The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 4: Joy in Trusting God [1 of 2]
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.
–Psalm 86:1-4 (NIV)
I grew up a child of the 60’s and 70’s, a country boy living and playing in the woods surrounding our house in Maine, New York. Maybe I’m a victim of selective memory, but I don’t recall harboring very many cares in the world; as a kid I had seemingly unlimited opportunities to have fun and enjoy life, and my parents raised us with a liberality almost unheard of in today’s society of distrust. Don’t get me wrong, I fought with my brothers, instigated disobedience, and participated in wholesale stupidity. I was petulant, controlling, and could be downright mean. When required, my parents could be strategic distributors of corporal punishment, from Mom yanking the back of my hairline to Dad snapping his well-worn belt. But I knew my parents loved me and cared about me, even as I screamed “I hate you!” while opening and closing my bedroom door 100 times because I slammed it during a fit of anger. I trusted my parents to take care of me, even if I didn’t realize it and appreciate it at the time, and in return, my parents trusted us.
During summer vacation my mom would shoo us outside after breakfast; “Get out of the house and get the stink blowed off you,” she would tell us. My brothers and I would rush through the screen door and tumble into fields and woods filled with bugs, mud, adventure, and imagination. We spent hours exploring the forests, catching crayfish in the creeks, picking our way through the ruins of an ancient slaughterhouse we called “the barn,” and climbing sheer cliffs rising from the creek bed to the crest of the hill facing our house. We built forts out of weeds, dams out of rocks, and go-carts out of scrap wood, tricycle wheels, and plastic Big Wheel tires. We rode our cool bicycles with high-rise handlebars, banana seats, and florescent orange flags ten miles on a busy state highway to a local swimming lake. We had all-out apple fights in the neighbor’s side yard when the tiny, hard green apples on their gnarled tree faded to pale yellow. And every afternoon, as the sun swept across the upstate New York sky and settled over King Hill, my mom would thrust her index finger and thumb into her mouth and whistle when supper was ready. We immediately ran home.
My parents trusted us to entertain ourselves outside whether it was summer, winter, spring, or fall. They trusted us to keep our bearings, keep out of trouble, keep from killing ourselves (or each other), and keep playing. We trusted our parents to clothe us in bell bottoms, wide-striped shirts, jean jackets, and Ked High Tops. We trusted Dad to go to work every day, come home, and kiss Mom as he walked in the front door. We trusted Mom to keep frying up liver, boiling up rigatoni, or cooking up a venison roast for dinner. Joy was our agreeable playmate, and we took for granted the freedom of our parents’ trust because that’s all we knew as kids. Until I fell in love.
At twelve I started babysitting my brothers, ages ten and eight, and my four-year-old sister on Wednesday nights. Like a lot of good, dedicated Catholics, my parents dutifully drove into town to fellowship with other Catholics and non-Catholics alike at the church hall. In the century-old converted inn smelling of must and acrid floor polish, one of the volunteers took a seat on stage promptly at 7:00, reached into the hopper, pulled out a ping-pong ball, and read off the first number: “B-4!” At which the crowd responded “And after!” My dad called Bingo while my mom hung out with the ladies and gambled the night away, all in the name of fun and raising money for the church, of course.
My babysitting responsibilities, like playing in the woods, were pretty simple: stay out of trouble, don’t kill each other, and make sure everyone goes to bed on time. For this, and for doing my household chores, I earned 50 cents a week as an allowance. When I reached thirteen I started mowing our yard for my dad: $2.00 to push-mow the half-acre hilly lawn, $1.00 to rake the cut grass, and 50 cents to collect the grass and dump it in the compost pile. And as I got even older I rolled up my sleeves and weeded flower gardens, raked leaves, and mowed other lawns for fun and profit. Mostly for profit. Well, okay, all for profit. You see, I had an addiction: I built plastic models, graduating to balsa-wood airplanes, which led to building and flying radio control model aircraft, which transitioned to flying full-scale sailplanes. None of that was cheap, and my parents told me early on if I wanted to continue feeding my addiction I had to earn my own money. As a result, I fell in love with not only airplanes, but, over time, with money and its alluring benefits.
I worked hard for it. I kept a running tally of the income from all my 50-cents-an-hour babysitting jobs, adding it up constantly as I worked toward the goal of purchasing a new R/C kit, another Estes rocket, or a Monogram model airplane. I soon gained a shining reputation as one of the most trusted babysitters for the Town of Maine, which swelled my tally sheet even more. Babysitting and lawn mowing led to frying grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches and dishing up soft-serve at the local ice cream store. I cleaned toilets, swept parking lots, knocked down spiders from around the florescent lights illuminating the town’s small grocery and department store complex. If I wanted something I set my financial goal and worked my butt off to get it. At one time I worked three jobs to support my glider-flying habit–while a senior in high school.
I quickly learned that good hard work brought in cold hard cash, and cold hard cash bought what I wanted. And what I wanted brought me joy. Sometimes. And sometimes at a price. As the apostle Matthew wrote in his gospel, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26 NIV). Half-way through college money began to edge into the spotlight of my striving as I chose to stick with engineering and table my desire to switch to journalism until after I had earned my degree and gotten a job. Then money became a means of redemption, an idol of second chances, the holy grail of my desires. Slowly, insidiously, my trust in money and the power I gave it to bring about the realization of my dreams, overtook and replaced my trust in anything else. “Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant,” circus mogul P.T. Barnum said. I believe him: my misplaced trust in money had turned my life into a regular three-ring circus, but not the fun kind. No, the kind featuring evil clowns, a freak show, and mistreated lions with clumps of fur missing.
Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes