Ordinary Journey to Joy

Lest you think after my strong-minded post about motherhood that it has always been easy… Here’s an article I wrote for Daughters of Promise ( Tend issue) last year. (I am trying to resolve the issues with the missing comment/reply section. Thank you so much to those who emailed or texted to give me feedback.)

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I hit a disconnect between the shiny idea in my head and the gritty reality of life as a homemaker about the time I had two babies and the wedding gifts weren’t new anymore. One day my husband asked me, “Why are you constantly sighing? What’s wrong?” I was taken aback; my husband rarely chided me about my attitudes. When the toddler pulled out the one book that kept the stack intact, making a racket fit to wake his colicky little brother, my sagging spirit sighed deeply. I found myself entrenched in a rut of unhappiness.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” I admitted. “I seem to have lost my joy. The things I do every day don’t last, and they’re so boring! I do for free what you couldn’t pay most people to do.”

The truth was that I was not overworked. I was merely tired and cranky. I wanted to change the world and found it difficult to reconcile with the fact that I was changing diapers and laundry loads. I wished I could feed the orphans, but I was coaxing a toddler to swallow his green beans. I wanted to showcase the beauty of Christ, and I was washing the spilled milk off the kitchen floor.

Much of the trouble stemmed from a narrow view of Kingdom work. The desire to serve God was right; I didn’t want to waste my life, but I was not connecting what was right in front of me with meaningful work. It felt pointless.

I started to look up the verses in the Bible about serving, giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. I also noticed the references to not being weary and faint, and I understood for the first time that being weary is a thing that happens when you’re doing good work.

I cringed as I read the words of Christ, “…when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ” (Luke 17:10) I had to admit to a tinge of self-aggrandizement attached to my noble desires. I preferred visible results, like the report cards I filled out during my school teaching days. Nobody was noticing how masterfully I could clean up peas under the high chair or how well I could remove stains from onesies. As I repented of my short-sighted vision for what the work of God was, I began to lean in to what clearly was given me to do, this moment, in small-town U.S.A.

I found wonderfully clarifying help in a little book by Brother Lawrence titled The Practice of the Presence of God.

Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century Christian who was not educated enough to be a cleric in a Parisian monastery, so he worked in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning for his superiors. His radiant life of joy was so attractive that people kept asking him for his secret. This is what he said:

“…we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of GOD, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

“We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.” (3)

Now that was a freeing thought! I didn’t have to put luster dust on the cup of water or feel warm fuzzies while I taught my boys to pick up the toys. I simply had to line up my heart every day to serve Jesus with all I did and then do it gladly. This was not a spiritual discipline of epic proportions. It was more of a conscious obedience, an offering that didn’t feel all that amazing. Yet the more I practiced, the less I found myself sighing over petty annoyances. One day I took stock and I knew, “The joy is back!”

I have some simple steps that helped to transform how I looked at my ordinary life.

  • I decided to be all-in. This was my life-work. I started to relish the details and disciplines of keeping our home a pleasant place.
  • I determined to accept narrowness and repetition. To my surprise, I found myself taking delight in weirdly ordinary things like a clean refrigerator.
  • I started to offer my work to God with open hands, as the simplest form of worship. If Jesus emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6), why should I feel like something I am asked to do is too demeaning?
  • I learned to value faithfulness over feeling. When I wasn’t feeling it, I simply looked at truth. Is this my job today? Well, then it must be God’s will that I do it the best I can.

I love the Biblical analogies of tending a garden in reference to our spiritual work, which I now believe is our everyday work. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Gal.6:9). Another one is, “Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly.” (2 Cor. 9:6). Clearly there is a problem with a stingy gardener. I want to be the one with fruit that comes from sowing generously, having my hands in the soil.

It doesn’t matter if my garden is on the grounds of a palace or in containers on an apartment patio- the thing that lifts it out of neglect and mundanity is careful tending. Every spring I plant crinkly brown dahlia tubers in the soil along our picket fence. Weed pulling and pest control do not inspire fascination in my soul, but I do that too because I know the glory that will be the result when God has done His life-giving work. In the same way that the delicate origami of a dahlia bloom is God’s work, any glory in my commonplace life is His work too.

It is not easy to lay down my life in this way, cheerfully repeating the menial tasks that demand to be done. Presenting my body as a living sacrifice is not an ideological theory; it is a breathing, voluntary sacrifice that occasionally clambers off the altar. The Apostle Paul describes this offering as “holy, acceptable to God… your reasonable service.” (Rom.12:1) Some translations call it “your spiritual worship.” When I offer Him my work-worship, I can live in joyous assurance that He is glorified in the daily ordinariness of my life.

“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides You, Who acts for those who wait for Him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember You in Your ways…” (Isaiah 64:4, 5 emphasis mine)

6 thoughts on “Ordinary Journey to Joy

  1. This was a timely read on this very grey and rainy Monday morning when my low windows are so smeared with fingerprints that it’s hard to see through to the outside and my work list looks like repetitive drudgery. I will find my joy and my microfiber cleaning rags and tackle my day.

  2. I have the audacity to believe this was written for me. Winter has a way of becoming my boiling water and today the tea that cooked out of me was not joy. 3 weeks of sick children and missed church and being cooped up inside brought out my flavor 😥. God knew how badly I needed this.

  3. What profound words and their mamas need to hear it! Thank you for stepping out and sharing your heart. Its beautiful and lifegiving.

  4. I enjoyed the article when it was published in the magazine (and felt very proud that I had recommended you for it), and I enjoyed it again here! Such good words. We need more modern day mamas who summon Elisabeth Elliot-type of grit and valor for their callings.

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