During the spread of several years that our children were at university, there was no word more often used in our household than party.
At the end of each frenetic week, the catch phrase would be "Let's party!" "Sorry, I can't cut the lawn, I've got a party." "Could you fetch me tonight? There's a party I can't miss!"
For us parents, the word party acquired a pejorative ring. We found it hard to disconnect parties from the menaces of peer pressure, indiscipline, excess, wildness. Noise for noise's sake. Fun at any price!
Should we just outlaw parties altogether? We didn't want to do that - so I prayed.
It occurred to me that there are two kinds of partying. One kind stems from boredom or frustration; from a dragging self-image that needs a boost; from a desire to escape the tensions and problems of daily life.
The other kind of party is actually described in the Bible. Two "parties" I thought of can be found in St. Luke's Gospel, in parables, or instructive stories, that Jesus told to his students (see Luke 15:3-10).
First, Jesus speaks of the man who loses one of his sheep and leaves the other 99 to search for the one that is lost. When he finds it, he puts it across his shoulders, and when he gets home, calls his friends and neighbors together and says, "Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost."
Jesus' next illustration concerns a woman who has lost one of her precious "ten pieces of silver." Would she not "light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?" he asks. And when she has found it, would she not, like the shepherd, ask her friends to share in her rejoicing?
Both search missions ended in parties. But suddenly it occurred to me that Jesus didn't use those parables to say, in effect, "The tougher the search, the better the celebration." To me, he was saying that it is the joy of helping or rescuing even one needy sheep (or person), of searching wholeheartedly for what is most precious (the truth), that bring the deepest and truest satisfaction. This is what purposeful life is all about - serving God by serving others, devoting oneself to what is truly valuable, so that there will be "joy in the presence of the angels of God" (Luke 15:10). And this joy spills into our everyday experience.
When I thought of this, I challenged myself seriously: "When are you going to learn to party in the way the Bible encourages, and to do it so well that even the kids are persuaded that you're on to something?"
We can rejoice because we are grateful for the daily evidence of God's goodness in our lives and want others to know about it. Rejoicing should be not just second nature but first nature to us!
The Apostle Paul counseled the Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice" (Phil. 4:4). This may seem difficult when we are confronted with prolonged suffering, tricky people, or rough examinations. But Paul also gave us a good reason to rejoice despite those challenges. He said that nothing - and he gave many examples - "shall be able to separate us from the love of God" (see Rom. 8:38, 39).
I shared these thoughts with the kids, and they were surprisingly receptive. Over the next few months, they showed wisdom about what parties to go to, and all of them graduated from university on schedule. Most important, they helped us establish rules for the parties we hosted. And having learned together what true rejoicing is, I'd dare to say that our parties were among the best in the neighborhood.
Happiness consists in being and in doing good; only what God gives, and what we give ourselves and others through His tenure, confers happiness: conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can.
Mary Baker Eddy
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society