I was under 35 years old. I had a great husband and four adorable kids who arrived at church each week scrubbed clean and dressed in gorgeous (hand-me-down) clothes.
But the truth was that I was living on the edge. Four children, aged 6 and under, and a husband who was training for Olympic distance triathlons, had pushed me to my limit. My health pushed me over the edge.
Looking at me, you would not have guessed that I was clawing my way back from a devastating illness that had thrust me to the precipice of death. I had no family in the area, no hired help, and I faced a long, grueling recuperation. There are no words to describe the deafening fatigue that crushed my days.
But I was young and I looked well, if pale. As a result, no one understood. "Yeah, it’s tiring having young kids," other moms would offer, not understanding that this was a whole other order of magnitude. "Just go to the gym; that will increase your energy," my husband often suggested. Yeah, right.
They didn’t get it. Even if I’d slept for a year, I would have awakened exhausted. On those rare occasions when I had a few hours free, I would crawl into bed and plunge into the sleep of the dead until someone bludgeoned me awake. Then I would re-enter the cheerless world of the chronically fatigued.
Over a period of years, I recovered my strength, gradually shedding the debilitating exhaustion. And as my strength returned, I noticed that joy returned as well. I had allowed the extreme fatigue to rob me of joy.
It does not have to be this way. Still, when one lives with debilitating illness or exhaustion, joy seems to slip away. It takes too much energy, and anything requiring energy is curbed in order that one foot can be put in front of the other.
This sounds pretty depressing. Fortunately, God uses our hardships to soften our hearts toward others. I came away with a profound love for young moms, whose sleep deprivation can rob them of joy during a delightful time of life.
About 10 years ago, a new ailment dragged me back into the world of chronic fatigue. Fortunately, this situation is not as dire, nor am I chasing a house full of small children. More important, I am determined to cling to joy.
Joy is defined as a source of delight not dependent upon circumstance. Fundamentally, joy is a choice.
It’s not easy, but I am choosing to be joyful. God sent his Son to die for me. I can receive Jesus in the Eucharist any day of the week. God gave us his Word in Scripture. I have wonderful friends, an incredible family and a loving husband who no longer does triathlons. We have four grandbabies who live nearby.
There is so much for which to be thankful. Being thankful is a good start toward being joyful.
It is my hope, however, that I will remain joyful even when circumstances are grim. Over time, I will lose family members to death. Financial stress, disappointments and tragedy are bound to press in on me. I may not always be happy, but God will always be my source of delight.
Joy is a choice. And it’s a choice worth making.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.