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).

When “Way Better” Is Also “Way Harder”

Eight more days until my due date. Eight. More. Days.

My heart is nearly bursting with joy as I anticipate holding my second born child in my arms, looking into those precious eyes, touching those tiny feet and hands, caressing the silky soft hairs on his head, marveling at every little feature on his red, puffy and oh-so-adorable newborn face, breathing in the smell of freshly washed baby, and listening to that sweet sound of a nursing infant. Again and again, the Bible affirms that children are a blessing from the Lord. Again and again, my son Shepherd has proven that to be true. I know without any doubt that Landon Joseph Sweers will do the same.

shep_newbornThis picture of Shepherd and me is one of my most precious treasures. I have a hard time seeing  a whole lot of beauty in pictures of myself, but this picture is different. I have never looked or felt more beautiful in my whole life than in that moment as I held my first born son and pondered the magnitude of his life and the sheer goodness of the God who ordained every second of it before one of them came to be. This picture reflects so many of the hopes, dreams, and expectations I had of that sweet child and of motherhood in general. While it captures but one single moment in time, it continues to tell the story of a young woman who fell madly in love with a seven pound, fourteen ounce little boy who forever changed her life for the better. Way better. To think that I get to experience that all over again in just a matter of days – it nearly takes my breath away.

There is, however, one thing weighing heavily on this joy-filled heart of mine – one thing that has made this pregnancy very different from my first. This time around I know something about motherhood that I didn’t quite grasp the first time: I know it’s going to be really, really hard.

The young woman in that picture honestly didn’t have a clue. She had read and re-read Babywise, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and Shepherding a Child’s Heart (to name a few!). She was convinced she’d have her baby on a perfect “feed-wake-sleep” schedule and would be sleeping through the night in a matter of weeks. She wholeheartedly believed that breastfeeding would be the easiest, most natural, rewarding experience of her life. She envisioned happily rocking her always-smiling baby multiple times a day while singing her favorite hymns and reading Scripture – the perfect little “mommy and me” worship service! She would, of course, always have make-up on, be dressed in real clothes (i.e., pants that have a zipper and aren’t made of flannel), and exude the well-rested radiance of a successful  “Babywise” mom.

HA! To say none of that happened would be a severe understatement.

Yep, clueless . . . utterly clueless. But not this time . . .

This time I know how brutal the sleep deprivation will be.

This time I know
that however willing my husband is to help in the wee hours of the morning, I am the only one with “working” breasts.

This time I know that even if I could be the “perfect” Babywise mom, it’s highly unlikely that I will ever have a “perfect” Babywise baby.

This time I know that that postpartum depression is a life-altering reality, that it affects somewhere around 15% of women who have babies, and that I happen to be one of them.

This time I know the strain caring for an infant will have on my marriage, the loneliness/isolation (both real and perceived) I will experience, and the enhanced body image issues I will deal with.

This time I know about  the financial stress coming our way, the challenge of making sure my four-year-old doesn’t feel lost in the chaos, and the paralyzing effects of trying and often failing to manage an overwhelming list of day-to-day demands (to be completed in the VERY short time between feedings).

This time I know the sting of having to say “no” again and again to opportunities to stand on a platform and teach the Bible as I try to convince myself that the ministry I do inside my home is far more important and rewarding. (I really do believe that, but sometimes having to push the “pause” button on my passion is just plain agonizing.)

Yes, this time I know that sometimes “better” – even way better –  is also way “harder.” Sometimes great blessings demand great sacrifices. Sometimes the sweetest fountains of joy are mixed with bitter providence. Sometimes the most tangible expressions of God’s goodness make us painfully aware of our desperate need for His grace. Sometimes the most priceless gifts come to us in really complicated packages.

So what do we do when we know that “way better” is also going to be “way harder?” What do we do when the immense joy we feel is threatened by the things we fear? What do we do when the beauty of the blessing starts to get hidden behind the reality of the cost?

We saturate ourselves in truth from God’s Word until we are fully convinced that no matter how hard “harder” might get, God’s grace is indeed sufficient  (2 Cor. 12:9). . .that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9) . . .that our times – even the hard times – are in His hands (Ps. 31:15). . .that in Christ, we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37) . . . that He who did not spare His own Son will most certainly provide for every single need (Rom. 8:32). . .that we can cast every care on Him because He really, truly does care for us (1 Peter 5:7). . . that because Jesus is enough, so are we (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 2:2) . [Insert a thousand other promises here!]

