.”
I felt such sorrow over that realization. Why did I want things other than Him to be the bread? Nearly five years have gone by since that realization, and I have learned so much about His presence and how the spiritual life is a journey deeper into Him. The desires that I had weren’t wrong desires, just out of order ones. He did end up leading me to marry, and marriage, as I had hoped it would be, is wonderful.
In my immaturity, I still thought somehow that I would just automatically switch into some kind of joy and gratitude mode once I had the life I wanted. I’ve realized something instead though: my heart has for years had a default posture of discontentment to which it goes back unless I consciously choose to correct it with the posture of joy and gratitude. That feeling that something is lacking has been so deeply ingrained in me that, even when nothing is lacking, I revert back to it.
This has been such a humbling lesson, and it is one I will likely always be learning. God is so much more than a matchmaker. God is a deep ocean, and I’m a little fish who has more of Him to explore than I can ever imagine. I may forget His presence, but He always surrounds me. I live and move and have my being in Him (Acts 17:28).
My discontentment did not stem from something I lacked; it was something in me that needed to be rooted out. My heart has to be trained to default to joy. Granted, it is easier now than ever before to find things to be grateful for and joyful about, but it is still something I have to wake up each day and remind myself to choose. His presence is the ultimate source of joy. I know there will be seasons of life in which my circumstances will be more difficult than they are now. I know that He will still be there then offering me Himself, the True Bread. That is more joy than I can comprehend. May He give us all eyes to see Him everywhere present, filling all things.
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