Joy By Design, Part 3 – “Joy-Stealers”

By: Jenni Walker

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  (1 Corinthians 15:58)

*          *          *          *          *

Doing things God’s way brings joy; being intentional can produce outcomes that begin to be more natural with practice. But there are many things that can so quickly, and almost unwittingly, deplete the joy found in intentional family life God’s way.  In this post, we will take a look at three “joy-stealers” to watch out for! They are often subtle, but God’s Word provides us with clear wisdom about each of them.  As we look at these three areas that often steal from the joy of family according to God’s design, remember that we do not have to do this in our own strength.  As we “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” we can look “unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2) who is so graciously and faithfully with us every step of the way!

Joy-Stealer #1: Discontentment

Over a month ago, our air conditioning unit stopped working.  My husband and I could hear it rumbling in the utility closet, trying to do its job, but the thermostat was showing an ever-increasing temperature.  Bryan and I trekked to the store to buy a box fan to put in our window while we waited for our home warranty company to get someone out to look at it.  The evenings still cooled down into the low 60’s, and sleeping at night was pleasant.  But two weeks ago, all of that changed.

I live in Tulsa, and it gets HOT here!  It has been heating up so much during the day now that evenings do not bring the cool temps we had been experiencing a few weeks ago.  The box fan was no longer cutting it.  And even though an air conditioning tech had now been out to our home, he had determined that we needed an entirely new unit, which meant more waiting on the home warranty company to process everything.  (I’m sure some of you have been there!)  This was difficult.  I get cold easily, and even I felt like I was drowning in oppressive heat in our home by this point!

We have battled the urge to complain, to become discontent, and those urges feel extremely justified in this “stifling situation”!  We should not have had to wait this long for our home warranty company to find a solution for us.  We pay every month for them to come through for us in just these kinds of situations.  The new unit is finally on its way this week, and there is a light at the end of this stuffy, hot tunnel.  But God has also challenged us to walk through this past month with a good attitude.  In times of feeling frustrated when we got home from work and entered a non-air conditioned home, Bryan and I decided to choose to keep a positive attitude!  This does not mean that we were not proactively and frequently calling our home warranty company – we were, and with great adamancy!  This does not mean that we did not feel on edge and slightly irritable at times – we most definitely did!

BUT…we also chose to keep our minds fixed on the Lord and to use it as an opportunity to allow Him to produce the fruit of the spirit in us!  But this is something that requires a choice by us to “Walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16a).  As Christians, we are called to honor God in all that we do.  Even in times of stress, we must choose to obey God and to rely on Him even more to help us walk in His ways when our natural inclination is to become discontent and upset in a way that pulls our focus off of the Lord.  This can occur when unexpected demands or stressful situations arise, such as the one with our air conditioner.

Discontentment can also creep up on us through comparison of our situation to others’ situations.  This is often subtle and can happen at the most inopportune times!  You may be in the middle of a disagreement with your spouse that you are trying to come to a consensus about, and that same day a dear friend has an anniversary that she posts about on Facebook: A photo of a vibrant bouquet of flowers is framed by a caption that goes something like “So thankful for my amazing husband!  He is so thoughtful, considerate, and always knows just how to make my day.  I love you, honey!”  The disagreement between you and your husband seems all the more frustrating, and you suddenly have comparison amnesia, quickly losing sight of the many considerate things that your husband does for you.

Or perhaps you just saw another commercial by a home décor company.  In the first frame of the commercial, a woman walks through the store with a smile, an endless budget, and no children in sight; the next frame shows her holding a cup of coffee and leisurely fluffing a few pillows in her newly-decorated living room or patio; if the commercial does show anyone besides her in that room, they are all smiling at her, keeping everything spotless, and applauding her success.  The satisfaction you were feeling with the load of laundry you successfully got washed, dried, and hung up in your kids’ closet begins to fade as you stare at that tastefully-decorated room on the television screen.  Your living room strewn with toys and books begins to feel like a down-arrow rather than a place where family memories are made.

