13 January 2013

Why Abigail's happiness isn't my goal

One thing I struggle with often is what I want for Abigail. What I dream her future will look like. How to help her achieve it.

I often hear from parents in the Ds community that they want their child to be accepted and loved for who s/he is. They want their child to be happy. I've always struggled with this answer and when I tried it on for size, it didn't feel comfortable.

I do want Abigail to be accepted and happy. But when I picture her as an adult, if all she has is happiness, that doesn't sit well with me.

I reflected on my own life: what do I want? When I think about what I want in 5, 10, 15 years, I wouldn't say happiness. I love my life, but I don't know if I'm really happy. Some days I'm happy, sure, but most days I'd say I'm stressed, worried, fulfilled, and at peace. You can't trust happy - it's such a fleeting emotion. I wouldn't call myself a happy person. I wouldn't call Abigail a happy baby. But once I subtracted happiness, I didn't know what to do with what remained. So I tried to push it out of my mind. We live in a world that strongly encourages people to find happiness. If I don't want that for my child, what kind of mother am I?

A friend posted this article online and as soon as I read it, I found that it fit exactly. Entitled, "There's More to Life Than Being Happy," the article delivers exactly what it promises. "The researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different."

The article features a Jewish psychologist who spent several years in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, during which he noted that, "those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not." He wrote in his book (which I whole-heartily plan to read) that "this uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the 'why' for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any 'how.'"

The thought of Abigail's life having purpose is so much more than the thought of her life being accepted and happy. This logic is completely in keeping with the Bible as well, which is pretty clear that believers shouldn't focus on looking for worldly acceptance (Matthew 10:22, Mark 8:36, John 15:18, to name a few). Secondly, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the two greatest commandments make no mention of happiness. It seems to me that happiness is not necessary to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now I know how to express what I want for Abigail. I want her life to have purpose. Happiness and acceptance are more like bonuses, the cherry on top, if you will. It is my job to help her discern her purpose. To teach her to be open and listen for her vocation. Maybe she'll become a nun (She could. I sincerely hope to have a son become priest or daughter become a nun. Maybe it'll be Abigail). Or maybe she'll feed kitty cats at the humane society. I don't know for what God will/has called her. But to my dying day, I will be sure that our number one goal becomes finding and fulfilling that purpose. Not looking for happiness.

The part of the article that was the most insightful for me was about suffering. "Having negative events happen to you, the study found, decreases your happiness but increases the amount of meaning you have in life. Another study from 2011 confirmed this, finding that people who have meaning in their lives, in the form of a clearly defined purpose, rate their satisfaction with life higher even when they were feeling bad than those who did not have a clearly defined purpose. 'If there is meaning in life at all,' [the Jewish psychologist] wrote, 'then there must be meaning in suffering.'"

There is no doubt that Abigail's life has been and will be full of suffering. She is certainly not in constant suffering, but the amount of suffering she's already done in terms of medical tests and heart surgery in her 1.5 short years of life already surpasses all the suffering I've done in my 26 years. And there is more to come. Statistically speaking, we can be assured of a whole host of other medical concerns through which she'll have to suffer.

But to know that the suffering won't be worthless, but will instead make her life more meaningful and fulfilling makes it significantly easier to bear. She is in company with the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, the insulted and persecuted. Her reward is not happiness. It is the Kingdom of Heaven.

1 comment:

onecatholicmama said...

Great post! This really resonated with me. I think it is very hard for those without any faith or belief in God to find meaning and fulfillment in this life so they search for happiness...which can only be fleeting because suffering will always be a part of life.