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Cultivating Joy

Self-pity is not my friend. It tries to pretend like it is, sneaking in and whispering to me like we are partners or something. And I admit there are times when I listen to my ugly companion and give in to self-pity. Yesterday was one of those days. Eliana was unhappy. Who knows why? She wouldn’t sleep. She wasn’t hungry. She didn’t want to play. She wanted to be held, but when I held her she wriggled around until she was in crazy-uncomfortable positions, then looked at me with total betrayal that I would let her get like that, and scream. I walked, patted, bounced, laid her down, tried toys, sang songs, got quiet, tried the swing, gave her gas drops, gave her prunes and apple juice, put on more clothes, took off clothes, took her for a walk, a drive, and so on – all day long.

She wouldn’t stay comfortable or content for more than 10 minutes at a time, but usually it was more like 2 or 3. I finally got her to sleep after 3 hours of struggling, only to have her wake up screaming less than 30 minutes later. Exhausted, frustrated, and concerned for my baby, I let her fuss for a while and ate some ice cream. Shoot. That didn’t help. I ordered pizza. Gorging myself on pizza and falling asleep used to be my way of comforting myself. I hated what the scale said later for it, but it gave me enough of a temporary fix that I got over the whole scale problem… Last night it didn’t work. I knew what I was doing as I drove to pick it up. I didn’t care. I deserved it after the day I’d had. But my day wasn’t over and eating pizza is less exciting when one of the people you love most in the world is miserable. I drank a Coke. That didn’t work either.

She finally went to sleep at 9:00, five minutes before Rick got home from work. He tried to talk to me, but I was too out of sorts to have a conversation. After letting my frustration and misery be known to him, I begged him to just let me go to bed. The sweet man who had been working all day himself came to bed early too (not his favorite thing to do) and rubbed my back until I relaxed enough to fall asleep.

Guess what happened then?

The baby started crying.

Rick got up and took care of her. All night long she fussed miserably, and all night long her daddy held her, fed her, patted, rocked, bounced, and shhh-ed. I got up a few times, reminding him that he had to go to work in the morning, but he sent me back to bed. He ended up sleeping with her on his chest on the couch so he could comfort her immediately when she cried out. That kept her mostly asleep for a few hours. When it was time for him to get up for work, I switched places with him. Thankfully, she kept sleeping for a few more hours and woke up happy and pleasant.

I took her for a long walk this morning, knowing fresh air and exercise would do us both good. Rick and his parents have done such a nice job of turning the land into a beautiful home that it’s helping me to love country farm life more every day. There are flowers everywhere I look. It’s so peaceful and quiet, the early morning air was cool, and the sun was shining. As we neared the end of our walk, we came upon the mama kitty and her five kittens that are about a month old now. She had moved them under the car for shade and as we walked by, then ran out joyfully to greet us. Delighted that they didn’t run away, I sat down in the grass and put the baby in my lap. Together we giggled as tiny kittens crawled all over us, meowing and purring as we petted them. Eventually the mama kitty laid down kind of under my leg in the shade and nursed her kittens. I couldn’t believe it. What a moment… I turned Eliana so she could see them and we helped one kitten who couldn’t find a place get what it was looking for, then we watched with delight.

I hadn’t planned on that sidetrack, and I had things I wanted to do inside. It was tempting to quickly put the kittens in their box so they wouldn’t get under the wheels of the stroller and slow me down. Who wants to sit in the grass and get ants crawling on you? But I’m so glad I did. It was a few minutes of unexpected delight. A sadness that I’d been working over in my mind came into perspective. I was reminded of the dream I believe God sent me a few months ago to stop looking back and start looking around and forward. The frustration and sadness and self-pity lifted and joy returned.

Self-pity is easy. Self-pity is, in a way, comforting. Nobody understands me. This person hurt me. That person ignored me. My husband doesn’t meet all the needs I expect him to meet. My baby isn’t always happy and sweet. I ate too much pizza last night and now I feel guilty. Why do I do this to myself? Blah, blah, blah…

Shut up, self pity! Just shut up!

And so I begin the process of cultivating joy again. I remind myself of all I have to be thankful for. I remind myself of those who have been kind to me, of those who have gone out of their way to spend time with me, of those who have encouraged me to keep writing, and of those who have helped out. I force myself to look around me, to consider the future, and to stop trying to right the wrongs of the past. I get my eyes off myself and see the look of love on my daughter’s face, the way her eyes seek mine out and look for approval. I look at God’s creation, the trees, grass, springs, flowers, plants, sky, and kittens, and remember that I am a tiny part of this great world. I will start again on my plan for healthy eating, I will once again remember the healthier way to handle frustration and pain (call a friend, go for a walk, get some sleep, write a letter, play with some kittens) than comforting myself with food.

My life is so good. It would be easy to nitpick, to find things to be upset about, and to chew them over repeatedly until I’m a total mess. But I can make a better choice. I can look around and see the good, thank God for His many blessings, and look ahead with eager expectation.

At times circumstances make it difficult to see the good. At times it takes some concerted effort to see the good and appreciate it. It’s a choice I make every day and it keeps the smile on my face and a song in my heart. Lord, help me to drive self-pity far from me and to keep my eyes fixed on You.

Do you ever find yourself giving in to self-pity? What do you do to fight your way out of it’s grasp?

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