“Rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.” – Proverbs 8:31
An old spiritual director once counseled me to “seek to delight in the other.” The advice had something to do with openness to dating and letting my guard down, and I’m afraid at the time the words fell on largely deaf ears. That’s not to say they didn’t sound nice in theory — “delight in the other” has a sort of Garden of Edenesque trill to it that’s lovely all on its own.
But to delight in another person, whether romantically or simply as one child of God encountering another, has never come naturally to me. Maybe it feels a bit like taking a liberty. Admiring someone is one thing, because it maintains a respectful distance. Delighting in a thing means immersing yourself in it, digging your hands in it up to your elbows, throwing it in the air and catching it again, tasting it, laughing out loud over it, hugging it close to your chest, smothering it with kisses.
In other words, delight is a shameless, childlike, generally pretty messy process. And one can’t delight in another person without being a bit shameless, childlike, and yes — messy.
But reflecting on my chosen theme for January, I realized that learning to find the face of Christ in others has to start with learning to delight in them. Of course, this is easy to do when you’re dealing with babies or small children or pleasant, loving people who are pretty obviously delightful in and of themselves. But what about the less-than-delightful people we encounter on a daily basis? The grocery store cashier who looks half dead, the jaywalkers, the drivers who cut you off on your morning commute, the old woman who sits right behind you in chapel and smells like mothballs and whispers all her prayers aloud until you can hardly think.
Delight can be even more challenging when you don’t feel all that delightful yourself. I realized that in a more poignant way than ever this weekend. I helped to organize a black tie event with some friends, and somehow being in a social situation surrounded by people in their best clothes left me feeling irritable and shoddy. Other people thrive in lively scenes like that; the older I get, the more I want to run away about twenty minutes after the party starts. I’m afraid “delight” was about as the farthest thing from my mind that evening.
But it’s not just black tie social events. I make a point of surrounding myself with delightful people all the time, from my household to my closest friends. It’s a great practice, until I inevitably start comparing myself with them; then I just become sour. And the sourer I feel in comparison with my delightful friends, the less able I am to delight in anybody else. I’m just a quivering bundle of resentment.
Yet it’s that delight in others and even in ourselves as children of God that is the key to real Christian charity–the charity that changes hearts and stays lodged in our memory for the rest of our lives. Just think of saints like Bl. John Paul II: he delighted in people, and people never forgot it.
I guess the challenge lies in really delighting. Delight can’t be forced. Do we simply go through the motions and hope the real feelings will follow? I think instead we have to go back a few steps and work on other attitudes first — like gratitude, service to others, and charity. And we have to be okay with being like children, unafraid of what others will think of us, unafraid to see and rejoice in the goodness of other people.