We have been back from furlough for a month now and have found our rhythm again. It took Shaye a long time to get settled and comfortable with our life here. The first week or so, she refused to greet Peruvians (which is a big deal) and spoke very little Spanish. Her conversations centered mostly around her cousins and how she wanted to live near them all the time and not in Peru. The next week or so, she transitioned to a little more speaking, but was fighting with her classmates at school and disregarding activities she normally enjoyed. Finally, she seemed to calm down and act more herself, though she was still reserved. For a little girl who can talk your ear off in two languages, it was obvious that she was stressed about the transition back here. A little over a week ago, Manuela told us, “Shaye has returned to Arequipa. She is back now.”
And she was. But at one point during those first few weeks, I decided to push her to make a decision. I took a deep breath and asked her if she would rather live with other family members in Texas (not really being an option, just to be clear) or with Mama and Papa. She didn’t hesitate before answering “with Mama and Papa”. “Then you live in Peru, because that is where our family lives”, I answered her. She stopped talking about Texas so much and after a couple more weeks had adjusted.
I have reflected on my own answer since then. I had basically told her to figure out how to be okay with the life she has because that is just the way it is. How true is that for all of us? What can we learn from a 3 year old who figured out how to accept her current home? How would we approach our jobs, homes, children, marriages, friends, challenges and health if we had the predetermined mindset that changing it was not an option, only making ourselves accept it?
This is one thing I think Spanish communicates more accurately than English. In English, we talk about being happy. I’m happy that my family is healthy. I’m happy the dishes are washed. I’m happy the baby is asleep. We talk about pursuing happiness, wanting others to make us happy and being unhappy is a cardinal sin. But in Spanish, they use two words to communicate these ideas. Feliz means happy in the general emotional sense of less-than-excited, but feeling very positive. But more often than not, Peruvians will talk about being contento, which means content. If I am humming while I cook, Manuela tells me I seem contenta. If Cora is having a fussy day, they say she isn’t contenta. It communicates a positive feeling, but a peaceful, acceptant one. It’s not being glad that something changed for the better, but that in this moment, you are at peace with being who you are, where you are. Feliz is when you want to express happiness in your way, whether it is squealing, clapping, jumping, or some other outward showing of emotion. But contento is when you can sigh with a smile on your face and feel yourself relax in the reality that this moment is fine with you.
And I think that is what Shaye has reached. She is content. Does she miss another world that she has come to love? Yes. Is she going to waste time pining for it instead of enjoying where she is now? No. And I think the wisdom of a 3 year old to recognize what matters most to her and let the rest slide can teach us a great deal about handling our own lives. Let’s stop worrying about being happy and choose to be content. Today. In this job. In this home. In this body. In this family. In this church. In this struggle. Whatever it is that is stressing you because you wish it were different, instead of fighting for changes toward some perfection that you imagine is the one thing you are missing, why don’t you stop long enough to recognize the value of what you have, and be okay without the rest?
If Shaye can do it, I think the rest of us can, too. Let’s pursue contentment. It’s worth it.