Most of us have heard this one before. The surest way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans. It’s not because our plans are silly or stupid. Although they often are, God will still laugh at our plans even when they are wise and intelligent.
The reason is we view things differently from God. We attach great importance to things that are not very important, but we also tend to lessen the importance of things that are of great importance.
And sometimes we have the opportunity to learn something that we weren’t expecting. He no doubt finds that amusing since he sees it coming while we do not.
For the past few months, our choir has been practicing a lot for the Christmas Eve Mass. In addition to the Mass, there’s about 30 minutes of singing Christmas songs before it begins. This year our choir director also got together 25 or so of our teens who play instruments in high school to form an orchestra. We had everything except percussion instruments and a cello (sadface for no cello). By all accounts of those who were present on Saturday evening, it was fabulous and really made the Mass a wonderful experience for all who were there.
I, however, was not one of them.
Shortly after getting home from our final practice Wednesday evening, I started to feel a slight tickle in the back of my throat. I’d begun to get a tiny amount of sinus draining earlier that day, but thought nothing of it. That often happens to me when the weather changes in December.
But it persisted into Thursday, and by Thursday evening the tickle was still there and the congestion was a bit worse. I really wanted to be able to sing in the choir on Saturday. So I was sure to get enough sleep, take my Zyrtec, and pray that I would not lose my voice. If I’m going to have my voice messed up from draining sinuses, let it happen after Mass please.
Friday I thought I was probably going to be ok as the tickle was going away, but by dinnertime the congestion was unchanged so I warned my wife that there was a growing likelihood I wouldn’t be able to sing at Mass. That was clear a few hours later after we returned from playing games with some friends at their house, when I was awakened by a piercing headache. I took my temperature and it was 101. So much for going to Mass period, much less singing at it. And so much for Christmas with the family on Sunday.
I don’t say this asking for sympathy. I say this because I was a bit surprised at my reaction to all of this. I expected to be greatly disappointed with God, possibly even angry. This was something I’d been practicing for since at least early October, and eagerly looking forward to from the moment we began doing Mack Wilberg’s version of “The First Nowell”. In addition, I didn’t get to spend Christmas with the family in and around town.
And yet… I was happy. I prayed Saturday morning that everything would go well for the orchestra and choir, that everyone at Mass would enjoy the special music. I was not sad that I wasn’t going to be able to participate, or even hear it for myself. My focus was truly on other people rather than myself, which is usually not the case when I’m directly involved in something. For at least once in my life, it truly wasn’t about me and I was happy about that.
When checking Facebook late Saturday evening, my friends who also attend my parish and who were at the 430PM Mass had glowing praise for the orchestra and singing. I was still sick, but truly felt better reading their posts.
Sunday when my wife left to celebrate Christmas with the family, I prayed that they would have a joyful celebration and was also happy. I was happy despite not being there, happy because I knew they were going to be having a good time.
My disappointment at being sick, at missing out on the Christmas Eve Mass, at not being able to celebrate Christmas with the family, was microscopic. I had been given an opportunity that I rarely have.
That was the opportunity to pray for the happiness of others without being able to participate directly in that happiness. Without even the little bit of immediate reciprocity that comes from something simple like giving money to charity, or a smile to a stranger. Without being able to “take” any of it for myself.
And the incredible thing was, through prayer I was still able to participate directly in their happiness. And more. By getting nothing out of it for myself, I was able to receive something far greater that I would have received had I been there.
With God’s joyous laughter in the background the whole time 🙂