I turned on the radio after an hour of silence in the car. I had prayed myself out over a parenting decision – laying everything, once again, in God’s able care. My ability to snatch back what I have released baffles me. I labor to relinquish and then unwittingly find myself mulling over the very issues I thought I had fully released only earlier the same day. God shows up every time. He’s willing that I learn this discipline of release and trust in ways I have yet to master. He was with me on that car ride as I drove home alone from LA. He heard my prayers and I felt the reality of my Good Shepherd, gently leading me.
The station I turned to played worship songs. Singing along, I praised God for the rain and the sun – times of trial and times of warmth. The spot between songs contained a clip – a man speaking about his family’s choice to remain in Africa when Ebola broke out. He shared, “We came here with more diseases present than you can count; poor and inadequate medical care; and the chance of any one of us getting ill being a reality. We chose this life. We knew we could be infected with a disease. We could have chosen to remain in America and it would have been less likely that we or our kids would be infected with a physical disease, but it would have been more likely that our kids and we would be infected by materialism and self-concern in America.” Then he shared the phrase that rocked my soul. He contracted Ebola. He is ill – and He has joy. He said, “Sometimes joy feels a lot like grief. We think joy will feel like happiness, but it doesn’t always. Joy comes from certainty amidst trials. It is an assurance of good despite the experience of something awful.”
Sometimes joy feels a lot like grief.
Oh, amen, brother! Joy becomes the manna of life when day-to-day living means contending with depression, struggling with relational difficulties or enduring financial or physical hardships. Joy, like manna, comes fresh each day. We can’t lean on past joy. We must seek it fresh and for the day at hand. Joy is daily bread. Joy comes like a layer dip – often intermingled with the reality of pain or suffering. The joy of the Lord is our strength. I have pondered that verse over the years and read it two ways: My strength comes from the joy God gives me AND I find my strength when I am bringing Him joy.
If you are anything like me, you can tend to seek joy in all the wrong places. Thanks to God I seek it much less often from people, their opinions of me and their show of affection. Connections with people are a source of some of my greatest happiness in life. I cherish time I spend with dear friends, cross legged on a couch or out in nature on a blanket, sharing our hearts and laughing together. Tea time every evening on the back patio with my husband brings the day to a peaceful end. Sitting quietly together reminiscing over shared memories or thinking forward towards what we will do in coming years ties our heartstrings and solidifies the friendship which undergirds our marriage. Spending time with my boys, watching them play or listening to them as they share stories about what is important to them, I savor each moment, knowing it will fly away all too quickly.
Though I cherish my friendships, family life and ministry, none of these bring me true and lasting joy. Friends can be too busy or have seasons when their needs distract them from our relationship. At times, family conflict interferes with our intimacy. Our home is the place I pour out more than any other on earth. Sometimes the pouring takes all I have and leaves me depleted. Ministry fills my cup as I give to Jesus by blessing others. Still, ministry has much warfare in the mix, along with potential misunderstandings, demands and personalities which bring their own challenges.
God didn’t design life so that our joy would come from people, circumstances, habits or possessions. True joy only comes from God. You could almost taste the joy when the missionary from Africa shared his story. He had given all – his life is compromised, yet He has the great assurance – God with Him in the midst of his difficulties. He has joy.
How about you?
Life rails on. Your children have needs before your feet hit the floor. When they are little, they want your every minute. Getting a shower and a home-cooked meal on the same day is nothing short of a miracle. They enter the toddler and preschool years and try on their own will. This is rarely pretty and it takes all you have as a mom to hold it together so you respond in kindness. You fail as often as you triumph. As they age, your children’s lives outside your home begin to bring all sorts of concerns to your mama heart – occupying your idle thoughts on their behalf and driving you to your knees in prayer. I’m living in that season of motherhood now and it’s stretching me like the best of rubber bands. God help me, I’ll survive this and even end up all the better for it.
Where do we find our joy in all the seasons of motherhood? Well, sister-friend, it sure won’t be found in the outcomes of our children’s lives or the affection they show us. Yes, there is a flavor of joy in the moments when they squish up close and snuggle, saying, “I love you, mommy.” The same sweet aroma comes even more deeply when your uber-cool teen bends down to grant you a kiss and a hug. These are gifts and they are precious. They cannot be the source of our joy. As often as my youngest wants to cuddle, he also wants to run out the door, leaving all thoughts of me behind as he scrambles up trees or digs up roly-poly bugs with his neighborhood buddies. Even more often, my oldest wants to spend time composing music alone in his room or taking his skateboard out to ride. They cannot be my source of joy. As a mom, their highs are my highs. Their lows are my deepest burdens. This is the road of motherhood. Though I’ll bear it all with them, riding along in the sidecar – emotionally drawn into all they experience – I won’t find my joy in my sons.
God must be over, greater, more central, bigger and my all-in-all. You see, as much as we don’t want to admit it, our children are perfect set-ups for idolatry. We can get caught into the trap of making them greater than all else in our lives. Our quiet moments can be consumed with thoughts about them. Our darkest moments can be caused by excessive fear and worry over them. When children become the center of our lives, like any other idol, we are in for a rude awakening. Nothing but God was meant for the throne of our hearts. Though we cherish the children God gives us, we must never hook our joy to them.
To find true and lasting joy in motherhood, we need God at the center of it all. We rear our children for His glory and in submitted partnership with Him. We see them as gifts from Him and we empower them to love Him if they will. We cultivate a life outside of our role as “mom.” One day these wee ones will drive off into the life God is preparing for them. Your joy won’t leave with them if it is properly rooted in the source of all true joy – Jesus.