Living an Otterly Joyful Life


Dear Anne,

Ever since my parents took me to see Ring of Bright Water at the Mount Vernon Drive-in when I was 4, I have loved otters. And why not, just look at those adorable faces. In a real bucket list experience, during my recent trip to Alaska I spent a couple of hours just watching dozens of them float by in the water, some with babies on their bellies. Did you know a group of otters is called a raft? And that they hold hands when they sleep so they don’t float off from the group? I love that they have a little pouch under each arm where they carry the stones they use to crack open clams. Imagine that—God gave otters pockets!

Momma and her baby
Based on my research, everyone loves otters. (And by “research”, I mean that I showed several people these photos and they all said “I love otters!”) They float along, seemingly without care (otters have no major predators, apparently they are too furry to be a tasty morsel), so curious and full of joy that they just make you smile.  Don’t we all know people like that?  Those so full of the spirit of God that they radiate peace and joy?

But an otter’s happy existence requires effort, just like living a life of joyful christianity. Otters float so well because their thick coat traps tiny air bubbles, making them buoyant. That buoyancy isn’t a permanent effect—it must be refreshed through frequent grooming sessions. In a similar way, in order for us to experience the peace of Jesus in our lives, the true happiness that only His love provides, we have to work at it through our prayer life,  something that’s sometimes hard for me.

I’m not sure why I sometimes struggle to fit prayer into my life. It’s not like I’m a homeschooling mother of six, juggling a job and family. I’m just a procrastinating, easily-distracted holy-wannabe, too often putting my own worldly concerns over my prayer life. But I have found a few gadgets (some digital, some old school) to help. I’ve created a habit tracker in my bullet journal (don’t get me started on my bullet journal, I think that thing could change my life) to create a visual record of my prayer life and shame myself hold myself accountable. I make sure my Facebook and Twitter feeds follow Catholic sites and uplifting posts so my social media is a source of self-reflection and not just self-absorption. I keep a car rosary around my shifter, to (hopefully) remind me to pray a decade or two. I find Gus Lloyd’s daily reflection on the readings to be great spiritual food, whether I catch him on the radio or read his emails. And of course, I still have the monks in my phone, with their twice-daily reminders to pray—the lenten practice that stuck with me (for the most part!) this year.

An example of a habit tracker in a bullet journal–but much more attractive than mine!
So just like the otters and their stones, we have tools to use to get our daily bread. And like otters, we need to take the time to fluff our coats, to use our spiritual tools to keep ourselves afloat.  With some prayer and reflection and a lot of trust in God, maybe I can  reach that place of joyful christianity, so beautifully summed up by now-Saint Theresa of Calcutta’s admonition: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” Just like the otters.



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