Choose your path to joy - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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December 2022 newsletter


Julie Lawler, Cambodia

DDP staff and students hamming it up

Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing — sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death — can take that love away. (Henri Nouwen)

When entering a walking path at a national park, there is usually a map at the entrance to help guide you, but there are many paths to choose from based on your interest, goal or physical ability. There are plenty of warning signs and cautions to make sure you are aware of your surroundings and to make sure you are prepared before setting off on your journey.

Teambuilding activity

People can make it to the top of a mountain or to the beautiful waterfall if that is their final destination at the national park, but each person’s journey is their own.

When entering life’s path to find joy, I feel this example is also a good way to frame the question “How do you define joy?” What path did you choose at the entrance of this journey? What are your goals? What tools do you use to lead you down the path to choose joy?

I can say that the tool I use to help me define joy or search for joy is my relationship with Christ. He has been a navigation tool that I have tapped into while journeying through life, helping me define what joy means to me in my life and how to be joyful.

The late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen said, “People who have come to know the love of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it …. Joy never denies the sadness, but transforms it to a fertile soil for more joy.”

As I live in and among my Buddhist brothers and sisters here in Cambodia, their tools for finding joy are different, even if we are on the same path on this journey of life. Thich Nhat Hanh, the late Vietnamese Buddhist monk, said, “If you can recognize and accept your pain without running away from it, you will discover that, although pain is there, joy can also be there at the same time.”

In simple terms, as Nouwen said, you have to choose joy, and I choose joy when I participate. I have to take active steps to join a group or activity and not just stand by and observe.

Catching water balloons

As a result of choosing to participate and act, I can see joy on my face and the faces of others at Deaf Development Programme (DDP) during the week before the Water Festival or Bon Om Touk.

In October or early November, the Water Festival aligns with the lunar mid-autumn festival that marks the end of the monsoon season. At DDP that week was full of teacher/staff training, while other support staff and I took over teaching and leading the students in activities like team building, STEM and water festival traditional lessons.

As I was reflecting on this week and reviewing all the pictures from this period, I could see joy on my face. I could see joy on the faces of students and staff when we tossed water balloons, jumped rope or even participated in STEM activities.

My coworkers and students at DDP are Buddhist, and they have a different tool to define joy. But in the shared experience we had this week before the Water Festival, we came together and with our faces illuminated joy in the same way — by showing our teeth and smiling from ear to ear, belly-laughing, sharing our feelings of excitement and happiness together.

Tug of War

Even in our differences we can be in community with each other, as I choose to walk with them down the path but use Christ as my tool leading me, while my Buddhist brothers and sisters use their own tools centered on Buddha’s teachings. We can still walk hand in hand down the same path we call life together, choosing joy in our shared experiences.

Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Now and through Dec. 31, thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!

Julie Lawler
Julie Lawler is a deaf education teacher with the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.