We have to TRUST that we will eventually look back and see the words “WORTH IT” written across every single sacrifice – every stretch mark, every stressful feeding, every sleepless night, every emotional tidal wave, every diaper change, every frustrating attempt at potty training, every date night that never happened, every mess, every doctor visit, every forfeited ministry opportunity, every financial sacrifice, and every hour spent watching kid shows.

All of it  . . . absolutely, totally, completely  WORTH IT!

Why? Because all of it . . . every single ounce of “hard” . . . . is sovereignly fashioned by God to draw us closer to Himself.

I know I’m not the only one who is on the verge of a better but harder season of life, deeply thankful for what God has so lavishly provided but also very much aware – and sometimes afraid – of what it’s going to cost. It doesn’t have to be motherhood. It could be a new job, a move, a relationship, a new ministry endeavor, or a whole slew of other changes. Whatever “hard” we might face, we can do what comes so naturally to most of us and choose to dwell on the price tag. Or, we can choose to focus on the gift.

Better yet, we can fix our eyes on the Giver – the all-sufficient, all-wise, all-powerful, sovereign, gracious, loving, sustaining, merciful . . .  Giver. We can wholeheartedly trust that the words of Deuteronomy 31:8 are as true for us as they were for Joshua and the Israelites as they faced a promising yet challenging future: “The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

This time I know things I didn’t know before. I know that my life is about to get way better. I also know that it is also about to get way harder. But more than anything, I know that my God is about to prove Himself to be way stronger.

Stronger than every sleepless night. Stronger than every crushing wave of sadness. Stronger than every lonely day. Stronger than every guilt-inducing failure.  Stronger than every “I’m just not cut out for this” moment.

The young woman in that picture was clueless, but thankfully she didn’t stay that way. She still doesn’t feel like she knows a whole lot about motherhood. She does, however, know one thing very, very well: Through the highest highs and lowest lows, her God has been and will forever be perfectly faithful.

It is upon that glorious truth that she hereby chooses to rest her anxious, almost-a-mom-of-two heart.

 

 

If You Were Loved “Even When,” You Are Loved Even Now

 “It’s pretty bad when you cancel on your housekeeper because your house is in such disarray that it doesn’t deserve cleaning.”

That gem of a status update from a lovely high school friend showed up on my Facebook newsfeed a few months ago. Before you peg me as a creepy Facebook stalker who keeps a personal log of every interesting post that she sees, let me explain why this one still stands out in my mind.

First, I had a housekeeper once so I can relate. Kathy came every other week for a couple of years – wonderful, glorious years! The night before her scheduled arrival my husband would stand in utter disbelief as I stormed through the house making sure it was clean enough to be cleaned the next day.

Greg: Don’t we have a housekeeper?

Me: [spoken in a somewhat sassy tone as I am wiping down the toilet] Um, yeah.

Greg: Don’t we pay her to do that?

Me: Yes, but I don’t want her to think we’re a bunch of disgusting pigs!

Greg: That makes no sense at all.

Me: It’s called a “pre-cleaning cleaning.” Everyone who has a housekeeper does it. I can’t believe you don’t know this.

[Cue husband eye roll now.]

The second reason this Facebook post is etched in my mind is because it clearly communicates how I sometimes feel in my relationship with God. I have a really solid grasp of the gospel. I understand the oh-so-precious concepts of redemption, justification, propitiation, grace, and God’s unconditional forgiveness. But there are still times when I struggle to take them personally – times when I feel like my life is in such disarray that I don’t deserve God’s presence, His grace, or His cleansing. Sometimes when  I stand back and look at myself all I see is a lazy, fearful,  uncreative, underwhelmed, irritable, emotionally unstable woman who has utterly failed to live up to the expectations of every single person she loves, especially God. Here’s how things often look from my perspective: As a wife, I’m not exciting enough, as a mommy I’m not engaged or patient enough, as a homemaker I’m not efficient enough, as a friend I’m not invested enough, as a church member I’m not involved enough, as a Bible teacher I’m not prepared enough, as a Christ-follower I’m not in the Word enough, as a witness I’m not bold enough . . .

