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Finding Joy: A string of words

I read this poem by S. H. Payer years ago, and it resonated with me so strongly, it was as if Payer’s words unshackled the chains on my wrists from the decision-making paralysis I had been feeling for months.  My manager at the time sent this to our sales team to rally the troops, when ironically, I carried its meaning into a career change, not another sales goal.  All these years, I assumed S. H. Payer was a man (maybe because my boss was a man?)… come to find out she is not.  Mrs. Payer wrote this in the early 60’s for American Greetings.  I imagine this would have made a lovely card for new graduates about to be unleashed into the world.

“Live each day to the fullest.  Get the most from each hour, each day, and each age of your life.  Then you can look forward with confidence, and back without regrets.  Be yourself, but be your best self.  Dare to be different and follow your own star.  Don’t be afraid to be happy and enjoy what is beautiful.  Love with all your heart and soul. Believe that those you love, love you.  When you are faced with a decision, make that decision as wisely as possible, then forget it.  The moment of absolute certainty never arrives.  Above all, remember that God helps those who help themselves.  Act as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God.” [emphasis added] ~ S.E. Payer

When you are faced with a decision, make that decision as wisely as possible, then forget it.  The moment of absolute certainty never arrives.  The moment of absolute clarity doesn’t always arrive either.  I had been patiently waiting for both, that moment of knowing just the right thing to do.  But, Payer was right, it never did arrive.  She was screaming at me 50 years into the future, stop dwelling, don’t harbor, don’t belabor, just do the best you can and move on, move forward.  The literal permission from a ghost to make the best decision possible and move on.  It gave me reason to rub my newly freed wrists and smile.  Breathe a sigh of relief.  It was not only permission to move forward, but it was permission to possibly be wrong.

Isn’t that how it is with words sometimes?  I could hear or read a hundred people try to get a certain message across to me and not quite fully grasp it, believe it or engage with it.  But, that 101st person, if they have the gift of stringing together words in just the right arrangement and my ears are open and ready to accept their message, they can transfer the message all those others couldn’t.  The right words can sometimes unburden what weighs heavy on our minds.

I felt the same way when I read this string of words recently.  Another mantra to tattoo on my brain. “Cynicism isn’t strength and ranting doesn’t rejuvenate and frustration can never accomplish what Faith can.” ~ Ann Voskamp

Three dichotomies, three word pairings, I had never thought about in relation to each other.  If I am looking for strength, rejuvenation and a stronger faith, than cynicism, ranting and frustration do not bring me closer to those outcomes, they lead me further away.  Ann’s words settled over me and I curled up under them, like a blanket of realization and insight.  I was a lap dog circling around the same spot, the same way of thinking, over and over again.  Spinning.  Waiting to settle in until it felt just right.  Until that 101st person encapsulated something for me I didn’t even realize was gnawing at me.

I read this quote and I wanted to jump through the computer screen and hug the author for her brilliance, her relevance.  Yes, yes, yes, this is so, so right.  We become what we fill ourselves up with and sometimes in our untrustworthy world, being smart means being cynical.  I practice this.  I desire to be informed and not taken advantage of, therefore, I arm myself with cynicism.  At work, as a consumer, in the voting booth.  I read a lot and I listen a lot, and it’s hard to keep this skeptical posturing from overflowing into other areas of my life.  It’s the overflow that spills over and steals joy.

We are not born cynical, we learn it.  We learn to be skeptical of anything that seems too good to be true by those who promised roses, but instead gave us thorns.  We are taught by academia to question, evaluate, analyze.  We are taught cynicism by politicians who lie to us, trusted religious leaders who steal from us, and relationships that break down, instead of build up.  Isn’t this why we say ignorance is bliss?  Haven’t we all wanted to un-know something that hurt us?

We view a healthy dose of skepticism as street-smart, sophisticated, shrewd and clear-sighted.  But I would also argue it makes us mistrustful, suspicious and wary.  It may make us clear-eyed in earthly terms, but what about clear-eyed by God’s terms?  We seek the eyes and faith of a child, not a disheartened adult, right?  I see the way Jack & Jamison look at the world and I want that.  I want to drink up their awe and their wonder.  Their big blue eyes that melt my heart when they discover something new and wonderful for the first time.

All these years, I had elevated this skeptical tendency as a display of intelligence and rationality, when really it wasn’t the level of cognitive ability that mattered as a comparison.  Yes, in certain spheres of our lives we have to be cautious to protect ourselves and we should.  I’m not endorsing carelessness or mindlessness.  But, what I wasn’t seeing, was that cynicism can weaken us in many ways, too.  When it spills over, it weakens our ability to love, to give of ourselves freely and to give someone else the benefit of the doubt.  Spiritually, cynicism is not strength.  It can be just the opposite.

Thank you Ann for being the 101st person.  Thank you for helping me see the other side.

The good news is I have two constant reminders in my life of what childlike joy looks like and it’s a really beautiful thing.


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