Catching the Joy

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The other day I posted the following on my Facebook page and it got quite a response. (This photo was taken while I was nursing Moses on the stairs and realizing that I very much needed this message to myself.)

“I can’t imagine that in 20 years when my kids get together they will look back in joy on the year Mom finally figured out a way to keep the snow clothes tidy. A bunch of adults sitting around, “Remember that year when everything was clean before Christmas? That was the best! I hope we can do that for our kids this year!” Somehow doesn’t ring true, does it? 

It is as though when I become stressed about the home, my kids don’t become stressed about the home- they become stressed about me, and any joy a clean home would have given gets swallowed up in that. But when I lay that all aside and rejoice in the mess, in the kids, in the crazy boxes that don’t stop coming from Amazon- my kids rejoice in all that their hearts want to naturally, and in me too.
The kids will remember the diving into new Lego sets and not the little plastic baggie carnage and the random tiny ninja swords that show up everywhere.They will remember eating candy canes without a care and not the tiny shards of stickiness after. They will remember a home full of excitement, and joy, and anticipation over the birth of our Savior. And I hope they remember their mother, in the middle of it all laughing. With a mad baby in the Ergo, trying to pick up laundry with her toes and wrap gifts with her teeth. I hope they remember a Merry Christmas! All of it!”

By the response this got, I am led me to believe that I am not the only one dealing with these particular challenges. Lego ninja swords may in fact be a major resource in the sanctification of mothers all across the land – and whoever designed them probably didn’t even imagine what good would come of them!

But there was a sentiment in this post that I wanted to expand a little more on. Joy is a contagious thing. It is fun to be around, it is fun to witness, it is a true blessing. But the amazing thing about joy is that because it has an object, it makes us look at the object of someone else’s joy with a new appreciation. When we are joyful, our children look to our sources. Joy is like a beautiful magnifying glass. Our enjoyment of a thing makes that thing easier to see – bigger to everyone around us. One of the ways I see this in my children is in their excited appreciation of views – of changing light, of amazing clouds, of sunsetting, of color in the fields. They know that these things have always given me joy, and it has become that for them too. “Look at those clouds, Mom! They are so pretty!” What they have known as a source of joy for me has become a source of joy for them and they want to share it. What I love, they want to love. What I rejoice in, they want to rejoice in.

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(photo taken while out driving with my kids being excited about the frosty sunshine)

This is simply not the case for the things that cause me to get wound up. If I am feeling especially put upon by the cast off goods in the front hall and I get into a bad state of heart about it, this sinful attitude will undoubtedly flow out of my stupid heart and onto the hall floor as well. So say I give the kids a little word about. Feeling testy, and that this ought to be the last time ever that I need to tell people to not throw things on the floor (never mind that some are too short to hang things up), I magnify some words. I exaggerate a bit. I want them all to look through the magnifying glass with me at the mess on the floor and sympathize with all my annoyance over it. I want them to feel my feelings on this point.

The remarkable thing is that this is completely dysfunctional. Instead of looking through the glass from my side and seeing the things of mess on the floor – this kind of sinful attitude turns their attention to me. I become the object of anxiety. I have not shared my anxiety with them in order to make them more responsible home entry personnel. I have made them feel like they aren’t sure where they stand with me.  Like I can be easily derailed from the joy of the Lord by an open folder, a sprawling coat, a trail of wet leaves, a granola bar wrapper, and a sideways boot.

Now thank the Lord that there really is another option. When we rejoice in the mess, we aren’t asking the mess to come settle in forever. Those sticky shards I spoke of are not in themselves objects of joy. But the work that they mean should be. The work of teaching people joyfully how to joyfully lay down their lives while they wipe of a table can be joyful. It can be funny. Being a mother who can laugh at the endless work while living in the joy of the Lord does not draw our children’s attention to us and our work so much as it draws their attention to the source of our joy.  Sometimes, when I am faced by one of these little petty annoying messes, I find that I need the spiritual exercise of lifting my head. Stop looking at the petty things, and laugh. Wipe the table off and say, “my life for theirs.”  Teach the kids to clean up after themselves while saying, “my life for theirs.”  Greet your morning full of sticky floors with an attitude of “my life for theirs.”

This is Gospel work. Because every time we look through ourselves, past ourselves, to the source of our joy, to God, we are asking our children to look too. Enjoy Him with me. Enjoy Him in the little tasks of normal faithfulness. Enjoy Him as we show kids how to line up boots, as we ask them to come pick up the folder, as we remind them not to eat a candy cane like they are a wood chipper. And while this is especially appropriate this time of year – as we look forward to celebrating the incarnation with all the trappings of Amazon boxes and hot chocolate rings on the table, it is always the truth.

Jesus Christ came to this world – this one. The one that annoys us and tests us and challenges us. And what did he do with us and all of our messes? He took us on with joy, for joy. For the joy that was set before Him.

So this Christmas season, let us imitate Him. Let us look with Christ at the joy that was set before Him, as we celebrate Him. Let us be His children, learning from His joy.

IMG_2852(Moses Henry – loving his first wild Jank Christmas!)

