Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. – Maya Angelou
Often in church our minister will speak the first sentence of this verse, “This is the day the Lord has made.”
The congregation responds with the second, Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
It’s an automatic response, intoned in unison, without audible enthusiasm or intention.
Blah blah blah.
Rejoice? Are you serious?
It’s raining outside. My dog is getting old. My spouse doesn’t understand me. I have a stack of bills on my desk. I have too much to do and not enough time. The kids are driving me crazy. I’m worried about the stock market. I feel despair about our political climate; and our environmental climate. The birds don’t visit my birdfeeders in the garden. A friend isn’t returning my calls. I haven’t had a vacation in ages – can’t afford one anyway. Dad’s mind is slipping.
What is there to rejoice about?
As I listen to the rote repetition of the verse, I imagine these thoughts flitting through the minds of those around me. I confess that some of these thoughts are occasionally mine. I think of another verse in the Bible.
“Jesus wept”. –John 11:35
I wonder if Jesus weeps when he hears the lack of appreciation for the gift of each day.
Where happiness lives
When something is automatic, like how we respond to the minister’s call, we often overlook it. I rarely, for example, pay attention to my breathing, hearing, seeing. I don’t give much thought to the sun’s daily circuit, or to the air, or to the lights that turn on at the flick of a switch, or the water that pours from the faucet, clean enough to drink, hot enough for a comfortable shower.
My daughter and I were sitting at the dining room table recently having a chat. She was bemoaning certain circumstances, feeling disappointed, frustrated, stuck. I whipped out my handy dandy little pie chart that I use in my discussion group, showing that only 10% of our happiness comes from our outer circumstances; 90% comes from inside us.
But how, she whined, do you get to that 90% when the 10% seems like everything?
How do we shift our perspective to our inner joy when those outer circumstances are so not to our liking? The key, I think, is in the psalmist’s verse.
The first sentence reminds us that every day is a gift from God. The Dalai Lama speaks about the precious gift of this human life. When I wished my friend a happy “special” birthday on his 70th birthday, he quipped that at his age, every birthday is special. Ask anyone who is dying, or who has been given another chance after a close brush with death, how they feel about each day.
The second sentence begins with the words “let us rejoice.” I think of life taking me by the shoulders with a gentle shake and grinning in my face. Wake up! Pay attention! This is a new day. How cool is that?!
My favorite part of the verse, though, is the last part, “be glad in it.” The verse doesn’t tell me to be glad “about it.” I don’t have to pretend to like circumstances I find unpleasant or distressing. The verse tells me to be glad “in it,” in the midst of whatever circumstances I find myself.
My gladness is not dependent on the circumstances. My gladness comes from recognizing the treasure I have been blessed with, the miracle of another day.
A simple way to find happiness
My daughter was not convinced. How, she asked, could she turn attention away from the situation that she kept obsessing over, that she wanted to be different? How could she escape the tyranny of that 10%?
I suggested a simple technique I’m sure many of you are familiar with. Can you list; I asked her, five things you are grateful for? As she did, I counted them off on my fingers. Her son, her family, sunshine (a rare sunny winter day in Portland!), going to school, her health. Keep going, I urged. She did.
I ran out of fingers and started over. As she started to hesitate, I started asking questions. Can you see? Can you walk? Do you have a home? Do you have enough food to eat? Do you have clothes? Does anyone love you? Do you love anyone?
After several rounds of fingers, she was smiling. I asked her how she felt when she thought about things to be grateful for. Happy, she said. She paused for a moment and said she didn’t think she would dwell anymore on what had been bothering her. She felt ready to move on.
Life is short, as some of us already know all too well, and all of us will learn in time. Every day is a day the Lord has made, the days of pleasure and the days of pain.
Let us rejoice in the gift of life and be glad in the blessings each day brings.