Joy in Everyday Things

Joy in Everyday Things

Marie Kondo advocates asking yourself if the things that fill your house spark joy. While I don’t live her method, there is something intriguing about asking that question about the items that fill our visual landscape. Many things in my home don’t do that (I suppose I find it hard for spoons and forks to greatly spark joy in me—yet they are pretty useful for eating), but it is perhaps more interesting to consider the things that do fall into that category.

During the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time at home. But given this abundance of time at home, I notice that my affections continue to be drawn to particular things in my home and I find once again compelled to acknowledge that beautiful, practical (and impractical) items are so helpful for ushering joy into our lives.

For example, I have a wooden serving tray and it is perhaps odd the number of times I stop to admire the varying grains that run across and throughout the wood. Either as I’m arranging food on it or washing it off, I generally am thinking, “This is so beautiful.”

Or I have a serving bowl that was handpainted in Italy that I purchased last summer while in Assisi. The bright colors that fill the interior bring me a thrill of joy every time I fill it with salad or an array of fruit. As I use it, I frequently remember the peace of Assisi, the quiet of the streets during our time there, and the beauty of being in a place so old.

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Travel Light

Travel Light

As a way to prepare for walking the Camino de Santiago, I bought a few guidebooks and researched suggestions online. The book that had sparked the desire to complete this pilgrimage was Fr. Dave Pivonka’s Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles With Jesus. Prior to reading this book, I had only a vague interest in the pilgrimage, partly spurred on by a fellow teacher who wanted to make the trek. I read about Fr. Dave’s journey and I was intrigued.

Casually, with little intention of it actually happening, I made the next logical investment: guidebooks. Then, I chatted with my younger sister, pondering if this could really, truly happen. Finally, we booked plane tickets, bought necessary gear, and prepped for a pilgrimage that was largely unknown to us.

Along the Camino, several of the American pilgrims asked if we were on the Camino Facebook page. It wasn’t something I had looked for or uncovered in my searching, but when I returned home, I joined the group. Since then, I’ve read numerous suggestions people have for others about to make this pilgrimage, appreciated pictures from people currently on pilgrimage, and read the questions first-time walkers have for the more experienced.

One thing that has always struck me is how particular some people are about the weight of their pack. It is, understandably, one of the most significant things to consider, but it wasn’t something I spent a great deal of time analyzing. In retrospect, I should have taken less.

At two separate points of the trip, we mailed things either home or ahead to a later stop. Church clothes that we hoped to wear were shipped ahead when we realized Sunday would be a walking day and Mass would be attended in our everyday Camino clothes. Pajamas were mailed as we just slept in the clothes we would wear the following day. The pack I already thought was small was pared down twice. When I finished the Camino, I resolved that if I ever did it again, I would be far more particular about what I brought along.

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Let Nothing Distract

Let Nothing Distract

This past week, one of my classes watched a movie about the life of Mother Teresa. At one point, right after Mother Teresa had left the Loreto convent, she was shown clearing out her room at a host family’s house. The owner told her they had a lot of spare furniture she was welcomed to use during her time with them. She responded by saying that she needed simplicity so that nothing would distract her from her work with the poor.

I don’t know if that scene happened exactly like that in real life, but her words struck me. Even if she didn’t say that, her life showed that she lived that reality. Perhaps even more impressive, though, was the idea that simplicity gives freedom. It wasn’t a new concept to me, but it was a new concept when I considered it in light of the saint of the slums. Mother Teresa needed poverty in order to be committed to caring for the poor. That may not seem profound to you, but hearing those words evoked a question within me: what makes me think I have more discipline than Mother Teresa?

If Mother Teresa needed simplicity to pursue God’s mission, what makes me think I can follow God without simplifying my life, too?

Her God-given mission was to help the poor. Knowing her own humanity, she knew she had to give up creature comforts in order to remain focused on her mission. Her life of poverty provided the freedom to be generous and sacrificial with her life and time. Material items distract. Compelled by the love and thirst of God, Mother Teresa knew she could not afford to be distracted by lesser things. She created space in her life that could be filled by the presence of God. Fewer possessions crowding her heart yielded greater room to the concerns of the Lord.

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The Simple Life

Each day was simple in its task.  I was to wake up, eat, walk, pray, and sleep.  Each day, I was successful.

It is difficult to not be successful with such a simple task.  Yet too often I feel as though my life is not filled with simple tasks.  Instead of checking each item off the list and falling into bed knowing I did what was necessary that day, I am often going to sleep simply because I’m too exhausted to finish the task at hand.

The Camino was simple.  Not easy, but very simple.  I don’t think my interactions with everyone I encountered were perfect, but essentially every day ended successfully.

I don’t feel this success as a teacher.  I don’t feel this success simply as a working young adult Catholic.  Most days I feel as though I am miserably failing.  Then I wake up the next day to fail again.  The stack of uncorrected papers grow, the lesson plans become less than plans and more like ideas that are half-taught.  The sleep dwindles, the time I take for prayer lessens and I fall asleep during it anyway.

I am not successful.

The world measures my life by a standard of success that I do not have the luxury of choosing.  Even if I had the option to choose my own standard, I would still fall short.

Thankfully, the Lord measures success differently.  He desires my faithfulness and not simply my apparent (or unapparent) success.  With honesty, however, I am lacking in the faithfulness department, too.

All of this draws me back to the simplicity found on the Camino.  I had no papers to grade, no lessons to plan, no time to waste on Facebook, and very little distractions apart from the beautiful scenery and the pain in my feet.  It made me wish that all of life could be like that.  That life could be a simple, clear path.  I would wake up in the morning and know exactly where I was to go and I would take the necessary steps to get there.  I would nourish my body and try to consistently be in my bed by 10 pm.  It was a forced balance that I find myself not adhering to on a regular basis.  I knew what I needed and so I did what was necessary.

How do I take the simple beauty of the Camino lifestyle, the necessary discipline encompassed within that, and apply it to my daily life?

How do I encounter success through being faithful?

How do I simplify?