A Harvest of Joy from the Hardest of Days

landon_fussySeptember was a landmark month for me.  On September 1st, after a nearly two year break, I stood in front of a group of women, opened my Bible, and taught again.

I’ve started a lot of Bible studies, but this one has been the sweetest by far. The mad rush to keep my boys alive AND get my lesson done in time, a dining room table perpetually covered with notes and commentaries and coffee cups, the sheer exhaustion of 4:30 a.m. study sessions – it’s all been so very satisfying. I’m just really, truly grateful. More so than I’ve ever been. I seem to have stumbled upon a wellspring of joy-in-ministry unlike anything I’ve known before. Teaching Bible study has always made me happy, but this time I’m simply overwhelmed in the best way imaginable.

I keep asking myself why it’s so different. If anything, I expected this one to be the hardest. I expected to lack enthusiasm, creativity, and desire.  I thought for sure the struggle of the last couple years would cast an unwelcomed shadow on my sincere attempt to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  Don’t get me wrong, not once did I doubt that God would be faithful to do His part in transforming hearts through the power of His word. I just figured that instead of working through me, He’d have to work around me this time.

Trials come in all different shapes and sizes. Sometimes the bottom completely falls out: a spouse loses a job, a loved one is diagnosed with late-stage cancer, a rebellious child begins to self-destruct, a husband cheats, a beloved family home goes into foreclosure. . . these are “big” trials. They are the kind we can’t image being able to endure until that moment when we find ourselves smack in the middle of one and realize that God’s grace really is sufficient.

But more often than not, the trials we face aren’t the bottom-falling-out “big” kind. They are the never-letting-up “little” kind. By themselves, these kinds of trials aren’t all that hard to deal with. But have you ever noticed that they rarely ever happen by themselves?

IMG_0242About a year and a half ago my sweet Landon was born. The birth of a child automatically brings about a whole slew of seemingly never-letting-up “small” trials: sleep deprivation, crazy hormone fluctuations, nursing challenges, body image issues, and the paralyzing stress of a perpetually unfinished “to do” list. And that’s if you have a perfectly healthy, happy baby. God didn’t see fit to give us one of those.

I’ve spent a year and a half trying to keep a generally unhappy, sickly child from driving us all crazy. After tubes, an adenoidectomy (which did nothing), a bronchoscopy (he has an artery compressing his trachea and surgery scheduled in November, but that’s  another story), and a sedated MRI of his chest and sinuses doctors finally concluded that our incredibly adorable “Mr. Grumpy Pants” has basically had a sinus infection for most of his life. Some kids take a daily vitamin. Ours takes a daily dose of penicillin.

Turns out spending several months consoling a child who rarely feels good can be pretty depressing. It can make you feel isolated and lonely and sad. It can make you feel trapped and suffocated by your own life. It can make you wonder if you’re cut out for this while painfully exposing your most profound insecurities as a mother. “Why am I the only mom who isn’t loving this?” Comparison. Perceived failure. Guilt. Frustration. Anger. Depression. All woven in and out of this incredibly blessed life that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the whole world.

landon_fussy_2In many ways life shrinks when a baby comes along, and even more so if that baby is harder than average. I wish I could say that I embraced the “shrinking” with acceptance and joy. That’s not quite how it went down. But I’m getting there. And I’m realizing once again that it’s in the shrinking that we experience the most growth. If I want Jesus to increase in my life, I have to decrease. (Jn. 3:30) There’s simply no other way. I’m not so sure “decreasing” is something we can do all by ourselves no matter how much we think we want it. In my experience, pride inevitably wins out. But God graciously fights for our whole hearts, for our complete surrender, for our sincere self-giving. He graciously labors for our humility. That’s what motherhood has been for me – a knock-down-drag-out with my incredibly selfish heart. And we wonder why it’s so hard…

Needless to say, right now my life is not the ideal “setting” for a Bible teacher to do her thing. BUT….I’m finding out that it’s the perfect setting for God to do His. Turns out those little trials, all strung together and woven throughout my everyday life in the last year or so have forever altered the fabric of my heart. This thing we call “motherhood” – with all of its small, everyday “never-letting-up” challenges – has proven to be the most profound and sacred pathway to an ever deepening dependence on the Lord. It’s ruined me . . . in the best way imaginable.

In the book of James we are commanded to rejoice in the various trials we face because they test our faith and in doing so produce the invaluable qualities of endurance and spiritual maturity (James 1:2-4). While I would have loved to spend the last couple of years enjoying a happy baby, writing blog posts, and pouring God’s Word into the lives of women, I am fully aware that not a single millisecond of this stuck-at-home-with-a-fussy-kid season has been a waste. James 1:4 is coming alive right before my very eyes . . . on the canvas of my own heart! The somber grey hues of this challenging season have only served to enhance the stunning brilliance of His grace. As any artist knows, depth cannot be achieved without some darkness.

From a ministry standpoint, nothing has really changed. I’m teaching at the same church to a lot of the same women. This study isn’t any different. But I am.

That’s why it’s sweeter. That’s why it’s so much more fun. Through this incredibly challenging season of motherhood, God has shrunk my pride and in turn enlarged my capacity for joy. He’s fought hard for that which I didn’t even know I was missing. I’m confident He’s doing the same thing for you!

So today let’s choose to thank God for the bitter-sweet providence of faith refined in those really hard seasons of motherhood. We may be overworked, overwhelmed, overtired, or just plain OVER IT.  But because He is good and gracious and oh-so-faithful, the hardest of days can and will produce a harvest of joy. “Oh Lord . . . we wait in expectation” (Ps. 5:3).

Comments

  1. Nailed it 😊Thanks, Aprile!

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