Driving back from the grocery store yesterday, I thought to myself how wonderful being a mom is. I get a primal satisfaction from planning Abby's lunches and playing games with her. I thought to myself how happy I'd be with several little ones running around and me with only their laundry, health, education, and spirituality to worry about. I thought to myself that it's this pesky job that's in the way, that keeps me from being completely fulfilled.
Last week, returning home from a long but good day at the UC campus, I thought to myself how wonderful being a campus minister is. I get a primal satisfaction from brainstorming new events and conversing intently about folks' lives. I thought to myself how happy I'd be focused entirely on the campus and my husband, with only their very special needs and concerns to worry about. I thought to myself that it's this pesky motherhood that's in the way, that keeps me from being completely fulfilled.
When I have a migraine, I think I could be okay if only either the nausea or headache would go away. But when I have only one of the two, it's no better. Seems like there's always something standing in the way of happiness. Seems like we put something in the way of happiness--that our happiness/joy/fulfillment is conditional. We can only be happy if certain conditions--established and changed in a moment--are present.
"If it weren't for this one thing," we think to ourselves, "I could deal. I could be happy. It's just that one thing."
But that one thing becomes an idol, something that stands between us and God and which we mistake for a god. Workload or homework, a partner's behavioral tics, perceived persecution--all become idols of negative space. That is, they take up space along the edges of things, filling our vision to overflowing with what-has-to-be-done rather than what-is-being-done. We give them power and they take over. We let these things keep us from giving of ourselves in whatever context we find ourselves in. I once heard it said that Jesus didn't go out of his way to help people--that he was busy enough helping the ones who crossed his path. It is where we are--busy-ness, multiple pleas for our attention, sickness and health--that we are called to celebrate and where we will be fulfilled. There will always be something else to deal with. But there is also always the space and people where we are to celebrate and encourage.