So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15 NIV)
The clamor of four jubilant boys like stairsteps tearing across the parking lot caught my attention. The youngest, two, maybe three, lost his footing in the rush and was on the verge of tears when his mother just scooped him up and set him upright. Undaunted, his celebratory mood returned and he caught up with the other three and climbed inside their SUV with them.
The whole while the father, a muscular, fit man was unloading the groceries into the open hatch. Theirs was a picture of perfection to me, so happy to be on vacation, so caught up in the moment. I smiled.
Only then did my eye follow the father returning the shopping cart to the cart stand. What I saw surprised me. He was wearing a prosthetic leg below the knee. I didn’t know if he was a wounded veteran of an amputee because of some rapacious form of cancer. Does it really matter? He and the rest of his family knew the secret of finding joy in the here and now in even the simplest of tasks, like a trip to the grocery store.
I think the reason I found their unbridled joy so infectious was it spoke to the part of me where memories of my own family’s summer beach vacations sat dusty and unattended. Like that family, there were four of us kids. Towards the end of his life, my father told me every night of our annual week’s vacation he would count his money to make sure we could make it through another day.
We always stayed in a modest cottage and my mother cooked nearly all of our meals. It was a no-frills affair every year, but it was one we all lived for. Somehow, my father, through sheer ingenuity managed to weave adventure into the fabric of our days, transforming ordinary pastimes like a picnic lunch served from the back of our station wagon into memories I wouldn’t take anything for. It was good to see the magic is still there for the picking.
Every family has its challenges. My mother struggled with mental health issues all of her adult life and it was all she could do to see to it the simple bare necessities were taken care of. There was no extra energy for affection and interaction with us four on a personal level. So my father stepped in and tried to do the hands-on parenting for the both of them.
Regardless of our circumstances, God didn’t intend for us to go through life in sackcloth and ashes. He knows the value of taking time off to recharge and enjoy ourselves and he doesn’t begrudge us having that time. Some of our most meaningful memories are made during those times, ones that solidify the family unit and help us learn the value of a life well-lived.
Dear Father, Please help us to be ever mindful of the role joy plays in our well-being. Amen.