(c) Rev. Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved

I made a vow many years ago not to devote Sunday services to celebrate Mother’s or Father’s Day.  There are simply too many good people who are not parents.  But, in keeping with my message topic for today on the eight pillars of joy, one of which is humor, I offer these quotes on motherhood and life from the late, great humorist Erma Bombeck.

According to Erma, the only reason most busy moms take up jogging is so that they can hear heavy breathing again.

Her theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?

We should always seize the moment by remembering all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.

Know the difference between success and fame.  Success is Mother Teresa.  Fame is Madonna.

I wonder why when our babies cutely giggle, they belong to daddy, but when they have a sagging diaper that smells like a landfill, “They want their mommy.”

For years I suggested to my husband that we take separate vacations.  But when we did, the kids kept finding us.

Always spend at least one Mother’s Day with your potential Mother-in-Law.  If your potential husband gives his mom a gift certificate for a flu shot, dump him.

I don’t think women outlive men.  It only seems longer to women.

When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.

My message theme this month has been “Our search for well-being” and I’ve used the Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, as a primary resource for three messages.  The first was on the nature of joy.  Last week’s was on obstacles to joy and today’s message topic will be on the eight pillars of joy. 

One of those pillars, or keys to lasting contentment, is to encourage in ourselves a strong sense of humor.    Echoing Erma Bombeck’s statement that “she who laughs…..lasts”, the Book of Joy tells us that humor is a primary way to diffuse sadness.  It’s a gift we share with others just as it is a gift to our attitudes.  A healthy sense of humor, a playful or slightly goofy demeanor do not mean we cruelly mock others.  Humor helps create joy by gently teasing one another or by pointing out the amusing ironies of life – much like Erma Bombeck did.

Both the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu modeled that attitude by having fun with each other and, as they say in the book, always smiling.  Those who smile a lot give evidence of their inner peace and joy.  Their smiles and laughter are contagious.  Everyone enjoys being around an upbeat, funny and joyful person.

I quoted Erma Bombeck as an introduction to my message in hopes  it initiates some humor and joy.  But as with many things, any joy created from a few funny lines will be temporary.  We need, as the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu say, ways to build not just occasional happiness, but ways to build an enduring sense of well-being.  As the book says, such a demeanor is one that is not shaken in times of trouble.  Joyful people remain peaceful no matter their circumstances. 

After defining what they mean by joy, which Is a perpetual state of mind and not mere happiness – which can come and go, and after sharing the several obstacles to joy, the two men share in the final portion of the book the 8 pillars, or ways to build, lasting joy.  I will list list them in what I believe is their order of importance.

The root of all forms of suffering, I believe, is too much preoccupation with the self.  Most religions and forms of spirituality agree.   At some point in life, people acquire the misguided belief that the only way to be happy is to look out for number one.  Life is viewed through a prism of “me” – what I need, what I want, what affects me for good or bad.  The cure for that condition, according to the Book of Joy, is to think less of the self and more about others.  What do others need, what do they want, what affects them for good or bad?  That “others oriented” thinking leads directly to one of the 8 pillars of joy – humility.

An ego driven attitude causes separation between people, the Book of Joy says.  Self-centered people think their needs or thoughts are superior to others.  Life becomes a competition to get what each person wants.  By adopting humility in our hearts and minds, we no longer feel the need to compete or feel superior.  We are content with what we have and who we are.  Engaging with one another equally is how humble people live.

Such people derive their joy from seeing other people are content.  They praise others more than they seek recognition for themselves.  And numerous studies show such humility is good for relationships.  Couples that thrive are ones where the partners regularly affirm the other.

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu also encourage a sense of perspective for building contentment.  One should figuratively look at the forest, and not the tree – they say.  Too often, we focus on one event that causes us to suffer, without seeing the bigger picture – that a time of pain is a minor thing in the totality of our lives and that it is only one small bit of hurt in a world awash with terrible suffering.  A sense of perspective is a pillar of joy that I believe follows directly from humility.

I love Desmond Tutu’s praise for those who remain positive and not cynical.  He shared the example of how people deal with a car salesman.  Someone without perspective sees a car salesman as an enemy.  The negotiation will be tough and one must fight to win. If we humble ourselves to the point where we have a broader perspective, we will empathize with the needs of the salesman.  We will see the potential loss of some money as a minor thing compared to remaining peaceful and content.  Our needs are not the primary factor for us.

