God Help Me See the Joy

I was at a boiling point. The kids had been sick for days and I was up every night worrying and tending to fevers. They were finally on the mend, but I hadn’t recovered from my exhaustion and my house was a literal disaster with laundry overload, dish laden counters, and toys everywhere. A week of sickness had left the housework neglected and everyone tightly wound. I wasn’t coping well.

It’s not that I was actually losing it on anyone, it’s just that I felt like a ticking time bomb. Every whine was making me twitch, and I was becoming increasingly agitated and overwhelmed as I looked at the mess around me. Generally I default to ranting, but it’s not something I’m proud of, so I mustered all of my strength to try and not verbalize my growing list of grievances.

I felt like I needed a pause button, but that doesn’t really exist when it comes to life does it?

Some people call vacations a pause button, but my bank account didn’t allow for one, and even if it did, I needed to pause right that minute!

I was trying so hard to keep it together, because I didn’t want to lose it on my kids or my husband. I’ve been the angry ranting mom before, and I’ve always regretted my soapbox speech after I stepped down.

My kids have had moments when they’ve gotten frustrated and they just boil over and freak out. Each time I’ve said to them, “Your emotions are okay. It’s okay to be frustrated and angry, but you’re still responsible for how you deal with them. So you need to calm down.”

I wonder though, how am I supposed to teach them to calm down and control their emotions if I can barely do it myself?

The other day I skimmed an article about the voice in your head, and I realized that mine is often negative. Not all the time obviously, but more often than I’d like to admit my inner voice is anxious, angry, and self righteous. No wonder I feel the need for a pause button so often! In 2 Corinthians 10:5 it says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” See I know that at the root of it I need to work on self control, but I can’t do it on my own. Self control takes surrender. It takes me giving over my negative mindset to God and saying, “Here! Take it God. Help me to see things in a new way. Show me the joy that I’m struggling to see!”

The truth is I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, but on days like this, I’ve had a hard time seeing it. This stage of my life is often so chaotic, and somedays it’s hard to see all the joy in the midst of it. So I’m starting something new. When my inner narrative becomes sour, when I feel like a kettle ready to blow, I’m going to take my thoughts captive. I’m surrendering my soapbox to Christ and asking for a fresh perspective in return. I must, because I know there is joy in every story, but so often I struggle to see it on my own.

Slowly, God is teaching me to see all of my blessings. I’m tired, but it’s because I’m blessed with four amazing kids to keep me up at night. My living room may be strewn with toys, but it’s also filled with laughter. And though my counters are a mess of plates, cups, and bowls, it’s because I have plenty of food to dirty my dishes. In the grand scheme of things, I’m living the good life!

It’s not gonna be easy changing my thought process. I’ve developed a bad habit of dwelling in negativity and self pity, but I know surrendering my thoughts to God is the only answer.

Sure a vacation sounds dreamy, but a pause on life isn’t what I truly need at the core. An escape is a temporary fix, and sure I would love some rest and relaxation, but what I truly need is a change of perspective that only God can give me.

I guess I’m not looking for a pause after all. Instead I’m asking God to hit the reset button for my mind, so I don’t have to check out, but can check in with a new mindset. I want to see my life for all it’s beauty and spend my days soaking it in instead of grumbling as it passes me by.

When Jealousy Comes Easier Than Joy

Lately I’ve been noticing a growing unrest in myself. A longing for something more and it’s taking it’s toll on me. See I’m not talking about ambition, I’m talking about jealousy.

This year has been tough! Despite our budgeting and saving, finances are tight. We’re emotionally and physically exhausted, and twenty nineteen has been filled with injuries and multiple frantic trips to the ER because one my kids couldn’t breathe. It has been hard and at times I find myself jealous and resentful even at others seemingly simple lives. I find myself questioning when our hardships will end. Overall I find myself growing in frustration as life seems to throw hurdle after hurdle at us.

Lately though, God has been speaking to me in the gentle way He often does, and it all boils down to one word. Grateful. Confusing I know. Twenty nineteen has been one for the books, BUT there has been so much good! Things that up until now, I have chosen to ignore in favour of self pity. 

My marriage is probably the best it’s been in 11 years, we’ve finally got our budgeting and savings on track, and I have four healthy children. Really that last one is huge for me. My kids have asthma, severe food allergies, and my daughter had sepsis when she was one. Each of them have nearly died, BUT they are here, and for the most part, they’re healthy. I have been fortunate enough to always leave the hospital with my child. God has blessed me beyond measure.

This week I have been reminded of the commandment to “not covet” and how important it is. When I was a kid we were often taught about the Ten Commandments and I remember thinking that one was weird. I mean the others make sense. Don’t kill, don’t worship other Gods, don’t cheat, those are givens, but coveting? What’s that and what’s the big deal with it anyway? 

As a little kid coveting was explained to me as the desire to have what someone else has. I can’t say I really understood the significance when I was little, but as I got older coveting has become a really big struggle. 

