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  • Betsy Singleton Snyder

The Calming Goat

I've been reading a book about how to be happy.*

From my observation of people I know, and of what I see and read in the news and online, many of us are pursuing happiness. As Americans, we certainly talk about the "pursuit of happiness" and are bombarded with media 24/7 about what we're missing out on and what we need to make us happy.

However, I come from a different perspective. I am shaped by a uniquely Christian view that happiness doesn't reside in all the stuff we want to buy, the higher paying job, the better house, the upgraded car. (I discuss this car thing regularly with a tween who seems to think we need an Audi or Volvo wagon.) Right now, we have two old vans, one scratched and dented far beyond its years, and a small around-town, 5-seater car. All are paid off and look pretty good to the parents.

Neither do I believe contentment resides in our children's achievements, or how fit we are, though physical fitness is a factor in well-being. As I see more recent pictures of myself, I am very much aware the face I see in the mirror is not as young as it once was, but happy isn't dependent on youth, or beauty.

Even so, I forget what authentic happiness looks like. I'm describing a kind of happiness that isn't focused on pleasure, accumulation, or even the rewards of work. This kind of happiness doesn't wallow in holding a grudge, getting my way, or even living up to people's expectations of me, some of which are exhausting.

With my busyness as a pastor and a mom of four, I find myself worrying about how to get the 4th grade snacks, who is going to pick up two boys for tennis in two different places, whether I signed the behavior document (another worry in itself), if I calendared my son's first time to play at a ball game, and did the art camp call back? These preoccupations do not include playdates, carpools, or even the reality that I need to go by the bank and have them fix my online banking app for the third time.

Children are sensitive to their parents moods. Mine know when my mind is not present, when I'm not conversing or really listening, and they know when I'm upset. It's true. I'm am not reserved about what I"m feeling because I have very big feelings.

Not long ago, we saw the animated movie, "Ferdinand," based on the book, "The Story of Ferdinand." It's a book I loved reading to the boys when they were younger. I love that an exquisitely, big bull, Ferdinand, prefers to sniff flowers and sit under a cork tree rather than to be a big bully. He's a non-violent alternative to the rest of the young bulls who are ready to compete against the matadors at all costs. He's an example of authenticity, an example that being happy might not be about getting the upper hand, competing, or winning.

When Ferdinand is forced to train as a regular bull, to show his brut strength, the owners provide a calming goat for him. Lupe, voiced by Kate McKinnon, becomes Ferdinand's friend, encourager, and coach. She's a bit loud and a straight-talker, but, at heart, a softy.

While all my boys are sensitive, there is one who could be a professional counselor. He's wise and honest, naming the reality of my mood. He not only senses what I'm feeling, but he calls it out, which is a healthy way for me to deal with myself, rather than to stuff it, or ignore it. Recently, I was having a moment, and it wasn't a good one. As I was expressing my frustration, this kid put his arms around me, and said, "Momma, I'm your calming goat."

It's not my children's responsibility to take care of my feelings or my happiness, but keeping me honest is a great skill set for them to have and me to affirm. Letting your child or someone else tell you what they see--your distress, sadness, anger--is a path to moving forward and past situations that cause us pain. It's also a way to gain emotional intelligence.

I believe Jesus was good at telling people what he saw in them, and by naming it--their illness, their past, their hurts--he freed them, and liberated them for love and happiness, which is at the root of peace, hope and joy.

*Happy?: What It Is and How to Find It, by Matt Miofsky

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