A small flame

A small flame

When mama's unhappy - the fight for joy

When you think of joy, what image comes to mind?

For me it's this picture of my little guy when he was 2.

This picture embodies joy to me. Children are filled with joy at such simple things. But then we grow up and our wants become bigger and joy becomes less and less spontaneous. And life is hard. Joy can be like a butterfly: beautiful but never quite coming close enough or landing long enough for us to really possess it.

I think one of the things that often makes joy so illusive to us is that it is an emotion. Emotions seem difficult - nearly impossible - to command. They spring up in us, apparently automatically. It can be difficult to understand how to make ourselves feel joy. Harder still to solve the puzzle of how to be joyful in the middle of life's hard. But a lack of joy kills the atmosphere of rest and shelter - of haven- we want to have in our marriages. What to do?

Look in the right place.
When our boys were little, I used to play hide-and-seek with them. They would run and hide and I would 'look' for them. They weren't too hard to spot - a wiggling curtain or the giggles coming from under the table quickly gave them away. But since the object of the game was for them to hide from me, so I would begin a long, noisy search for them - under the throw pillows on the couch, in the kitchen cupboards, behind the door. Looking for them in all the places they weren't hidden so that they could enjoy hiding for a just bit longer.

 Sometimes I think my search for joy is a lot like that. As a believer I know I ought to be joyful. I want to find joy, feel joy. But my elaborate search for joy has me looking in all the wrong places: the good opinion of people, easier circumstances, buying that new gadget... the list of places we look for - and fail to find - joy is unending. Joy is much harder to find than the giggling toddler behind the curtain, but maybe it's us that makes the search so hard. When I, like the psalmist, understand that God is the source of joy (Psalm 43:4, Psalm 16:11) and chose to grow the roots of my joy deep into Him (Philippians 4:4), then joy is a present reality, not an illusive wish.

Cultivate the right treasures
Another reason I think joy is so difficult to find is that we neglect to treasure the truly valuable things of life. I often ponder this when I read the first few verses of James 1:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
These verses highlight for me how vastly different God and I are in what we value. When I go through a trial, I long for escape, a happier set of circumstances, ease. These verses encourage joy for a very different set of reasons: going through a difficult trial grows my endurance and makes me more mature in my faith. James writes that this is a cause for joy and I see how my definition of what is valuable falls so short of what God values. As I learn to love and trust him more fully, let Him change my heart, He will cause me to value the truly valuable things. I long for Him to produce in me the ability to go through difficulty and be joyful because the truly important work of making me look more like Christ is being accomplished.

Trust the right Person
Life is full of unimaginable pain, tragedy, betrayal, heartbreak, death. Against this dark background, the Gospel sparkles with its life-giving message: Our God is a redeemer. He has gone to great lengths to ensure that his children will be redeemed from sin and its effects. He will not stop until he has redeemed everything.(Romans 8:18-21) And this is cause for our joy. When people and circumstances and our own sin-riddled hearts have left us empty and aching; when joy is unimaginable, God is unchanged. He is still good, still at work, still faithfully redeeming the unredeemed. When nothing else brings us joy, we can still find joy in this: nothing will escape the all-is-grace transformation of our Redeemer-Father.

Last year I read the book Choosing Joy by Kay Warren. She had a lot of great insights in her book, one of which has become my treasure map for finding joy. I have adapted her wording slightly…

when mama's afraid... the fight for faith

When I think about the emotions that erode the sense of 'haven' I want to nurture in my marriage, fear is surely at the top of the list. Some fears are obvious, but I've found that fear is often a chameleon, changing it's colors to masquerade as something else. The desire to for a healthy husband, well-behaved children, a spiritually strong family, the desire to make sure my family has 'enough' financially...

What often begins as good common sense or a Godly desire can easily morph into the uglier and more restless emotion of fear. And that fear can cause me to criticize my husband, to be harsh with his flaws and mistakes instead of extending grace and patience, and to shoulder spiritual leadership that oversteps my God-given role in our marriage.

Definitely not a recipe for making my marriage a haven!

