Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Joylessness and the Cure {Advent-Day 1}

I have never felt less like putting up Christmas decorations than I did this year.  The lack of enthusiasm bothered me.  I looked in frustration at the boxes upon boxes of Christmas stuff that I have collected over nearly twenty years of marriage and felt burdened at the thought of having to get it all out then put it all away in January.

This is not my norm at all.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.  Jesus, lights, sparkly ornaments, Santas and Snowmen make me happy.  Or at least they did.

What was wrong with me this year?  Why the blahs?  Why would decorating my home feel like a chore instead of a joyous task?  My kids were excited.  They happily helped their daddy carry the boxes downstairs.  They excitedly unpacked their own special ornaments (We get them a new one each year) and set up their little trees in their rooms.  But me?  I felt like a grouch.  A Scrooge.

Bah, humbug.

Then a text came through from my sister-in-law.  It was a photo of their baby, staring in wonder at their tree, her beautiful face lit up by the lights.  My heart ached and I realized that my problem is me.
I keep wishing for what has passed and struggling with what is now.  I miss having babies and toddlers.  My youngest is eight and my oldest is fifteen and these parenting years are hard.  My biggest worry used to be getting them to like carrots or potty train.  Now it is driving, relationships, and preparing them for adulthood The years are growing very short.  The pause button has been pressed on some of my dreams and the delete button has been pressed on others.  I have grown weary and self-centered and resentful and the inability to be excited about Christmas for crying out loud is a terrible indicator of the junk lurking in my sinful heart.  I am tired.  Stretched thin.

Then Sunday came.

Sunday's sermon was unusual.  A British missionary told colorful stories in his thick accent and reminded us who know Jesus of the importance of the gospel while admonishing those who do not believe that, despite what the world tells them, Jesus is exactly what they need.  He told the story of being forced to get a shot as a child at the doctor's office and realizing as an adult that if the doctor had given in to his childish tantrum he would have died that year at the age of seven.  In his words, "He didn't give me what I wanted, but he gave me what I needed."

This has resonated with me, cycling through my mind over and over and over.  What, exactly, do I want? Peace in my home, children who love each other and love Jesus, time to write my book that is not even halfway finished, and a clean house.  This all sounds reasonable on the surface, but the Lord is digging deeper.  Uncovering the root of my frustration.  And the truth is, I want easy.

There.  I said it.

I want things to fall into place while I watch with a smile, for my kids to rise up and call me blessed and my husband to praise me in the marketplace but I have allowed the frustrations of these years to rob me of my joy in serving.  I have stopped investing blood, sweat and tears and just settled for bitterness.  I have not exercised in weeks, stay up too late scrolling through my news feed, and long for the early years of parenting when my babies adored me and I happily wiped up their messes because I was just so thrilled to be a mama that I would do anything for these little angels in my charge.

King David prayed in Psalm 51, "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit."  He had sinned with Bathsheba and was coming to the Lord in repentance.  He knew he had become ineffective for the kingdom of God.  That is why he continued by saying, "Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You."

My children are watching me.  What are my actions or inactions telling them?  Do they feel treasured, worth sacrificing sleep, time, and energy for?  Or do they feel like they are burdens to me?  Oh, how it grieves my heart to think of all the ways I have failed this year.

A joyless Christian is an ineffective evangelist.
A joyless mother cannot effectively lead her children in the ways of Christ.  

Now, lest you think I have disliked being a mom this year, I want to be sure to tell you I have not.  I have loved so much of the time I have been given with my children this year.  There have been beautiful milestones and moments of tenderness that I will forever treasure.  But my lack of joy as Christmas approaches caused me to stop and realize that sin was lurking and, unless I face it head-on, it will grow and continue to wreak havoc in my life.

So, how do I combat this?  How do I replace bitterness with joy?

Step 1.
Get off of social media.

Ok, ok.  We have all done "fasts" and that is not what I am talking about here.  Facebook is a part of modern communication.  Without it I would lose touch with too many people I care about.  But how often do I need to check it?  Not as often as I do, I assure you.  In the time I have spent mindlessly scrolling through my news feed, how many books could I have read?  How many pages could I have written?  How many times could I have read the Bible?  How many games could I have played with my kids?  So my plan is to put social media where it belongs.  I will set an alarm on my phone for once per day and I will only check my news feed at that time.  I am turning off all push notifications, etc, in order to make it less tempting.

Step 2.

I have GOT to make this a priority again.  First of all, I am not getting any younger.  Eating healthy is good but not enough.  My Dad had quadruple bypass surgery a couple of months ago and, because he has always been so active, he recovered in record time.
Would I?
I am going to set my alarm and get up earlier.  I have to.  If I don't exercise first thing in the morning it simply will not happen at all.

Step 3.

I am writing a book.  I'm thirteen chapters into it.  It is never going to finish itself so I am going to have to set aside time for it if I really want to complete it.   And this blog!  I mean, I really enjoy telling you what is on my heart and creating a community of women who encourage one another.  But I don't write often so most of you probably forget to even check because there is rarely anything new here!   Remember the decision to set my alarm and get up earlier?  I can use a few of those minutes to write, as well.

Step 4.
Pray and read God's Word.

This is really step one, but because of my messed-up priorities this has fallen aside...again.  Satan has had a heyday with me.  "Keep her busy and the first thing she'll drop is prayer."  Yep.  He was right.  But I don't have to be such an easy target, do I?  Short, desperate prayers become my norm when I am stretched thin. But God wants more from me.  He wants time.  He wants relationship and intimacy.   Kinda hard to have that with someone who never actually talks to you or lets you talk to them, right?

Step 5.

I was a really fun mama to littles.  As they have gotten older, I have become less fun.  In fact, the lack of exercise, sleep, and joy has made me grouchy.  I'm sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.  I want to run with my babies and splash in the pool.  I want to care less about a clean house and build relationships that are solid and forever.  I want my husband to look at me with pride and take joy in the lighter atmosphere of our home.  I realize that, because I am home with kids all day, I have the power to set the tone of our home.
It is time to dance again.

What do I want?  My flesh wants easy.  But God, He knows what I need.  He knows that, without pruning, there can be very little new growth.  He is pruning me.  It is painful.
But it is what I need.

If you are struggling with finding joy this season, will you join me?  Comment with your name and what you plan to do to combat the joylessness and let's pray for one another.  Share this post with your friends and encourage them to get a game plan.  Let's make this Christmas Season a time of fresh beginnings.  Like my baby niece who looked at wonder at the tree full of lights, let's encourage one another to see our role as wives, mothers, and daughters of the King with fresh eyes!

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