That stinging question hung heavy in the air.
The weight of what she asked sank into skin, rushed into blood, and stopped me cold.
“Mommy, can you be happy?”
I was caught in a moment of visible anger, grumbling, impatience, and frustration. It oozed from me, grimy as the water from the dish rag I held. I hadn’t even noticed that while I stewed over some minor mishap, what was brewing within had become tangible. A foreboding cloud of discontent around me.
Indeed, “from the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2) …. to silence these thankless lips.
How did I get here? The short answer: idolatry that leads to sin.
I see my tendency to value convenience more than my own children, and more than God (idolatry). When my 3-year-old’s inconvenient “mistakes” challenge my comfort, or she somehow fails to meet my expectations, this gives way to under-the-breath complaints and bitterness building up so that when she willfully acts out I’m already at the tipping point where snapping, sarcasm, yelling, and disciplining in anger inevitably ensue (sin).
No one can dispute that motherhood is one of the toughest, most demanding jobs. Is my desire for structure or occasional time away inherently sinful? Absolutely not. But when those desires become the cause of discontent and bitterness, they have become idols-something other than God that we turn to for salvation.
For me, these idols of comfort and control often result in:
1. Scoffing at my child’s shortcomings instead of encouraging her toward growth.
2. Correcting impatiently and pointing out wrongdoing instead of stooping down to guide and nurture.
3. My fiery tongue whipping out with sharp words instead of being the balm of a gentle answer.
“…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45 (….OUCH.)
The truth is, my lack of “happy” is not a reflection of my lack of “me” time.
It’s the result of my desperate grappling after false gods.
The curtain is lifted. The idols are revealed. And OH! The weight of that truth flooding my heart would surely crush me, and I would be reduced to a constant state of of tears and self-loathing on the kitchen floor, spiraling into even further depths of despair …
BUT for these truths:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (emphasis mine)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” -Ephesians 2:4-10 (emphasis mine)
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
Oh, hopelessly meritorious Mommy…
Are your bootstraps, like mine, worn to threads from trying to pull yourself up by them?
Are you, like me, caught trying on your own strength to claw your way out of the pit of guilt
that overwhelms each failure?
Hallelujah! All we have is Christ!
We cannot will ourselves up the hill,
because Christ has taken the cross up for us.
We cannot earn our freedom from sin and mom-guilt,
because Christ has already won it for us.
We cannot find joy in our lot apart from the truth that in
HIM is the fulness of joy by his GRACE.
IT. IS. FINISHED.
Even when we fail, we can fight for joy for the sake of these little hearts we shepherd.
Even when they push us to the edge, again and again and again, we can get down on our knees. We can forgive them and be forgiven again and again and again.
This is not a “happy-slappy,” grin and bear it kind of joy. It’s a joy that says HE IS GOOD in the hard days. It’s a battle call for us to preach this to ourselves and to our children:
That IN and THROUGH our suffering and sin, the
joy of the Lord is my strength.
IN and THROUGH the mornings when it’s not even breakfast and all toddler hell breaks loose,
the joy of the Lord is my strength.
IN and THROUGH the hormone-raging, sleepless delirium, deepest, darkest doubt,
the joy of the Lord is my strength.
This JOY is costly. It was purchased by the blood of Christ. Isaiah 53:10 says, “Yet it pleased the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief…” When God poured out His wrath on His Son, instead of us, it pleased him. It’s also translated as “it was His will.” He was satisfied once for all.
Sisters, THIS is how we can have joy. Because Christ’s sacrifice brought the Father satisfaction, we too can be satisfied in the Son’s saving work and, in turn, live with JOY….a deep, sober, humiliated (in the RIGHT sort of way) JOY.
This kind of joy also means humbling ourselves before our God IN FRONT OF our children. It means seeking forgiveness from them when we fall sort, and modeling repentance. This allows our children to see us at our weakest, so that they might see more of Jesus, and so that we may demonstrate for them the profound truth in that simple, gospel song we sing to them:
“We are weak, but He is strong,
Yes, Jesus Loves me….”
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I DELIGHT in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 (emphasis mine)
This process is painful. It’s exposing and scraping away the chaff. And I believe (Oh, help my unbelief!) that it will produce fruit in my life, and Lord willing, in my children’s. Not because of my perfect parenting, but because Christ works in spite of me, through the mess, and in my weakness and humility.
His mercies are new EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
HE has conquered my shame! I can choose to look into my child’s face when she is posed with that question…that call to FIGHT for happy. And by God’s grace, I can answer her, “yes, I can be happy.” And I can smile, humbled but not ashamed, tears brimming, weak, yet finding strength, not in my comfort, not in my ability to control, not in my self-righteous, sinful anger, but in HIM.
Im HIM we find true satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness in what we’ve been called to, no matter what threatens to undo it,
because the JOY of Lord is our STRENGTH.
“Once for all, O sinner, receive it,
Once for all, O doubter, believe it;
Cling to the cross, the burden will fall,
Christ has redeemed us once for all. “
From the hymn by Philip P. Bliss, 1871, alt., Music: Zac Hicks, 2013