A couple of years ago, I took an entire year to focus on fear: identifying the places where my choices were motivated by fear and then stepping over that fear to live fully in spite of fears. During that year I worked through my Bible, studying the places where fear was mentioned - what an uplifting journey that was! Here are two of the many observations I came away with from my study:

First, the 'fear not' verses in scripture are almost always linked to a trusting & deeply-personal relationship with God. {Psalm 27; Psalm 46; Isaiah 8:11-14; Isaiah 51} God’s antidote for my fear is himself. Everything I fear is temporal, but God reminds me over and over that He is faithful in his salvation and un-changing in his character. When I am afraid, it is because I have lost sight of the vastness of God, His sovereign direction over all areas of my life and the deeply personal nature of His love for me.

Second, the circumstances that cause fear to well up in me have been intentionally placed in my life by God to give me an opportunity to lean hard into him and grow in my trust. To give me an opportunity to experience God more fully or in a new way. {Exodus 20:20; Psalm 34} True, the circumstances might have a visible, human cause but when I look past that human cause with eyes of faith, I can see my Heavenly Father at work. Truly, nothing comes to me that does not first pass through my Father’s hand. Like Peter who found himself walking toward Christ on the water (Matthew 14:22-34), God shows up in my life in unexpected ways. And his coming expands my little world, gives me the opportunity to experience something more amazing than I could have never imagined for myself.

In each circumstance of my life, my responsibility is to remain faithful. It is God's to control the outcome. He is my provider and the architect of my life. When He chooses to allow difficulty in my life or the life of my family, his compassion, wisdom and love means that I can trust him, even in difficulty and pain, to bring about only what is best for me and those I love.

I'm learning to live in light of these truths - some days my practicing is more successful than others - but the rest it brings to my heart spills over into my marriage and my home.

if mama ain't happy...

I am an emotional person, which is often a source of mystery to my sweet husband who is my calm, steady opposite. In the early days of our marriage, this contrast between us caused a lot of upheavals in our relationship. And, if I'm going to be brutally honest, my emotional nature was the wind that whipped up a lot of those storms. We've spent the last 15 years learning to harness our differences for the good of our marriage and our family. We definitely don't have it all figured out, but God has been so gracious in maturing each of us and helping us to learn to live with grace toward each other.

I'm thankful to say that I'm still an emotional person. It's how God made me and, properly harnessed, my emotion is a great strength. It's what drives me to live with passion. It's what gives me the desire to invest in others; to climb into the trenches with people and love them right where they're at. It's what gives me the ability to rejoice with people who are rejoicing and weep with people who are weeping. But my emotional nature is only a strength to the extent that I keep it in submission to the truth of scripture.

The saying, 'If mama ain't happy, ain't no body happy' is the stuff of many a comedy script, but in reality it's often no laughing matter. When we as wives fail to keep our emotions firmly embraced by the arms of the Gospel, we can make ourselves and everyone around us pretty miserable! Learning to base our lives on the character of God and the truth revealed in His word, instead of on our fickle emotions, will go a long way in helping us to create haven in our marriages.

More to come... and a little plug for my husband's story of learning how to live with Godly emotions in his book, The Sin of Always Feeling Ok.

Pray for your husband (part 3)

 On a sunny May day almost 16 years ago, I put on my dream dress, walked down the aisle and exchanged the vows I had written with my groom. That's my wedding story and you have yours.

As wives, we have a unique opportunity & responsibility to pray for our husbands.

As my husband's wife, I have the responsibility and privilege to give him the wifely submission, respect & love that he was designed to need (1 Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5). Together he and I are responsible to nurture & tend our relationship and our marriage.

No one knows my husband as well as I do. I know more about his successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses than anyone else on the planet. And that puts me at a distinct advantage to pray for him. You can't pray for my husband the way that I can. And I can't pray for your husband with the insight that you have about him.

What a privilege we have to pray for our husbands! Let's be faithful to hold them up to a kind, gracious God whose sovereign hand controls the universe yet still guides the smallest, most mundane details of our lives.

I have purposed to set aside February as a time of focused prayer for my husband. Maybe you'd like to do the same? You might even like to partner with a friend, teaming up to pray intentionally for your husbands, holding each other accountable and encouraging each other in your marriages.