Some of my fondest memories of my parents are of Mim and me sitting together with them around the dining room table, talking about our everyday lives, and laughing and laughing and laughing.
In the 1970s and 1980s when Mim and I lived in Chicago, we drove to Wisconsin to visit my parents about once every month or two. We usually arrived about noon on Saturday, in time for dinner, and returned to Chicago Sunday afternoon. My mom would have meat and potatoes and vegetables just about ready to set on the table when we pulled into the driveway. The four of us would catch up on all our news as we ate dinner. But we didn’t stop talking even when we finished the ice cream and homemade cookies we often had for dessert. We kept lingering.
Those were happy times together. Many of the stories we shared with each other ended up with all of us laughing about some aspect of the story, like bemoaning the unintended consequences of a foolish mistake one of us had made. Every one of those dinnertime conversations lasted at least an hour, sometimes two.
I thought about those family dinners last week as I was reading Chasing Joy: Musings on Life in a Bittersweet World by Edward Hays. That’s one of the books I’m reading to help me in my 2014 focus on the word “joy.”
In one of his musings, Hays described the Apache creation story. As God was creating the very first man, God gave him the abilities to talk, walk and run, think and plan, and look and hear – but something was still missing. So God withheld life until he could do one more thing – laugh. When man finally laughed, God said, “Now at last are you fit to be alive.”
In a later reflection, Hays described another Native American belief. “Among the Navajo, a newborn baby is carefully observed for his or her soul moment, that mystical moment when the baby first laughs. The Navajo believe that the soul, which in their native language is the same word as wind, as in Hebrew, enters the body sometime soon after birth. When the baby first laughs, it signals that glorious moment when the soul has finally been attached to the infant’s body.”
In my mind, sharing a first good laugh together still marks the beginning of a new life – the life of a new relationship, of a new friendship. The first time a new resident laughs with us around the table at Country Comforts is the moment we become truly a family. When we laugh together, we are enjoying each other’s company, we are all experiencing joy. This shared laughter may not necessarily be a boisterous belly laugh. It may be a slight smile, or an impish grin. Regardless of how loud our laughter, we are sharing joy. And that’s what God wants for us. The Bible instructs us in I Thessalonians 5:16-18:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. [New International Version]
There are lots of interesting musings in Chasing Joy. The book is a fun read. One of my favorite musings is entitled “Invincible Joy.” Hays reminds us of the exploits of the famous Three Musketeers. They never lost a battle because of their total commitment to each other, expressed in their motto, “All for one, and one for all!” Hays draws the comparison with joy, gratitude, and prayer – the three things Paul tells us to do: be joyful, be thankful, and pray.
Joy is likewise invincible whenever it acts “All for one, and one for all,” side by side with “Pray always,” and “Be always grateful…” Joy will be defeated easily whenever it tries to act like a lone-ranger virtue when outnumbered by a horde of misfortunes and miseries. Those famous Pauline three – joy, gratitude, and prayer – are identical triplets that sustain, protect, and encourage one another when they are lived side by side.
I’m really thankful that my parents taught me to laugh with them around the dinner table, to share the joy in our lives. I need to remember to pray, to thank God for that blessing and for all the joy our Creator placed in the world for us to discover. Joy, gratitude, and prayer – the invincible triplets.