I hate winter. I hate the cold and the grey and the snow. I hate having to wear boots and mitts and hats. I hate the way my glasses fog up and my shoulders ache from hunching against the wind. I hate that it takes longer to get anywhere on slippery sidewalks and crowded buses. As autumn draws to a close, the dread builds and builds until the first snowfall when I can finally slide into bitter resignation.
On this year’s first day of snow, I was volunteering in my son’s Grade 1 classroom—perhaps an unfortunate location given my state of my mind. At the end of the day, as I grudgingly piled on my winter layers, cursing the weather in my heart, one of my son’s classmates, recently arrived from Mexico, came up to me and whispered, eyes wide with delight, “I have never seen snow before in my life. Is this all of it?”
I, of course, melted. In that moment, I was given the grace to take joy in his joy. My burden became this boy’s gift—which is not to say I suddenly liked the snow. I still hated it. I just no longer wished it gone because the joy in that whisper was of so much greater value than my comfort. I still dread the piles of snow that lie ahead, but I am also anticipating the wonder and excitement that awaits him in the coming (long, dark, miserable) months. His joy is my joy and I am better for it.
And so I wonder: where else might I allow someone else’s joy to transform a burden into a willingly offered gift? Where else might I place my comfort at the service of someone else’s joy?
I do so many things in the name of comfort and convenience. Where I shop and what I buy; who I associate with; what I read; how I worship—over and over again, my primary concern is what is easiest for me, physically or emotionally. As a result, my joy is a comfortable joy, but it is a small, limited, selfish joy. I want more. I believe that I—and each of us—was created for more.
Jesus told his disciples to love one another as he loved them so that his joy would be in them and that their joy might be full. Perhaps this is how that works. In loving one another—loving workers across the world; loving strangers and those who unsettle me; loving people seeking God in ways unfamiliar to me—I find joy in things that would not otherwise bring me joy. The burden of extra costs or awkward encounters or weird liturgy becomes a gift.
My joy is made full, because it is expanded by theirs.
Though I reserve the right to complain about the weather when no adorable children from warmer climes are around to hear me.
The Rev. Rhonda Water is associate priest of Christ Church Cathedral, diocese of Montreal.