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.
(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.