In his wheel chair parked at his same familiar spot at the corner dining room table, his head was bowed and eyes were closed. He wasn’t praying, but rather “resting.” If you asked him a question, he would answer. I came to learn that this posture, not unique to him, was just Daddy saving energy. In spite of how it appeared, at five pm on the dot, he was eager for dinner. This was the rhythm of his life.
Mother used to join him for meals, but her increased pain and limited ability to eat or help Daddy to eat has made her visits more infrequent. So during our recent trip to State College, Becca and I would join Daddy for meals. The experience was eye-opening.
The Anthony Wing
The Anthony floor, where Daddy resides, is the final step. You’ve earned your spot because your health challenges are so significant that you need substantial round-the-clock care. This is the wing that includes a passcode to enter and exit.
It became apparent that Daddy and his fellow Anthony residents are all quite literally taking life one breath at a time. Given their compromised quality of life, and one that declines almost daily, it is cause to wonder, how do you get through the day?
During dinner, on this particular day, Daddy seemed especially tired, closing his eyes during bites. Martha was present who notoriously shouts things repeatedly like, “help me, help me! I can’t do this! I don’t want to be here!” And, Helen who seems to compete to be noticed, drones on and on and on, “Ollie, Ollie, Ollie.” No one knows who or what Ollie is. Still, unless she is chewing, Helen’s monotone mantra of “Ollie” is non-stop.
Given this distracting atmosphere, Becca and I were looking down at our phones. Not because we didn’t want to engage, but no one seemed capable of engaging.
Cause to sing? !
Then…..remarkably, eyes still closed, Daddy began to sing. At first I thought he had joined Martha and Helen’s planet. But no. Muffled music was softly playing under their demanding voices, and he recognized the tune. “but when I look at you, it’s just Oh Johnny Oh Jonny Oh.” He masterfully had sifted out the noise and focused on the positive. In contrast, I was gritting my teeth and playing on my phone just to endure the aggravation.
It got me to thinking. How often do I let the annoyances of life derail my attitude? And how do I stay tuned in to a frequency that gives me a heart to sing?
I spent some time in scripture and landed on this passage in James that in my bible includes the heading– Faith and Endurance.
James 1:2 (NLT) 2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
This verse is one of those verses that for me, can evoke a sarcastic response of “yeah, right!” Please tell me I’m not the only one?
At the time James wrote this verse, Christians had allowed their frustrating circumstances to steal their joy. In their defense, they had justifiable reasons for a bad attitude.
After all, they faced unrelenting trials and suffering at the hand of Saul who was zealous in his efforts to destroy anyone associated with Jesus. What they faced was more than a little annoyance. As a result, these Christians experienced fear, grief, confusion, loneliness and even despair. They had every right to be negative.
Joy can still be yours
James acknowledged their suffering but also wanted to give them hope. He assured them that inner joy could still be theirs. It meant they’d have to take control of their thinking and change their attitude. To do so would require them to pause and refocus on their faith.
The residents in Anthony have good reason to have a bad attitude. Their days are often painful. Their bodies and minds are abandoning them and suffering is daily fare. I’m certain they experience fear, grief, confusion, loneliness, and despair just like those persecuted Christians.
And yet my Daddy chooses to sing.
When he finished his meal, Becca and I rolled him back to his home — a small hospital room, twenty feet away, covered in photos, with a large Utz pretzel jar flanking the drawer filled with Hershey chocolate. Before leaving he told us a few jokes. He hugged us and told us he loved us and asked us to turn on Andy Griffith. Content. Simple. Joyful.
My daddy is joyful. And… that doesn’t make logical sense. In spite of his broken body and painful circumstances he has chosen joy. I’ve decided in his case, muscle memory has kicked in. There is no rational reason for his joy EXCEPT that He knows where he’s going. He is so practiced at being joyful, that even now, in the darkness, his “go to” is JOY.
We can all rationalize reasons to be negative and sour. We can all point to circumstances that give us justification for a bad attitude. Seeing my parents with unrelenting Parkinsons is reason enough for me.
But if that isn’t enough….
People hurt us, the past haunts us, loved ones mistreat us, parents aren’t there for us, friends don’t consider us, spouses don’t honor us, children don’t appreciate us, finances don’t support us, and our health doesn’t sustain us. James’ instructions to the believers of his time, applies to us too.
Attitude is a choice
Once reminded that my attitude was my choice, I closed my bible. The truth is, nothing has the power to influence my attitude unless I allow it to.
Although enduring trials and suffering with joy can be difficult, doing so strengthens our faith. Our attitudes are an outward reflection of what’s happening in our hearts. When our heart’s focus is in the right place, our attitudes will be too.
Imagine, in the face of your challenging circumstances, how your unexpected joy will confuse and confound the watching world.
And when you approach the end of your life, as is true for my joyful Daddy, may this proverb be true for you too.
Proverbs 4:18 (MSG) 18 The ways of right-living people glow with light; the longer they live, the brighter they shine.