A lesson in magnifying joy

My 3-year-old son broke his tibia two months ago. This daredevil child (who I pulled out of the zoo’s alligator pit by his feet a few months back), fractured his leg by – get this – jumping from the coffee table to the couch. Seriously? The kid has fallen from a 7-foot high play structure without a scratch, but landing on the soft couch was apparently awkward enough to score us three trips to the hospital and a bright orange cast from toe to mid-thigh.

Allow me to reassure you that my child’s broken leg is more reflective of his personality than my parenting. My non-daredevil daughter has made it to four-and-a-half years old with no injury worse than a “paper cut.” I use quotations because no one has actually seen one of these “horrifying afflictions” on her skin. But we do purchase Band-Aids in bulk because, well, she gets them “all the time.” If you mother a bouncy boy, I’m sure you can empathize with the wildness of little males. And if you do not, please pause for a moment to appreciate all the additional gray your head does not have.

So there we were, three weeks into the chaos that is parenting three preschool-aged children, two of whom did not walk. According to the orthopedist, even a drop of water on the cast required an immediate blow drying, and I felt like I’d busted out my Conair daily. I’d removed tomato sauce, ranch dressing, dirt and jelly from that neon, weaponized toddler leg. I’d even smelled it, certain that nearby dog droppings had made its way into the tiny crevices. (It wound up being the dirt-caked jelly. Never thought I’d be so happy to smell dirt-caked jelly.)

Don’t get me started on getting the children into or out of the car (which we do a dozen times a day). Remember that logic puzzle where the farmer is crossing a river with a fox, goose and a bag of beans? He has to bring them all to the other side of the river and can only carry one at a time, but can’t leave the fox alone with the goose, or the goose with the beans. It takes him seven trips to bring all of the parties across the river. This was my life bringing groceries inside the house. I was the farmer and I strategically struggled juggling bags and children into my house, only in my version, the goose’s leg had a neon orange cast and the farmer, goose, fox and bag of beans all whined excessively.

Three weeks in, I was tired and defeated. I cracked open my bible to James 1:2-3. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Joy? Joy?! Shoot. I had complained more in three weeks of my son’s broken leg than I had in my three decades of life leading up to it. “My arms hurt!” “This cast stinks!” “Why do you people need to eat dinner every niiiiiiight?!!!”

James preaches on, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) Quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…So basically if we used myself as an example, you could just take me and then do the exact the opposite of that, and there’s the way we’re supposed to act. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) Worthless? Yikes, James.

So where do I go from here after that kind of admonishing? James actually hand-holds me through this one: “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” Reading James 1 in the midst of this joyless parenting trial felt like a quick mirror-check at a dinner party, where I find gobs of mascara under my eyes. “Whoa, sister. Good thing you checked that mirror!” I reassure myself but then I leave the mascara under my eyes and head back to chat it up with my friends. How ridiculous, right? And yet, that messy mascara is my spiritual gunk when I read these words and don’t let them impact my attitude.

I’M READY TO JAMES 1:19-IFY MY PARENTING.

A few nights ago, my husband suggested we take a few minutes to pray together, thanking God for the blessings in our lives. Air conditioning, clean running water, healthy food, healthy babies, access to some of the best medical care on the planet, books, forgiveness, hot coffee, a washing machine, a car, a job, Nutella. We could have gone on forever. How quick I was to complain about ONE hardship amidst all this bounty. Reminding ourselves of God’s perfect and generous provision readjusted my perspective immediately. I was suddenly…joyful.

It took my 3-year-old’s broken leg to magnify the joylessness I allowed to hold me captive in my parenting. I’m hoping I shed that joylessness along with the nasty orange fiberglass cast we sawed off and left behind at the doctor’s office. I’m ready to James 1:19-ify my parenting. Let’s do it together!

Have you ever felt joyless? What things do you do that bring joy back into your joyless life? I’d love to hear from you.

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