I've always been an optimist, a glass-half-full type.
As I look back over my life, I've been mostly happy; mostly joyful.
I say mostly because like everyone, I've had my moments...er, years, that I wouldn't exactly call joyful, due to situations I put myself in, but looking at the big picture, joy wasn't something I really struggled with. It came pretty naturally for me...
That is, until my dreams came true.
That's right. I finally got my fairy tale life...the dream that many little girls have and spend all those childhood years longing for...babies! We fantasize about life as a 'grown-up' and how perfect it will be when we finally have a real life baby in our arms that's our very own to take care of. In fact, I watch my two oldest girls (ages two and almost four) carefully taking care of their baby dolls, affectionately named 'Boba' and 'Strawberry Baby', and when I told Addison that someday she would be a mommy like me, her eyes lit up and got as big as saucers. It's already a dream taking shape in her three-year-old mind.
I am certainly not the only mom out there who has felt the shame and guilt over the joylessness I have felt at times in Motherhood. I've talked to countless other moms who struggle with this. This feeling that they should be happier than ever now that they finally have babies; now that their little girl dream is actually playing out in real time. I've been there, and it wasn't long ago that I was sinking in despair over the lack of joy I was able to conjure up daily. And what was worse was the guilt I felt...God had blessed me with two precious little ones, and another was on the way. I was supposed to be dancing and laughing and thanking Him daily for giving me what I always wanted! And instead I was walking around stressed, often times irritated, and overwhelmed...you could say I was sinking in toddlerhood, or 'in the trenches', as a friend of mine put it, as she recently described her life with three kids three and under. Don't get me wrong, I love being a mom and adore my girls more than I ever thought possible, but I have been pretty unpredictable with my moods ever since having them. I blamed some of it on hormones (totally valid at certain points!), but as with all excuses, that one was wearing thin. I was desperate for things to change deep in my heart.
It was only a few months ago that I was struggling with having joy. I'm not talking about plain old happiness, that fickle emotion dependent upon the circumstances of the moment, but deep-seeded, consistent joy. Sure, I was happy enough most days, but there was an underlying discontent, and it only took one little thing to send my day down the dark tunnel of negative emotions, only to wake up the next morning with a resolve to 'do better'.
As I write this today, I can honestly say that the Lord has done an amazing work in my heart. Though life is actually more stressful with three than I ever imagined, and days are more exhausting than I thought possible, I have the joy I desperately longed for the past few years. It's like a light came on in a room that I had been stumbling around in the dark, looking desperately for the switch to turn it on.
This is not my doing, of course. It's not like I tried really really hard to have joy and finally mastered it. No...it's been a slow process and one of asking God fervently to help me be full of joy in all circumstances (instead of joyful only on the days the weather was to my liking, my kids were cheerful, I got enough sleep, etc.) And there were days I felt like God really didn't give a hoot about my state of mind. Like he was never going to answer that prayer. But as always (and frustrating as ever!), he has his own timetable and he answers prayers when and how he sees fit. In addition to praying, it's taken work. I am not a big believer in the theory that we can be lazy and expect God to do everything. I believe that we do the work, and he blesses it and makes our work fruitful...without him, work would just be work.
I thought a lot about why and how I came to the place joy...joy even on long hard days, and I thought of four main things, which would be too much to write about in one post. So, over the next few weeks I will be writing several posts pertaining to each discipline/habit. It might take me a month or more since, let's face it, this is sweet but not conducive to productive writing...
Topics will be:
Practicing gratitude and being present
Letting go of fear
Realizing (and living as if) my life is not my own
Living free...letting go of guilt
These might not all seem related to joy at first glance, but for me they are! I've not mastered any of them by any means, and don't write this in pride...honestly, I forget to practice gratitude some days, I have moments of fear and fears I'm still working through (I'm a huge worrier), I forget my life is not my own and bow to the god of selfishness all too often, and I feel guilt about plenty of things. That's why I'm calling them disciplines (because they take discipline...they go against what the flesh naturally leans toward) and habits (with enough discipline habits start to form).
I'm just getting started living this life of joyful motherhood, and I wanted to share and encourage other moms out there who struggle with this. The more women I talk to, the more I'm convinced that this is a widespread issue that many face. My prayer is that you (and I!) will find this as a starting place to be able to live out the exhortation in 1 Thessalonians to be 'joyful always'.