Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reasonably Happy

This week Daisy and I took a break from our planning to talk via Skype with a student about the women of El Callejon. The student, a university senior, asked us some really good questions. One was if the people of El Callejon are happy.

Daisy struggled to try and describe how the people there see themselves and understand being happy. It’s not so much happy as we might define it, but it’s a contentment, a tranquility. If they have some clothes, some food, a place to stay, they are happy.

It started me thinking about The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. My guess is, you are probably pretty familiar with the first part. But, the second part is rarely quoted. I didn’t even know it existed until a few years back.

If you are like I was, and are not familiar with it, here is the entire prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

 If I’m honest, this prayer gets caught in my throat. The truth is, I don’t want to just be “reasonably” happy. And, as someone raised in Canada and America, I’ve been told pursing my own personal happiness is my right.

This week I was talking with one of the women of El Callejon. When we first came here 15 years ago, the road was only a path, there was no water or electricity, people fought a lot. Now, Gracias a Dios, we have so much.

She said all of this standing on a garbage-filled dirt ‘road’ next to a house made of scrap wood and a rusty metal roof. She was wearing faded clothes and grubby shoes. Her smile was sincere and she spoke without a bit of irony.

Hmm… is it possible that the people of El Callejon have something to teach me about happiness and contentment?

The people of El Callejon live one day at a time. They live in the moment, and for the most part, seem to enjoy their lives. They accept hardship as a part of life. They don’t seem to consider it their right to have everything they want or need, or think they want or need.

They don’t worry about planning for their futures. If they have some money, they spend it. If they want new clothes, that’s what they’ll buy. If tomorrow they don’t have money for food, well, they’ll figure it out then.

Very honestly, at times, the attitude of the people of El Callejon is frustratingly passive. Their lack of motivation to try and improve their situations is difficult for me to understand and accept.

No, just sitting idly by is not always good. Spending money on a new shirt and not food is also not a good thing! But, obsessively worrying is not, either. After all, Jesus taught us to consider the lilies of the fields and to pray for our Daily (not weekly, monthly, 10-year plan) bread.

Please don’t misunderstand. There are most definitely things about the lives of the people of El Callejon which need to be improved!  But, I need to be very careful when I start thinking that because I am wealthier and more educated, I have all the answers.

The apostle Paul said he had learned the secret of being content in any and all circumstances (Philippians 4:12). In want or in plenty.

Paul follows his declaration about being content with these words, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Ah, there’s the ‘secret’!  

The people of El Callejon seem to live in want, we in plenty. My prayer is that together, they and we, can learn that ‘secret’ of contentment. 

Perhaps together we can help each other to put our trust, our happiness, our very lives, in the strong and loving hands of One who has promised that one day we will all be supremely happy with Him forever. 

Until that day, I know I've still got a lot to learn.  I'm so grateful for our Teacher and the things He is showing me about being reasonably happy.  And about being completely content in Him and Him alone!

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