 

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23 thoughts on “Catching the Joy

  1. Excellent post and a great reminder! Everyday we are creating a legacy with our kids. What legacy do we want to leave with them? One that sees life as a source of frustration or one who praises God unceasingly? Another thought that comes to mind . . . I care for patients in nursing homes as part of my work as an NP. You should see their faces when children come to visit (which isn’t very often, I’m afraid). When I become frustrated with the “same old mess” that I have to deal with day after day, I think about these people. How many would exchange their current state to dwell with a messy kid again?

  2. Loved this! You are right. There is a difference in whether we train our children, celebrate, and do our work with joy or not. Our children do find joy in the things that we find joy in.
    If there is anything that I see in your work, it is certainly joy, in color.

  3. Thank you for this reminder! Thank you for pointing out the truth of what is really happening when our “Mama anxiety” about foolish, non eternal things escape our lips and turn our children away from fixing their eyes on Jesus and the true object of joy. Wow! Perfectly said!

  4. Thank you ever so much for this post. Our family has welcomed a new baby to our family 8 weeks ago. That being the case, this really hit home to me. It seems like sleep deprivation and lots of mommy guilt have me stressing out about the mess that is our house, etc.. This was a great reminder to look to God for my joy and enjoy these 4 little gifts he has given me and NOT stress about little stuff that doesn’t matter. And HOPEFULLY that joy will capture those little hearts too. Thank you so very much.

  5. I loved the original post on Facebook. It was very timely for me ( in the midst of my fussing about the mess on top our piano!) I love this even more. You speak truth. Thank you. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  6. I’ve missed you, Rachel, though understanding a little how very crazy your life must be these months. This came with perfect timing! Just last night my sweet husband was complimenting me on how I’m “indispensable to our family and manage the equivalent of three full-time jobs…and even manage to be cheerful occasionally!” I laughed, yet was pricked by the truthfulness and reminder that I need to focus more on being joyful rather than being organized!

  7. Your posts always come at the exact moment I need them. I feel like you were describing my house and kids to a T. Wow. I even told my husband a few days ago “I could be happy if the house was clean and I could have Christmas music on and everyone was sitting peacefully.” Will that ever happen? Probably not. Thank you for the reminder and encouragement to be joyful in the here and now, and especially for the reminder of why that is so important for our kids. Thank you thank you thank you!!!

  8. This is so wonderful. Thank you so much. You have such a way with words. Delightful and encouraging, convicting but not condemning. Practical and helpful for me in my life as a mother. You know exactly where I am and what I need to hear!

  9. Someone said in a previous post, something like “your head is so full of stuff and I love reading it”, and I concur. She’s right. You have your dad’s gift for analogy and winsome knife-edge wit, young Rachel. And I love reading everything you write.

  10. One of my biggest struggles with Christmas in general is all of the “extras” it brings – mess being part of that. It is so easy to get caught up as a mother trying to create this perfect experience for our children, which in my mind includes a clean living room. I absolutely love the reminder about how being stressed about the mess really just brings attention to me and doesn’t change the mess, but changes how my children perceive their relationship with me to be. I want them to be caught up in the joy of it all, and the joy of Christ! Not caught up in the surprising outlashes I bring. Good word :)

  11. Your house is like immaculate, so I am a bit confused? Although, it is a nice reminder, as it’s something I struggled with just yesterday as I threw all the things from the table to the floor to be picked up, after asking them numerous times to take care of it. Being a mom is hard!

  12. His is great! I love the thought process and how you are challenging us to take thoughts captive, using your own examples! Walking us through your life is so helpful. Thanks!

  13. Can you write a post like this every week? We could use a regular dose of such excellent, convicting reminders! And they’re woven with a hope that spurs us on. “Enjoy Him in the little tasks of normal faithfulness.”
    “Let us be His children, learning from His joy.”
    Thank you! I’ll look for another one next week…

  14. Simply beautiful! I’ve been “trapped” in that mode through the years! Hopefully some of the “corrected” spirit through maturing & aging has passed on to my daughters & granddaughters! 💓 I pray it will continue to grow on me too!

  15. My grandmother had a little sign up in her house that said “My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.” I always loved it and I’d like to think mine is the same. Merry Christmas!

  16. We just moved Thanksgiving weekend, 33 weeks pregnant with number six, husband getting ready to leave for a year……been trying to keep my expectations real this season and truly live joy with my husband and kids.
    I adore a clean house too, but almost never happens :o)
    LOVED this post….just…..thank you!

  17. This is wonderfilled, isn’t it? Richly so. Would you share specific passages you’ve meditated on to see this manifest more in your life? Thank you!

  18. This southern girl had no idea what you meant by “snow clothes.”
    “What are snow clothes? Is it some kind of craft she does with her kids where they make clothes that looks like snow?”
    It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realized my mistake. Ha!

  19. Loved this, as I do all your insights and articles. Thanks, again. I am *just today* taking ornaments down during nap time/quiet time… so embracing the mess has been a necessity, haha.

    Take care.

  20. Rachel, I keep telling mt friends here in Brazil that I will, someday, translate your wobderful texts.
    Thank you só much for sharing these Words with us.

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