Sunday, March 20, 2011

The problem with "happy"

Whenever my mother comes to visit, she always surprises me with her enthusiasm for changing diapers.  She literally jumps at the chance to change my son's diapers.  Of course, I let her.  Most of the time, diaper changes are gross, and here, where we use cloth, they involve putting my hands into the toilet.  But as thrilled as she is to do such a dirty task, I would never go so far as to say that she enjoys changing a diaper for the mere act of changing a diaper.  Rather, I'm fairly certain that she sees it as an opportunity to bond with her grandchild, and she finds pleasure in taking care of him.

I have yet to meet a woman who would claim that changing a diaper for the sake of changing of diaper brings happiness. The act is by nature unpleasant. The joy comes from knowing that the mother is taking care of her child.

Likewise, the act of labor is by nature unpleasant.  No woman could (or, perhaps to be politically correct, as some would challenge me- few women can) could find any amount of bliss in the midst of the pain if it were not for the knowledge that she was bringing forth a new life.

And yet, we seem to think that perpetual bliss is attainable, and we set out to structure our lives in such a way that we eliminate the things that are uncomfortable, annoying, or gross, so that we can have the pleasure without having to do any of the work.

The irony here is that this requires us to push those uncomfortable tasks off on someone else.  We hire another woman to change the diapers, hang out the wash,  make the beds, and scrub the toilets.  We gladly cook the meals, but expect our husbands do the dishes.  Consequently the pursuit of happiness often comes at the expense of another's happiness.  Who could argue that a hired woman could find pleasure in the act of scrubbing a toilet?  While she may appreciate the paycheck, the tasks of her job prevent her from obtaining perpetual bliss. Structuring our lives in such a way that we force another person to do the unhappy jobs we've been given only results in a social hierarchy where certain people are allowed spend their days doing only that which brings pleasure, and the rest of the people are there to clean up their messes.

As Christians, we were never promised happiness.  We were encouraged to be content.  And, at times, we may find that being content is extraordinarily difficult, and that life is unfair.  But we were called to many and various vocations, and those vocations will require us to do the uncomfortable, annoying, and downright gross jobs that the people around us need us to do for them.  And it's because of that relationship we have with those around us that we find the satisfaction.  Our relationship with each other drives us to serve, and to serve contentedly, for it is through our service to one another that Christ is meeting the needs of his people.


  1. Leah, i give this post 10 thumbs up and a million high fives :) Seriously, right on girl. I had this very realization, though with much less comprehension than you :) this afternoon as I was preparing for your very mother to come for a dinner visit with some of the other "locals" ;)

    My sons were playing outside when my middle child came in complaining he had peed on his new bike (a child that still wears diapers). My husband, confused, approached said son and began to question to see that his pants were indeed urine soaked. Dang leaking diapers. So seeing that I was arm deep in dinner preparation he sighed and went off to take care of our child. Suddenly I felt compassion for both my son and husband. I felt compassion for my husband because he's all too willing...sometimes much too willing, to his wife that likes to take advantage of his help and I felt compassion for my son because I am his mother and I could see how upset he was that he was wet...I wanted to comfort him, take care of him. So I called out, "Honey, stop, go relax, I'm taking this one." He said, "why?" I said, "Because I'm his mother." And it was as I was completing the change that your parents and others arrived.

    As mothers we need to remember that even though our stepping down may deprive others of bliss, that at times accepting that help is good and even helpful for the helper. For as Christians to deprive others of opportunities to serve would not be beneficial. And yet, it is one thing to accept a generous helping offer and another to dodge our labors for the sake of dodging and pampering our own sinful lazy flesh.

    Thanks so much for sharing this Leah, brilliant.

  2. >>this requires us to push those uncomfortable tasks off on someone else.

    Yup. I suppose I'm a jerk for it, but I'm less unhappy with leaving the kids than I am with expecting someone else take care of them.

  3. I read this one this morning and have found myself thinking of it off and on all day. Good post! You are right! All too often I am happy to leave the toilet cleaning and sock folding to last in the hopes that someone else will do it before I get to it. My husband usually runs a load of dishes on Friday, so Thursday evening I tell myself it's ok, I'm tired, he'll do those tomorrow if I just leave them. Yet at the same time, I find myself trying to do it all by myself and struggle to keep up. This weekend for example, I worked at home until about 10 Friday night, worked on the house (rearranging the laundry room, I will post pictures soon!) all day Saturday and kept my cousins kids Saturday night - I was up being productive until about 11, then Sunday I worked on school stuff from about 11am to 11pm pretty much straight through. Here is Monday already and I am exhausted but have no choice but to keep on. :-( There must be some middle ground...

  4. Melrose- If anyone in the world would be understanding if dinner was a little late because you were helping your child, it would be my parents!

    Rebekah- I agree!

    WIM- I used to look forward to the weekends, only to feel like a failure come Sunday nights when I didn't my house clean enough and I still hadn't changed over the calendar at school. You're in my prayers.