It was an absolutely beautiful fall morning, my favorite time of the year, and the house was silent…my four boys still sleeping peacefully. The sun was just beginning to rise and it was that serene time of the morning when the day ahead feels full of hope. I sat comfortably, nestled in an overstuffed green chaise with a soft knit blanket over my legs, both hands warm against my favorite mug filled with my morning mocha, Bible open in my lap, and gazing out the grand picture windows that graced the entire back wall of my enormous living room in the largest and most beautiful home I had ever lived in. It was a picture perfect morning.
But my soul was desperately unhappy.
I remember it so vividly because I was particularly struck by the fact that the miserable state of my heart conflicted so painfully with the loveliness of my external surroundings. It was that morning that my heart was abruptly awakened to the reality that my life was markedly absent of joy.
Over the next hour I felt a growing anxiety as the minutes ticked by, ebbing closer to the time that my boys would begin waking one by one and the morning silence would be replaced by the sounds of life in a houseful of four young boys. Bickering, rowdiness, laughter one minute—cries the next. I knew the routine and I felt so inadequate to inspire my children to be kind, loving, obedient and joyful. I was homeschooling at the time, our seventh year, and I found myself in a season of unusual difficulty. There were so many external forces in play that created greater challenges than previous years and on a disturbingly regular basis I found myself sneaking away to my room to cry. Many days I didn’t even bother to sneak away—I just let my raw, angry tears flow in front of my children. My anger wasn’t because of them—quite the opposite; they were precisely where I was finding my happiness. But being responsible for their mother’s happiness was a burden my children were never meant to bear—and a burden their young sinful hearts could not maintain on a daily basis—or even an hourly one. They were only children after all, but there could not have been any doubt in their hearts that their mother was deeply unhappy.
I wish I could tell you a beautiful story of how God used that morning to immediately breathe new purpose into my life. I wish the next chapter told of how I clearly heard Him calling me to sit and linger with Him and to tether my heart to His. I wish the next page told of a dramatic change of heart. Instead, it was just the first page of a very long novel with self-loathing, bitterness, anger, and ‘pretending joy’ as recurring chapter themes. However—there is, indeed, a happy ending. No—there is, in fact, a joyful ending.
I had never struggled much with coveting what other people had. Over the years, I had many friends with model perfect homes, luxury cars, beautiful faces, fit bodies, expensive clothes, wonderful relationships with their husbands and children, and creative talent that left me speechless. But I never envied them for what they had.
Instead, I expended all my ‘envy energy’ coveting my own life—not the life I had, but the life I expected to have. Not the life I was blessed with, but the life I thought I deserved.
Somehow I had become unintentionally enslaved by the routine of mindlessly pitting my day-to-day reality up against the picturesque adulthood I had dreamt up prior to marriage and children. Occasionally there was a day that was free enough from challenge and struggle that it could stand toe to toe next to the idol life I had envisioned, but the vast majority of the days paled in comparison and left me feeling covetous, angry, bitter, and defeated.
I was failing at parenting. I was failing my children. I was failing in creating the life I dreamt of for my family. I was failing God.
I was failing at life—or so I believed.
There is a popular mantra that you hear so often—‘Choose Joy’. If you’re on Pinterest or Instagram, you likely come across some depiction of ‘choose joy’ in a beautiful scripted font on a daily basis. You’ll find it mod-podged on wood signs, screen printed on t-shirts, embossed on journals, hand-stamped on jewelry, framed and perfectly placed amidst the most welcoming farmhouse décor. You’ll even find it tattooed on bodies! ‘Choose Joy’ is everywhere—because people desperately want to live a joyful life.
But joy isn’t chosen—it’s grown.
I spent many years after that morning of reckoning trying hard to create a more joyful life.
Over the course of the following four years, I made many choices that were unexpected—and extremely life-altering. All with the expectation that they would bring a measure of joy into my life.
I started a new career—a creative and financially successful one. I indulged myself by spending freely on things I believed would make me happy. I lost a lot of weight in order to feel beautiful and worthy. I bought expensive clothes. I made several new friends. I put my children in school. And I ended a marriage that I selfishly blamed for much of my unhappiness.
To the believer, those choices—or at least the motives behind them—all raise red-flags and resonate as a lack of wisdom—foolishness.
However, to a world which elevates ‘self’ to a place of highest regard—those choices (and even the motives behind them) make perfect sense, and are even applauded, when someone is searching for the happiness they ‘deserve’. I had unintentionally surrounded myself with lies from every angle that reinforced what I wanted to believe—that I could create a more joyful life for myself—by indulging myself in the things I believed I deserved. But joy isn’t created any more than it’s chosen.
It’s taken me many painful years walking through the carnage of lessons learned, largely at the expense of my family, to arrive at the simple and beautiful truth about authentic joy.
Joy is a fruit grown naturally on branches that abide in the vine. All we need do is abide in Christ. Nothing more. Just abide.
By literal definition you can read this as:
Remain in Christ.
Continue in Christ.
Stay in Christ.
Dwell in Christ.
Wait in Christ.
We are required only to abide—and in exchange for abiding, He promises to bear us the fruit of joy.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:4-5, ESV.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” John 15:11, ESV.
A joyful life is not CREATED by intentionally choosing joy—a joyful life is GROWN by intentionally choosing Jesus.
DO YOU LONG FOR A JOYFUL LIFE?
- Choose to trust in God’s ability to make whole, that which is broken—rather than in your own ability to fix.
- Choose to be content with what you—rather than longing for more.
- Choose to see beauty in the ordinary—rather than chasing the idol of perfection or expectation.
- Choose to lean in to Jesus for the grace to grow—rather than striving in the futile mire of self-sufficiency.
- Choose to pray—rather than complain.
- Choose to intentionally seek—rather than aimlessly wander.
- Choose to wholeheartedly invite Jesus into every area of your life—rather than visiting with Him occasionally.
- Choose to commune with Christ naturally and freely as your Savior, Brother, and Friend—rather than as a formality or duty. Relationships aren’t built within the framework of formality.
- Choose to abide in Christ with the eager anticipation of growing a joyful life—rather than creating a pretty life with the false expectation of growing a joyful heart.
To my sisters in Christ—my prayer for all of us, as we choose to abide in Christ, is that we would be women abundantly blessed by a harvest of sweet joy and that we would share that harvest generously with those around us in order to bring glory to Jesus.
Welcome to The Joyful Life.
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