Celebration has been on my mind because we have been celebrating Mike’s long anticipated PhD defense, and because it’s almost Father’s Day.
During a recent visit from my parents, I noticed that my dad is great at celebrating. He anticipates causes for celebration, makes notes of milestones, and plans celebratory activities.
At the end of the school year, or after winning a soccer game, or for birthdays and holidays, Dad did a great job of marking and celebrating the day. He does a masterful decking of the halls each year for Christmas.
Dad works harder than most people I know and has very high expectations for himself, but he balances these somewhat hard driving tendencies with an admirable ability to celebrate victories, mark special moments, relax and revel in the joys of life.
I easily assumed the work ethic and high expectations modeled for me, but I don’t always contrast the salty sweat of work with the sweet refreshment of rest and celebration.
I have a nasty habit of feeling the need to earn relaxation and fun, while continually pushing the standard a bit beyond what I’ve accomplished. When this tendency has shown itself in conversations over the years, my dad has often encouraged me to “live a little” and “stop punishing myself.”
I think what he knows that I’ve had trouble understanding is that the world will give you plenty of grief. The happy moments should be embraced instead of clouded by self inflicted guilt.
At my age, my dad had experienced exponentially more loss and pain than I have. He lost his dad as a young teenager, and lost close friends to car accidents and drugs before college graduation.
He worked full time through college. One of his jobs was at a mental hospital where he worked with severely psychologically disturbed, sometimes criminal, children.
As a young man, my dad had seen and felt the pain the world can bring more acutely than most. Instead of building elaborate defenses to avoid future wounds, he kept his heart open.
Some people reject the idea of a good God when they’ve seen more than their share of the world’s ugliness. For my dad, it was a relief to know and embrace a God of real love, one strong enough to overcome the suffering of the world.
He’s stayed tender and lighthearted, able to appreciate the happy, peaceful days. He doesn’t take for granted healthy children or a summer vacation because he’s known far different realities.
In an admirable duality, he’s also been the only friend left for more than one person entrenched in the pain of a lifetime. There’s not much he loves more than a good party, but he’s a companion in the dark hours, too.
In my relatively easy life, I don’t always notice and savor the good moments. I get wrapped up in to do lists and inconsequential hurt feelings and mild discomforts.
It’s important to celebrate accomplishments, to pause and recognize the mountain we climbed before starting the next one.
What about the moments we couldn’t have orchestrated, the blessings we didn’t earn, the relationships that remind us of a good God?
We should celebrate those, too, as an act of gratitude.
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Psalm 30:11-12