Whether real or perceived, it doesn’t take much for these “not enoughs” to morph into “not wanted”, “not worthy,”  “not useful,” and even “not loved”  – four things a blood-bought child of God can never be. Left to itself, this heart of mine will actually begin to believe it. The result?  Instead of running to Jesus and His fountain of all-sufficient grace, I switch into self-help mode, try really really hard to do better, and then beat myself up when my self-improvement project inevitably fails.  Instead of welcoming God’s redemptive activity in my life, I stubbornly continue to resist His help and cleansing until I start to feel I’ve earned it. Days, weeks, and maybe even months go by without any meaningful interaction with the Lord. Sadly, my resistance doesn’t make me feel any cleaner, just dryer . . . and more ashamed.

Here’s why: I may be able to pre-clean my house before my housekeeper, but I can’t pre-clean myself before Holy God.  (see Is. 64:6, Rom. 3:20)

Here’s the good news: I DON’T NEED TO!

Ephesians 2: 4 and 5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, EVEN WHEN we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (also see Rom. 5:6-11 and Col. 2:13, 14; emphasis added)

IMG_1726

Every single word of those verses is worth “marinating” in, but the two words I want to focus on are “even when.”

Even when you were dead in sin . . . He loved you.

Even when you were His enemy . . .  He purposed to save you.

Even when the only god you worshiped was yourself . . . He desired to make you a vessel of HIS glory.

If He loved us even when we were dead, rebellious, idolatrous sinners then it stands to reason that He loves us even when we are lazy, irritable, disengaged moms . . . even when we are moody, selfish, entitled wives . . . even when we are weak, half-hearted, undisciplined Christ-followers . . . even when_________________________ (fill in the blank with your most recent failure).

Knowing that God loved us “even when” does not free us to keep on sinning (see Romans 6). We can’t stay moody, selfish, entitled wives! Rather, it frees us to swing the doors of our sin-soaked hearts wide open to the cleansing, renewing, restoring presence of God. It frees us to take all of our “not enoughs” to the one and only place where they cannot bind us in shackles of shame – the cross of Jesus Christ. It frees us to face our failures with the confidence that not a single one of them has the power to undo what God has already done for us by grace alone.

Your life is never too messy, your heart is never too dirty, your hands are never too lazy, your steps are never too clumsy, and your emotions are never too crazy for a God who loved you even when” to love you even now.

No “pre-cleaning cleaning” required. Ever.

 

 

 

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day All By Yourself

A lot of things can ruin an otherwise perfecly good day. There are those small annoyances – heavy traffic, lost keys, hair that won’t cooperate, an acne break-out, out-of-whack hormones that make you feel like a crazy person, a favorite shoe that your dog thinks is a chew toy, jeans that won’t button, spilled coffee (that you paid over $4.00 for), an empty gas tank, and a less-than-encouraging conversation with your insurance company (who put you on hold for 45 minutes before vividly reminding you why you hate your insurance company).

There are also times when a day is derailed by something major – a car accident, a sick child, a miscarriage, a layoff, a foreclosure, a scary diagnosis, or a heart-wrenching breakup. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly life can change. In a matter of seconds, a good day can become your worst day. Though we like to pretend otherwise, life is incredibly unpredictable. Needless to say, I am deeply thankful that mine is in the tight grip of a sovereign, all-wise God who is never taken by surprise.

But if I’m honest, most of the bad days I have aren’t caused by those little annoyances, major trials, or anything in between. Most of my bad days are my own fault. Regrettably, I am quite good at ruining an otherwise fabulous day all by myself – no outside influences necessary. Here’s how to do it:

1)    Foster feelings of entitlement.

By feelings of entitlement, I mean that attitude that produces thoughts such as, “I’m better than this” . . . “He/She owes me” . . . “After all I do, this is the thanks I get?” . . . and the biggest one of all – “I DESERVE ________________.”

Such thoughts are usually easy to justify. I mean, I work hard to take care of my family. I do the stuff that nobody else wants to do. I work 14+ hour days, 365 days a year – no sick days. I spend most of my time playing little boy games and having little boy conversations. I wipe mouths, noses, bottoms, bathtubs, floors, and toilets. I make sure the bills are paid on time and that there is money left in the bank account afterwards. I brave the strange smells, bad lighting and dilapidated carts at Wal-mart instead of enjoying my beloved Publix in order to spend less of my hubby’s hard-earned dollars on food. (If that’s not sacrifice, I don’t know what is!) I could go on, but you get the idea. Not a day goes by that I don’t set aside my own interests and desires for the sake of my family. I know the same can be said of you!

