Several years ago our family took a leap of faith and went to Disneyland. This required well over a year of saving to afford the airfare, park tickets and a room in the Disneyland Hotel. Arriving at the hotel in the late afternoon, our girls burst into our room inspecting the Disney themed art that assured them they were, in fact, in Disneyland.
While our girls were diving into their room, a few doors down the hall, I saw a mom and dad dealing with a calamity that I had worried our family would experience: the Disneyland Meltdown. I had read about it in the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland: A family invests the small fortune required to get to Disneyland and, seeking to make the most of the investment, starts early and spends a long day standing in lines in the sun. By the afternoon, their children’s enthusiasm has waned and the sugar high from $5 churros wears off. The walk back to the hotel then turns into a trail of tears as any small incident can become a major crisis.
This family had, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, tried to pack too much into the day, and their kids were losing it. The dad and I briefly made eye contact and, though no words were spoken, I felt his pain. So much invested in a trip, and it wasn’t as magical as expected.
As it turned out, our family had a great time. Between my wife’s thorough park touring plan and strategic naps, we were available to avoid the Disneyland Meltdown. Even so, when the trip was done and we returned home, we were a little relieved to get back to our routine.
Years later, reading Josef Pieper’s Leisure the Basis of Culture, I learned more about what really makes time with our families satisfying. Pieper explains that true leisure, or the experience of true rest that fills us with genuine happiness, “is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation. It is in the first place an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul.”
Big vacations can be fun. But they aren’t necessary for a family to be happy. What is necessary is the right spirit. An openness to find joy in the unexpected places God intends.
My favorite memory from our trip to Disneyland wasn’t one of the rides. It was how, each night, walking back to the hotel, at a particular spot one of my daughters asked to be carried, and then at another my other daughter would get her turn. These requests were born not of exhaustion but of the gentle, innocent playfulness possessed by children of a certain age. This moment happened in Disneyland, but it could have happened any place that our family was truly present to one another.
Whatever the setting, the quality of our time together as a family depends on our ability to participate in the playfulness of the Holy Spirit. Noting how Proverbs Chapter 8 describes wisdom playing with God throughout creation, Pieper encourages us to cultivate hearts oriented toward participating in that playfulness of the Holy Spirit.
In the same way that playing a sport well requires practice, participating in the playfulness of the Holy Spirit requires practice too. It requires training the soul to receive happiness from God, rather than grasping happiness by its own power.
Our time in prayer and contemplation prepares our souls for happiness. Sometimes that training is hard. Going to Mass doesn’t always feel rewarding. Sometimes we feel we don’t have time for contemplation and adoration. Nevertheless, that time is vital if we want to open our hearts to receive happiness.
As we prepare to take some time away from work during this beautiful time of year in our beautiful part of the country, let’s invest a little up front in quiet time in prayer. That way, we will be ready to appreciate the other gifts that God offers us.
Northwest Catholic - July/August 2019