We have some cousins on my husband's side of the family that have a small herd of children. Every time I'm around them I find myself admiring them more and more. For lots of different reasons...like how they grow a lot of their own food, their philosophy behind their decision to homeschool, their grace and patience amidst the chaos of raising five young children, etc. But one interaction with them many years ago made an impact on me and continues to move me to this day.
We were eating pizza together at our house. Our oldest daughter was just a baby at the time. I'm not sure we had many toys that appealed to their older kiddos. So, they were drawing pictures. Their son, just a toddler, went up to their older daughter and scribbled on her picture. She was crushed. She had been taking her time creating her work of art, and now there was unwanted color spilled carelessly on her picture. She went to her mom in tears. I watched with curiosity to see how the mom would react. I was surprised. I guess I expected the toddler to be addressed. Not necessarily reprimanded, he was just a toddler after all. But at least told what he did wrong or something. Instead, the mom looked at her disappointed daughter and very calmly told her, "Don't let that steal your joy." Sometimes in life you have an experience that you are able to glean something significant from. This was such an experience for me. I tucked that little piece of wisdom away in my heart and trusted it would be used someday.
Fast forward to now when my husband and I have our own small herd of children. I have found myself many, many times encouraging my daughters not to let a particular offense steal their joy. It is a regular occurrence around here that someone's picture gets scribbled on or someone's feelings get hurt (even my 2-year-old verbalizes that her "feewings" are hurt or when so-and-so is "being not weawy vewy nice" to her!). Living life with others is tough! And it's messy. And frustrating. And sometimes just plain irritating. Do I correct the child that is in the wrong? Oftentimes, yes. But whether I do or whether I don't, I try to make it a habit to look at my child who has experienced a hurt and calmly say, "Don't let that steal your joy."
Recently the atmosphere of our home has been stressful. I blame it on a lot of things...like being cooped up during the winter season, our children seem to be going through difficult stages simultaneously, I happen to have raging pregnancy hormones, etc. I have been venting to my husband about my struggle to deal with all of the crying, and arguing, and bad attitudes, and general discontent I see occurring with our children. I usually feel strong and able to extend a good amount of patience and grace. But, I'm not going to lie, I have been at my wits end. And so I got on my knees today and I asked God to show me how to love my children in the way that they need it. To my surprise, God did not respond by telling me to spend more individual time with my kids. He didn't respond by telling me to prioritize my day better by not worrying about getting things done and just playing with the kids instead. He didn't tell me I need more "me" time or anything like that. You know what he did tell me? "Don't let that steal your joy."
Maybe you are asking, "Don't let what steal your joy?" Let me give you a few examples. It is all the little things. It's not being able to put laundry away without stopping to solve several conflicts. Or realizing my one-year-old got 367 other items out while I was putting that laundry away that I now have to clean up. But not before my older daughter goes running down the hallway and steps on an open bottle of aloe causing it to shoot 3 feet across the carpet and up the wall. Oh, let me just use these cloths I was going to put away to clean that up. Meanwhile, maybe there is a potty accident (again). And then maybe the baby poops for the 3rd time that morning and I have to hold her down while she attempts an alligator death roll to escape a diaper change. On top of that my husband and I haven't been on a date in an eternity and instead of using the couple hours we see each other in an evening to connect and enjoy one another, tired from our day we unfortunately often just scribble on each others' works of art, if you know what I mean.
The fact is, life doesn't change all that much as an adult. It's still hard to do life with others. It's still messy and frustrating and irritating. People still hurt one another, even when they love each other. I'll never be able to really truly protect my children from what they will experience from others in life. And, for that matter, I can't fully protect myself either. So I'm left with the thought instead, that we simply cannot let our joy be so easily taken. Our joy has to come from somewhere inside us that cannot be moved by what occurs around us. In John 10:10 Jesus plainly states that it is the enemy that comes to STEAL, and kill, and destroy our lives. But it is He who comes to give us life, and not just any old life but life to the absolute fullest. Beyond what we can imagine. More than what we can ask for. Above what we can hope for. This is good news! Knowing this truth I can see how the enemy is up against me in all the little things that come with being a stay-at-home mom. I realized that I cannot expect something from my children that I am not practicing myself. I reclaimed my joy today. And it was a good day.