I wish I could say that the sacrifices I make always produce an abundance of joy in my heart as I watch them bear fruit in the lives of those I love. But all-to-often, I play the “woe-is-me” card and allow them to produce a sense of entitlement that causes me to fixate on the praise I don’t receive, the privileges I don’t possess, and the personal ambitions I am unable to pursue.

“Don’t I deserve a big fat ‘thank you,’ and shouldn’t it come in the form of gorgeous flowers and my favorite chocolates? After all I do, don’t I have the right to splurge on a designer purse regardless of whether or not we can really afford it? In light of what I feel called, trained, and gifted to do, don’t I deserve several hours a week of uninterrupted time to write Bible studies while someone else cleans my house?” When my heart answers “yes” to such questions, it automatically says “no” to joy.

Joy simply cannot flourish in the life of someone who thinks she has the right to demand what her heart selfishly craves. That kind of woman is impossible to satisfy. I know because I’ve been that woman . . .way too often.

The only person who has ever had the right to act entitled is Jesus. Interestingly enough, he never did. In fact, He is the embodiment of humble and joyful self-sacrifice. Philippians 2:5-8 makes this ever so clear: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”

If you ever want to suck all the joy out of your own heart, just foster feelings of entitlement. Instead of emptying yourself for the sake of others, demand that others fill you up. Whine and pout when they don’t. Post something depressing or nasty on Facebook about it. Make sure all the thankless, uncooperative people in your life know how you feel. Then, go buy yourself a new outfit, splurge on a spa pedicure, and treat yourself to a big slice of cheesecake. Just know that as you run hard after what you “deserve,” you are bound to ruin any chance of enjoying what you already have.

2)    Fixate on the “greener grass”.

Let me explain this one with a little story. There once was a wife who had an amazing, thoughtful, and generous husband. One Valentine’s Day, this husband planned to take her out to a fabulous restaurant, give her a beautiful necklace, write her a sweet love note, and spend the evening catching up on season 1 of Downton Abbey. The wife looked forward to her Valentine’s date for weeks. She got an overnight baby sitter. She picked out a great outfit. She even shaved her legs! The day started out great, but by the time the date actually started she was a dissatisfied, pouty, irritated woman. You see, all day she had been bombarded with pictures on Facebook of other wives’ flowers, chocolates, homemade breakfasts, and adorable lunch dates. As she looked at these pictures, she began to wonder, “Why didn’t I get my card this morning? Why don’t I have a box of chocolates to enjoy throughout the day? Why doesn’t my husband ever cook for me?” And when her husband was a little late picking her up, she convinced herself that it was because he didn’t care as much as she did, that he didn’t really want to take her out, and that all the women who were being treated to made-from-scratch romantic dinners at home were much better off. None of that was true, of course. But her eyes were so blinded by the highly edited, seemingly perfect “greener grass” of her friend’s lives that she was incapable of enjoying the beauty of her own.

I may or may not know that wife. But I can tell you that I have ruined so many days, weeks, and even months by fixating on what others have (or what I THINK they have) that I don’t. I once heard a Christian comedian say that the grass is greenest where it’s been pooped on. In other words, nobody’s life is as good as it looks on the surface. And even if it was, I shouldn’t be looking over there anyway. God has planted enough blessings on my own side of the fence to keep me occupied (and grateful!) for a lifetime. “Be content with what you have” (Heb. 13:5), “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), and rest in knowing that “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Ps. 34:10). Otherwise, you might end up ruining a perfectly good Valentine’s Day. Not that I know anything about that . . .

3)    Cultivate unrealistic expectations.

I’ve already explored this one in another post, but it’s a big obstacle for me, so it bears mentioning again. I once heard that the gap between our expectations and our reality is our “misery factor.” We have a picture in our minds of what our lives – and the people in them – ought to look like and act like. When that doesn’t happen, things can get ugly. Days can be ruined.

Why is it that a husband coming home late from work, a toddler throwing a tantrum at the grocery store, or a coworker acting like a total jerk can send a perfectly good day spiraling downhill so quickly? Because our selfish hearts expect that husband to do whatever it takes –  short of getting fired or breaking any major laws – to get home when he said he would. That child is supposed to always reflect what an awesome, godly parent you are trying to be. And considering how many times you’ve covered for that coworker, you expect a little bit of respect!