See at the surface this commandment seems really insignificant, but I think it may actually be at the root of a lot of our troubles. I think that most of us struggle with coveting on a daily basis, because what coveting truly is, is jealousy and dissatisfaction. It’s a dangerous blend of envy and ungratefulness. Often it’s what causes people to lie, cheat, and steal. You may be thinking “Phewf, not me! I’m in the clear on this one”, but if your like me, coveting is a daily issue, just in a more subtle way.

Now, coveting isn’t a commandment because God is gonna smite us for being jealous of our neighbour and wanting what others have. No! This commandment is for our own good. Jealousy has a sneaky way of stealing our joy. It makes us resentful and angry at God and man, instead of being grateful for all that we have been given. It paints our worldview with sadness, frustration and anger and causes us to be dissatisfied with life. It seems minor, but coveting has a domino effect. 

Truthfully I think I struggle with it almost every day. I covet my friends homes. I covet all the pretty things I see on Instagram. I even covet the success of others. This seemingly innocent act ends up having a big impact on my life. The more I covet, the less satisfied I am with life, and the more frustrated I become with God. I begin to feel like I’ve been gipped.

One of the things I really struggle with coveting is talent. Over the years I’ve questioned on more than one occasion why I couldn’t be talented like __________. I would talk to God and say, “Why didn’t you give me that? Why couldn’t I have that talent? How come they get to have all the gifts, and I have none.” In His gentle way, He would reply, “But I gave you talents Sarah. I just gave you different ones”.

He’s right. He has given me talents. He’s given me a voice to sing and words to write, and yet I have been so ungrateful. I have been greedy for more, I have been jealous of others blessings, and sometimes I’ve even resented them for it.

 I don’t want to live that way anymore, so I’m choosing to be grateful and ask God to give me contentment in all seasons. Some days it won’t be easy, but I think that even in the worst of times, we can all find something to be grateful for. To start, I’m thankful for a God who changes my perspective.

So though coveting seems like such a minor thing, I encourage you to look for it. Search your heart, because though it starts small and seems innocent, coveting is huge. It steals your joy, it distracts you, and it can make you greedy for things that were never intended to be yours. Coveting is a trap you can’t see until your already stuck in its clutches. God wants more for us. He wants us to live in gratitude and contentment. He wants us to see our lives as abundantly blessed and to use what He has given us instead of longing for what He has given to others. So, may we learn to claim our joy, instead of trading it for jealousy.

Grace in Progress

This past week I was preparing to run kids church, and I was mulling over ideas for Thanksgiving when an illustration came to mind. Picture life as a pair of glasses. Glasses that are shiny and new, but eventually get dirty and scratched. Before you know it, it’s hard to see. That’s what life is like. Life gets tough, and sometimes bitterness becomes our lens, but when we choose to be thankful to God through the pain, our vision becomes clearer, and we begin to see. Our perspective becomes positive because we choose to focus on the good.

As I was going to bed I was thinking about my lens. With some people, my glasses are filthy. I’ve been hurt, and I find it hard to forgive. I would say I’ve tried, but the truth is I really haven’t. If I had, I wouldn’t filter through my pain. If I had, I wouldn’t choose bitterness instead of hope and joy. As I rested my head on my pillow, God said, “That’s you.” I’m Sarah with the dirty glasses. Sarah who refuses to be thankful and see the good, because bitterness and anger is familiar. The scratches and the dirt on my glasses are easy to see through. Or so it seems.

God wants me – He wants us, to let go. To choose to be thankful in the little things and have hope. He wants us to give over our dirty lenses and let God wipe them clean. It’s not easy, that dirt feels safe to me, a cautionary tale to keep certain people at bay. “They haven’t changed”, I say, “They never will.” I convince myself that my filter is necessary, that it protects me, but if I believe in a God who loves me despite my dirt and sees the best in me in my worst of times, I must be willing to let God clear my vision for others. I must surrender my pain in return for joy, and I think He’s trying to tell me that as I do, I’ll have so much more to be thankful for.

I can’t do this in my own strength, grace doesn’t always feel natural to me, but as I surrender myself to God, He will show me how to love unconditionally. His grace will help me see the good in people and have compassion for them on their darkest days. Through Him I can overcome my pain and choose to love. That means the people who have hurt me and haven’t even noticed. It means extending grace to those who haven’t apologized or don’t feel the need to.

As comfortable as I have become in my bitterness, I want to surrender my pain to Christ. I don’t like who I am when I filter through my pain. I am cold and distant. I am closed off to progress and growth, because I am stuck clinging to the dirt in the past. What a horrible way to live. I know that God has called me to more, and if you can relate He wants so much more for you too. A life of unconditional love and hope for change. A new lens and a joyful outlook on life. I know it will take time for me, but as the Bible says in Luke, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, so I’ve got some work to do. I’m so glad that I serve a God who calls me to a higher standard, not just for the sake of it, but because it’s whats best for me. He knows my bitterness is like a weed that comes in and chokes out love and peace, and He loves me enough to call me out of that. So, here I am surrendering myself, and asking for a new lens, strength to see past my pain, and grace to extend when it hurts.