Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Life has kicked into gear around here. No more sipping iced tea on the porch. Summer is over and September calls for organization and productivity. It can feel like a shock to the system after months of an easier pace. Do you have so many balls in the air that you are afraid one is going to drop? Are you hustling through your day, yet in the evening, doubt that you have done enough?
We live at a time in history that is more productive and efficient than ever before, yet so many of us are walking around (rushing around) accompanied by a strong sense that we fall short of who and what we are supposed to be. If this describes your life, how long has it been like this? Weeks? Months? Years?
We can so easily fall into the habit of just existing. Of measuring the value of our lives by our productivity, by whether or not we get the job done, by how far we climb up the ladder. But none of those things can give us joy.
I was talking to someone about this pace the other day. She said it sounded to her like I was treading water while trying to keep a bunch of balls in the air, which sounds pretty much impossible. That description wasn't news to me. It didn't feel particularly insightful, just observant. But then she went on to say something that really stopped me in my tracks. “I think that at the same time, you are kicking your heart away from you. Not because you think your heart doesn't matter. You just don't have time to stop and take care of it.”
I haven't been able to get her words out of my head. I know that above all else, I need to guard my heart. I believe wholeheartedly that everything I do flows from my heart. The heart is the essence of who I am, not what I do. It's where joy is found.
Joy does not reside in a life that is all about checking the boxes, even if the boxes are for really good things like spiritual growth, service, and loving your family. When most of what we do is preceded by “I should” or “I must,” then there's a pretty good chance that we are lacking in the joy department. But this is a tricky thing. God asks us to obey Him, and so a ton of things get put on our “I must” list. People around us need to be actively loved, and that makes the “I should” list a million miles long.
I'm committed to wrestling through this paradox. I want to continue to be sold out for Christ. I want to love people tangibly, and I want to obey God completely. But I want to figure out how to do those things in a way that doesn't feel like one enormous should. Not just because it doesn't feel good-it's because the motivation isn't right. And when we operate for too long simply because we must and we should, we become robotic, and a little bit dead inside. I want to avoid this at all costs, and I'm sure you do, too.
I want to fight for joy, because “the joy of the Lord is my strength,” (Nehemiah 8:10). If I don't have joy, I'm weak-prone to burnout, discouragement, and frustration. I believe “the joy of the Lord” comes from knowing we are God's beloved daughters, and living out of that reality. As a loving father, God wants us to experience getting lost in pure delight. He wants us to be replenished. He wants the blinders off our eyes so that we can see all that we have to be grateful for. He wants us to take time to rest. In fact, He's commanded that we rest. (Exodus 20:8) He knows us completely-we are the apple of His eye. (Zechariah 2:8) He wants us to take the time to figure out what truly brings us joy. Not what numbs us, distracts us, or just keeps us busy.
There will always be many things that simply need to get done. Laundry doesn't fold itself and the bills need to be paid. But let's make sure that we lift up our hearts each day and give them a little tending. That we hold them our to our heavenly Father and ask Him to pour out His love and grace over them. He never withholds that request. And let's look for the little things that bring us joy, and give ourselves permission to lay down the uncompleted to do list, and do something that simply breathes life into our hearts.
May we truly LIVE EVERY DAY of our lives and continue to fight for JOY.
In my writing and speaking, I often quote other authors in order to more succinctly illustrate a point I am making. After receiving feedback from the July Positively Purposeful message, I feel it's important to say that the selection of a quote does not indicate an endorsement of everything said or written by that person.
When the quote by Ted Tripp was selected for the July Positively Purposeful message, it was chosen to illustrate the point that when we lower standards of acceptable behavior for our children, instead of encouraging them to ask God to help them when it feels impossible to do the right thing, they miss out on a wonderful opportunity to see how they need Jesus in their lives, too. It was not intended to advocate or endorse any specific method of discipline or child-rearing.
I could hear the coins jangling in her pocket as she climbed up the stairs to my room. Some small change was missing from a dish, and I had just asked who had taken it. Greeted with silence and no admission of guilt from any of the kids, I told them I was going upstairs to wait. Whoever took it could come to me on their own timing, but we weren't going anywhere until the truth came out.
With tears in her eyes, my daughter admitted that she had taken the money. “What was going on in your heart when you took it?” I asked her. “Can you remember what you were thinking or why you felt like it was okay to take money that you hadn't earned?”
She burst into tears. “I took it because the five dollars I earned working in the garden is gone! I put it in the empty Uno box and someone threw it away. I can't find my money, and I saw that money sitting there, so I took it.” She sat on the couch, full of misery.
We talked about how hard it is to do the right thing when life feels unfair. How easy it is to justify all sorts of things when we feel we're owed something. But at the end of the day, it was stealing, and she knew it. I asked her what a better response would have been. We talked about 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. [We all get tempted. Our situation isn't unique.] And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear [When we say we just couldn't help it, that's not actually true. In our own strength we can't, but God will always help us make the right choice.] But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” I asked her what she thought was her “way out.” What else could she have chosen?
I told her that choices have consequences. She would have to give the money back to her brother and ask him how she could serve him to show him she really was sorry.
I asked her if she felt like it was hard, maybe impossible, to be as good as God wanted her to be. She gave a big nod of agreement. And then we got to the good part-the good news.
Every time our children (or we) mess up, it's an opportunity to be drawn to the Cross. My daughter was right-it is impossible to be as good as God wants us to be. God tells us to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Perfect?! we think. I can't even be perfect for an hour, let alone a lifetime. So what is the solution?
Ted Tripp addresses this question in his book, Shepherding a Child's Heart:
The focal point of your discipline and correction must be your children seeing their utter inability to do the things which God requires unless they know the help and strength of God. Your correction must hold the standard of righteousness as high as God holds it. God's standard is correct behavior flowing from a heart that loves God and has God's glory as the sole purpose of life…The alternative is to give them a law they can keep. The alternative is a lesser standard that does not require grace and does not cast them on Christ, but rather on their own resources…Dependence on their own resources moves them away from the cross. It moves them away from any self-assessment that would force them to conclude that they desperately need Jesus' forgiveness and power.
“I know it's so hard,” I said. “And that's why we need Jesus. He died so that we could always be forgiven when we make mistakes. And He sent the Holy Spirit to us to be inside us, to help us to make the right choices and overcome temptation. Let's pray and ask for God's forgiveness (He'll always say yes), and then ask the Holy Spirit to help us make good choices-to give us the strength to do the things that are hard, but right.” She prayed and we hugged. Everything felt good again.
I'd love to say that this is how it goes every time someone in my house needs correction. This takes time, and I don't always stop what I'm doing to discipline in this way. Too often, we're on the go when I've caught someone doing something. I say that we'll address it when we get home, and then I forget all about it in the busyness that follows. But summer affords opportunity not just to slow down and relax. It gives time to slow down and be a better mom. Not a perfect one-but one that asks the Holy Spirit to give us the strength to do the things that are hard, but right.