When I was a kid we had an old rusty Ashley wood stove in the living room. It was huge. Dad would load it with wood he had split with a maul in the backyard. Eventually they moved the old wood stove out of the house because I think it rusted through. And probably so us babies wouldn’t burn our hands off. Or maybe it was because the the old house was built out of heart pine a hundred years ago. In essence, the foundation and frame of the house were kindling wood. Dad told us more than once that if the house ever catches on fire, get out immediately because it was going up quick.
So with the big wood stove gone, we were left with a large sealed fireplace with a hole in the center where the stove pipe went, but mom didn’t want to get rid of the mantle. So for years she hung a piece of decorative fabric over the stove pipe hole, and for as long I can remember she had a curious little saying painted under the mantlepiece:
VED DU HVAD VER OCH GOD GLAD
She repainted it every time the living room got painted. I’ve lost count of how many times. She was forever redecorating. For a while it was green. Then later gold. But it was always there.
She told us that it was Danish and meant I tell you what be good and be happy.
I think the translation is closer to You know what be good and happy. Of course I may be remembering it wrong and she may have spelled it wrong, but the thought is clear enough. It was a great conversation piece, but it was also the idea that set the atmosphere for our home.
Bad moods were not encouraged in our home. You weren’t allowed to keep one very long before Mom or Dad would deal with it. My parents believed that no one had an excuse to not be happy, at least for a reasonable season. To many people, especially those to whom life has dealt some pretty miserable cards, this may be a hard doctrine to accept.
Nevertheless, I watched broken people come and sit in that living room and visit. They’d come in downcast and leave, many times well past midnight laughing.
I believe that there is a time to be angry, and a time to mourn. We can write about that another day. But right now we’re talking about being happy.
“…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”Philippians 4:11
I believe that happiness-or contentment- is a learned characteristic. Like any skill that is learned, being content takes practice. If you want to be good at anything you have to practice. Some people never get good at anything because they don’t practice anything. I won’t lie to you and say that practice is always easy either.
“People who are miserable over nothing will probably be miserable with everything.”
Now that I have a household, although we don’t have a folk saying in a foreign language painted above the fireplace telling you to suck it up and smile, we do strive for to create the same atmosphere. I have three children, and I didn’t have to teach a single one of them how to whine and pout. They knew how to do that from that first day. A large part of my duty as a parent is teaching my kids how to act. Or “How to don’t”, as Uncle Remus admonished. Learning how to act when things aren’t going your way is pretty important life skill. If you’ve lived long enough you will agree that much of life is dealing with things that don’t go our way.
It is a painful fact that life can be straight cruel. If you allow it, life can suck all of the joy out of, well, life. But if you practice you can learn to be content no matter what. So the next time you’re just about worn out from dealing with life and you need some inspiration, I’ll tell you what, be good and be happy.