Father John Catoir

A mother from Maryland recently wrote me about something I wrote on joy. She came across something I wrote about the value to be found in giving and sharing one’s time, in having uplifting thoughts and in helping others. I said these are the very things that bring joy to the soul. I asked the question: Why not decide to be joyful?

“I was feeling quite valueless today,” she wrote. “Now that my kids are grown and out on their own, I am no longer needed as a Mommy. I feel like I have no value anymore. My life was so wrapped up in them for 30 years; their father was not really present for most of it, and now I am tempted to feel more and more empty.”

The children, now adults, had started families and households of their own.

“All are strong, healthy, wonderful people, but they don’t need me anymore,” she wrote. “I realize these feelings are pretty normal and that I’ve done a good job because the kids are all going forward without me, but it still hurts.”

She said that after reading Trappist Father Thomas Merton, “I realize my feelings are not unusual. And that if I take heart and remain brave enough to go straight into that place of complete aloneness with God, I can find the fullness of life in his arms, and nothing can take that peace away.”

I understood when she told me how it’s easy to lose a sense of peace and wellness. But then, she wrote, “I have to decide to be a happy, joyful person, in spite of my ups and downs. In a way, I’m just feeling the weight of the human condition. I see that the world is a lonely place, and even though I have emotional pain at times, I can choose to be happy anyway. My faith makes me whole.”

And the most gratifying part of the letter: “Thanks for helping me to pull myself out of the blues.”

I was proud and wrote to her, telling her there’s a song about the feelings she was experiencing. It’s called “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.”

Feelings are real, but by faith you also know that feelings are not facts. Everyone feels lost and bewildered at times. However, believers know that the spirit of love abides deep within them. This deeper faith may not warm our hearts immediately, but we have to hang on to it because it will protect us from slipping into the cancer of self-pity.

Rather than brood in bed at night when your emotions are upset, try this for therapy: Take a cold shower for 30 seconds, then slowly turn it back to hot. You’ll feel great.

I told the sweet soul who sent the correspondence: “I did not see a bit of self-pity in your letter; just emotional pain. Neither did I see any self-pity in St. Augustine’s great quote, ‘O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.'”