Joy

By Rich Wilson

Todd was struggling. His grades were so-so. Teachers were telling him, “I think you can do better.” He didn’t have close friends and wasn’t invited to do things by his classmates. He was a pretty good athlete, but there again, his coaches would comment, “Come on Todd. Your team needs more effort from you.”

After practice one day, he was sitting on the steps waiting for a ride home. Derek sauntered up and sat down beside him. Todd started complaining about practice and school, when Derek turned, looked him in the eye and said, “Man, your sending out a lot of negative vibes. You’re bringing me down. Turn your thoughts around. Think about what’s going well.”

At that point Derek’s ride arrived. Todd was a little stunned. No one had ever been direct with him like that. Yet, just those few honest comments from Derek changed Todd’s life.   

Several years ago, Jack Canfield and D.D. Watkins wrote a book entitled, “Law of Attraction.” One of the early lines in the book is, “In order to create a positive future, you need to keep your energy, thoughts and feelings positive…You are a living magnet. You literally attract the things, people, ideas and circumstances to you that vibrate and resonate at the same energy frequency as yours.”

That was Todd’s problem. Derek felt it. Todd was so negative about everything, kids didn’t want to spend time with him. The authors go on, “Negative thoughts weaken you. Your body responds to those thoughts…Negative thoughts are like driving with the parking brake on.”

St. Julie Billiart understood this truism. Even though she was bed-ridden for many years, she never lost her joy of life. That joy attracted many to her including Francis Blin de Bourdon, the wealthy aristocrat, who joined Julie in starting the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Living joyfully is a central tenet of the Sisters’ charism and a key element of their success in educating children.

By their nature, children are joyful, but they must be in an environment that fosters joy for them to thrive. Just as the sunflower needs soil, rain and sun to burst forth and stretch to the sky, Notre Dame schools create a joyful environment for children to burst forth and shine.

That joy pervades the five pillars of our school:

Spiritually: “God is Good” is the foundational phrase of the Sisters’ order. Exemplifying that in our school daily is the responsibility of the teachers and coaches. When we’re angry and have negative thoughts, we are separate from God. The act of forgiveness is one of self-cleansing. Canfield and Watkins pick up on that, “Failing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to get sick.”  

Academically: Schools that suck the joy out of learning make a hollow shell of their students. We hire teachers who themselves love to learn, and that spirit is infectious to their students. Some schools limit students allowed into the Advanced Placement (AP) classes, so they can tout their high average AP scores. We take a different view. We view our job as opening opportunities for children. When we do that, most rise to the occasion and enjoy the exhilaration of mastering a challenging content area.

Physically: The best part of the day for me is watching children bust out of the building and take the field or the court to play their sport. The joy I see in them is palpable. We know the positive chemical reactions that take place in the body from vigorous exercise. Engaging our children in sports contributes to the positive environment we try to create.

Socially: Catholicism places a high value on living in community and the joy that comes from having friends and learning from others who have similar values but different ideas. We purposely teach social skills so they can become a human magnet attracting others to them.

Artistically: Just as the joy of the Sisters’ artistry is prevalent throughout our main building, we know the joy that comes to children from expressing themselves creatively. We are dumbfounded when we read about schools eliminating arts programs to save money. The joy of performing in a play or instrumental concert gives children a positive sense of accomplishment. We also see the pride in their faces when they complete an artistic creation that expresses who they are and what they think.

Freud once commented that “Thought is action in rehearsal.” We want our children to be leaders of character who become the changemakers and peacemakers in their world. To achieve that lofty goal, we need to teach them that being joyful – thinking positively - is a choice. As Willie Nelson once said, “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.”  

Derek taught that lesson to Todd who turned his life around from that brief encounter. The environment we create at our school teaches the children that God is indeed good, and He wants us to live our life joyfully.

That’s His way and The Summit Way.   

Reprinted from the Winter 2019 issue of The Summit magazine.