With a better sense of perspective, we gain an attitude of acceptance – one of the other 8 pillars of joy.  When we learn to accept the flow of life as something natural and not to be fought, we enhance our sense of well-being.  Perspective allows us to recognize the things that we can change, and those we cannot.  Acceptance then asks us to let go of things over which we have no control – whether a storm will ravage our homes, or someone will hurt us for no reason.  This attitude is much like drifting down a river.  We cannot control when placid times occur nor when challenging rapids happen.  We might try to steer ourselves toward calmer waters but overall, life is something we learn to take as it comes – embracing change and challenges as good things – ones that help us grow and learn.

Emerging from acceptance comes another means to acquire contentment.  We must learn to quickly and easily forgive.  If we accept that everybody suffers, we’ll recognize that we are all fragile and flawed creatures.  Others will inevitably offend me from time to time.   And I will inevitably offend others.  In the same way that I hope for mercy when I cause hurt, I must be willing to offer the same.  Such is the Golden Rule at work. 

Forgiveness will also come when I understand why I suffer.  It’s my mind that causes me to feel wounded by thoughts that I’ve been hurt, my sense of self has been belittled or, I’m entitled to be angry when someone criticizes me.  Those thoughts are what cause me to suffer far more than the original offense.  When I let go of those thoughts by forgiving the offender, I help myself.  Anger is a poison to MY soul.  Learning to forgive is the cure.

Gratitude and generosity are two additional pillars to joy.  I believe they are closely linked.  If we are not grateful, I don’t think we can be truly generous.  When we find some sense of humility, we recognize all that we have in life.  We become aware of the gift of life, of our relative good health, of the blessing that family, friends, shelter and food are.

In response, we will then instinctively want to pay forward some of our abundance by giving away time, treasure and talent.  Generosity is also a logical outcome of humility.  When we give, we demonstrate that our focus is not on ourselves, but on the well-being of others.  In the process, we find satisfaction from giving and prove numerous studies that indicate money can indeed buy happiness – when we give it away to help others.

The capstone to all of the 8 pillars of joy is compassion.  It is the product resulting from each pillar.  Indeed, according to the Book of Joy we will never be content unless our default way of thinking, speaking and acting is wrapped in compassion.  Every interaction we have with others – no matter the situation – ought to be with a desire for empathy and compassion.  Suffering is a fact of life and it is our purpose both to feel sympathy for the hurting and then act on ways to comfort and help them.

There have been, as the Dalai Lama notes, thousands of books written about how to find happiness.  It is the life motivator for every person.  But the irony presented by the Book of Joy is that well-being does not come  by seeking happiness for oneself.  It comes by seeking it for others.  When we do that, we strangely benefit.  That fact speaks to our human nature.  Despite many cultural prompts that tell us to be selfish, something deep inside our DNA directs us to help and soothe someone else.  And doing so fills us with satisfaction.  That is not a logical result from self-sacrifice but it is true.  We are hard-wired to be most content when we think of others.

Such a truth is found in people of history we identify as being most at peace with life and with other people.  Such are people known for their compassion and humility – people of history like the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, Anne Frank, Mohammad, Mother Teresa, the Buddha, Clara Barton, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, St. Francis and others.

Reality tells us there are countless persons just like them – some who are a part of this congregation – people whose very presence is profoundly peaceful and compassionate.  Such are winsome people to whom others are naturally drawn and want to be like. 

A spirituality for our lives and, indeed, for our eternities, is to be a person of genuine and lasting joy.  As the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu demonstrate, people of joy build legacies of kindness.  They do compassionate things in small ways – all the time.  A smile here, a gesture there, an anonymous gift, a random act of kindness, a selfless attitude – these are the building blocks of a life that has impact.  At a time when it seems the happiest person is someone who brags the most, surrounds himself with gold and luxury, and thinks only of how wonderful he is, lessons from the Book of Joy emphatically say otherwise.

Today, on Mother’s Day and with my message on what creates true joy, I think of my mom as perhaps you do too.  My mom  was and is far from perfect.  A simple woman who is now slowly moving toward death in an Alzheimer’s facility, my mom nevertheless has given a lot in her life.  Daughter, wife, mother, long-time volunteer at Hospice of Cincinnati, compassionate – and very content – resident in a dementia home, her life was and is defined by how she has cared for others and not just herself.  That’s an example set by many moms, dads and good friends, and one I aspire to copy.

       I thank you for listening.