Ninety percent of my bad days are rooted in my own unrealistic expectations of the people around me – expectations that are manufactured in the factory of my own selfish heart. They are naturally byproducts of how Aprile wants Aprile’s life to be – often with little regard for others or God’s will for my life. When people don’t measure up or things don’t work out like I had planned, I get frustrated, defensive, and even more self-focused. The result? Yet another good-day-gone-bad.

Having a bad day? Maybe it’s the disobedient kids, the inconsiderate boss, the troubled finances, the bad haircut, or the workaholic husband.

Or, maybe it’s your own heart.

You see, we don’t need any help ruining a perfectly good day. As sinners, we are quite capable of doing that all by ourselves.  Fortunately, God’s Spirit in us is quite capable of restoring the joy that we have allowed entitlement, discontentment, and selfish expectations to drain out of our lives (Gal. 5:22).

So go ahead and ask yourself that hard question: “Is my bad day my own fault?” If the answer is yes, take it to Jesus, confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and seek to constantly weed out these subtle yet sinful attitudes.

Then, take a moment to bask in the sweet reality that tomorrow is a new day!

Love is Not Irritable

In celebration of an incredible “launch” of the First Corinthians study, and due to the fact that I still haven’t quite gotten back into my blogging groove since it ended (i.e., all I’ve felt like doing with my free time for the past week is watching Gilmore Girls) , I thought I’d post one last excerpt from the study. Enjoy!

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

 

For each characteristic of love given, our response needs to be, “Am I . . . . ?”

Am I patient? Am I kind? Am I free from jealousy, bragging, and arrogance? Am I rude? Am I self-seeking? Am I easily provoked? Do I keep a mental record of the wrongs done to me? Am I more prone to rejoice in unrighteousness or in the truth?

Our individual answers are a BIG deal. Remember, apart from love, we are nothing (v. 2).

NO-THING!

This is serious stuff.

Because I can only speak for myself, I want to address the quality of love that needs the most work in my own life: love . . . is not provoked (“easily angered”, NIV). I don’t have “anger issues” in that I don’t scream and yell, punch walls, break things, or emotionally explode when things don’t go my way. But as I was studying the word translated “easily provoked” I came across the word “irritable.” Ding, ding, ding! That’s me. That’s my struggle.

Irritability, which I define as the tendency to be easily annoyed or frustrated, is something I fight every day. Since having my son 3 years ago, the battle has gotten even more intense. Unfortunately, I didn’t birth a perfect child, nor am I a perfect mother. He doesn’t always listen. He gets into stuff he shouldn’t. He usually can’t tell the difference between a washable marker and a permanent one. He doesn’t always want to nap (usually on days when I need a break the most). He messes up my house as fast as I can clean it. He asks “why” 5,789 times a day. He has no appreciation for sleeping in. After months of peeing on the potty, he still insists on going “number two” in his underwear. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Kids pretty much guarantee that a mom’s day isn’t going to go quite like she planned. There will be interruptions, messes, boo boos, tears, time outs, and human waste to clean off of who- knows-what. Some moms are great at tackling that stuff with optimism and grace.

Not me.

I am irritable.

As the small annoyances multiply, the tone of my voice starts to change. The force with which I close doors, drawers, and cabinets gets a little more intense.  When my husband calls to check in, I get less and less chatty. I soon become totally incapable of seeing good qualities in my family members and I get more and more critical. The next inconvenience that comes my way is usually met with complete insensitivity to the needs of others. It’s a downhill spiral that will end with me yelling and screaming if I let it continue. My irritability forces my family to walk on eggshells. It communicates to my child things I would never, ever say to his face. Things like “you are an inconvenience”, “you don’t do anything right”, “you are in my way”, or “I would be better off if you weren’t here right now.” Just typing those statements makes me sick to my stomach, because they are the complete opposite of what I want to communicate to my precious little man.

Irritability, while not as obvious as anger, is no less sinful. And left unchecked, it is no less damaging. It is contrary to love which our passage describes as slow to get riled up, frustrated, upset, or testy . . .  even when things don’t go as planned. When love rules our hearts, no one walks on egg shells. Doors aren’t slammed harder than usual. Words don’t get short and snappy. When love rules our hearts, inconveniences are seen as opportunities. Frustrations are met with self-control. Annoyances are graciously overlooked. Offenses are forgiven. The needs of others are put first.

Love is not irritable. How about you?

 

{Copies of the 1 Corinthians Bible study workbook, Becoming a Woman of Conviction in a World of Compromise, can be purchased here. The teaching sessions that go along with the study can be viewed here.}

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