Epiphany, celebrated today in the Roman church, seems to be my New Year. It’s the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the year as usual. So it seems the best time to pick a resolution. The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek word meaning “to reveal.” How do we reveal the good news to our loved ones, our coworkers, our friends, the people we encounter? In his homily today, the bishop said we do so through attraction, not imposition. Our happiness is attractive, he said. So, I thought, what are some basic principles of happiness, and what sorts of resolutions embody those principles?
Love without possession
Invite without obligation
Strive without envy
To love without possession: I have teenagers, enough said? I am looking at 5 more terms homeschooling my eldest, and allowing my youngest to return to public school after an unsatisfying, belated attempt to light his academic fire at home. Children are born persons, right?, with all that their individuality entails. At this age I must still love them like a parent, with all the boundary setting necessary, but I must also prepare them to go out on their own which will involve more freedom to choose their own path. They are more free to reject even those things that are good for them, even as it continues to be my duty to limit their exposure to those things that are not good for them. My children may not look like the poster children of homeschooling success, but they are not called to make me look good. God has a call for them that may or may not have anything to do with me.
Love without possession covers more than just kids. I have parents, an uncle, siblings, a husband and friends to love. Indeed, I have a couple of friends that I truly love, that I have “fallen in love with” in that Victorian over-the-top girl-love sense of affection and attachment. Gladly would I choose one to be my BFF, a moniker I see often among my Facebook friends. But, alas, that is not to be, and I remember the admonishment my daughter and I read recently in Charlotte Mason’s 4th Volume, Ourselves:
We are not our own to give ourselves away without reserve.
One can love with depth, tenderness and loyalty without undue pressure for more time, more affirmation, or more tokens of affection. Still, reaching out thoughtfully and more often to those I love is not out of place, first and most particularly to God in prayer – the most important love of all.
To Invite without obligation was on my list for 2014. Invitation is a kind of love in action. I think our fear of rejection can be so strong that we forget there is a difference between invitation and sales. The happiest people I know are always inviting people to join them: to share a meal, to see their home, to exercise together, to see a free concert. Simply put, I want to get in the habit of inviting people to spend time with us more often. In the age of online friendship and multiple obligations, not to mention poor housekeeping habits, I find it easy to forget this most basic of social graces. It doesn’t even have to be an invitation to our home – an invite to go on a bike ride, or a nature walk, or out to coffee will do. The no obligation part – well, it means people are free to say no without hurting my feelings. People are free not to reciprocate. We’re all still learning how to be friends, after all.
To strive without envy. Did you notice that of the 10 commandments, the first 4 are about our relationship with God, the next 5 about our relationship with others, but the last one, number 10, is about our own happiness? Envy is a cancer in our soul – it eats away at our contentment, generates self pity and depression, and renders us unfit to love others. There is nothing wrong with ambition, with striving towards what is good, or with the enjoyment of those things on earth that give us pleasure. Yet we must strive without worrying that others may be closer to our goal than we are. We can take pleasure first in the things we already have and we can let go of those wants that are out of our reach and we can take pleasure in the fact that others are able to enjoy them. Let our “envy” be the kind that merely communicates to others our appreciation of the value of their accomplishments.
Striving means doing, not just wishing. “Bringing the will to bear” is Charlotte Mason’s term for taking action. The beauty of choosing what I will strive for this year, and letting go of the rest, is that I can work with a certain singleness of purpose – particularly if that choice is in line with God’s call. I have a couple of things I really want to accomplish this year, such as putting in a retaining wall on our property (so all our good garden dirt will stop washing into the alley), helping to fulfill a long held dream of a Northwest Charlotte Mason Educators retreat (see page), and to continue working with others to create a secondary level science program compatible with Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy and method. That, in addition to books to read, work to accomplish, a home to maintain, and a body to keep healthy, is plenty to keep busy. Here’s to 2015!