When an attitude of comparison, complaining, or selfishness begins to creep in, remember the words of Isaiah 26:3, which says, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”  God calls us not just to be satisfied in Him when things are going well but also in the times when we feel spent, frustrated, discontent, or depleted of inner resources.  But rather than responding to feelings of frustration or discontentment with complaining, encourage yourself in the Lord! In Psalm 40:16-17, David puts it well when he prays, “Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let such as love Your salvation say continually, ‘The Lord be magnified!’  But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me.  You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.”  This is a beautiful example of transparency with the Lord but also choosing to praise Him no matter what the circumstances!  Thank Him for His provision, for His blessings, and for His faithfulness.  He is worthy of our trust, and, as we choose contentment, He is the giver of joy in all circumstances!  (1 Timothy 6:6)

Joy-Stealer #2: Doubt

Sally closed her bedroom door and pulled the curtains shut. She had just attended another friend’s wedding.  It was a beautiful ceremony, and Sally had had a great time.  But now she was alone in her apartment with her thoughts.  That old feeling of despair was subtle but palpable inside of her as she once again questioned if God really cared enough about her to notice her loneliness.  She had great friends, a great job, a supportive extended family, but there were times of intense longing to be married to a strong, supportive, godly man.  But she was now beginning to doubt if that was really God’s plan for her or if He even noticed her lonely heart.

*          *          *

Emma sat on the carpeted floor in the middle of the toy-strewn living room folding yet another pile of laundry. She had just put her infant and two-year-old down for their afternoon naps, and she was exhausted after another morning of diapers, potty-training, mashed bananas, macaroni and cheese, playing with the same toys, and reading the same books.  Emma loved being a mom, but she was especially tired these days as her toddler was becoming more testy than usual, and her infant had been unexplainably fussy in the mornings. She had been irritable this morning and taken some of her frustration out on her husband before he went to work for leaving the trash can overflowing again.  Emma’s husband seemed a little withdrawn from her lately, and their sudden and more frequent spats were not helping the situation.  He was a supportive and loving husband and a fabulous and attentive father to their children.  So why did she feel so easily stressed and quick to argue with him of late? Was she really the mom and the wife that her family needed her to be and that God had called her to be?  Her struggle with feelings of inadequacy were becoming more and more frequent these days.

*          *          *

“To believe is to be strong. Doubt cramps energy.”  (Frederick W. Robertson)  Life is full of beauty, but its many demands and responsibilities and even disappointments can lead to doubt in our minds and hearts.  Doubt saps us of strength and can so easily lead us to question God’s love, truth, and calling in our lives.  Like Sally and Emma, feelings of disappointment and inadequacy can easily lead to doubts that begin to sap us of our strength and that can quickly lead to discouragement.  What should we do in these times of doubt?  The following are some practical and real ways to fight the joy-stealer of doubt!

  • Ask God for wisdom.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”  (James 1:5-6)  Don’t let uncertain circumstances to steal your joy or doubt to creep into your heart!  If you are grappling with doubts, seek God’s wisdom as never before.

  • Surround yourself with others who will provide godly encouragement, support, and insight.

“Friendship is the allay of our sorrows, the ease of our passions, the discharge of our oppression, the sanctuary of our calamities, the counselor of our doubts, the clarity of our minds…” (Jeremy Taylor)  Often women allow time with friends to quickly become gossip sessions full of complaining and bitterness, which only further feed doubt and frustration.  Seek time with friends, mature family members, godly mentors, and other women in your season of life through church small groups, encouraging coffee dates, or weekly women’s groups such as M.O.P.S. (Mothers of Preschoolers) where godly teaching and fellowship opportunities are provided for wives and mothers with young children.

  • Take heart!

“Resist with the utmost abhorrence anything that causes you to doubt God’s love and His lovingkindness toward you. Allow nothing to make you question the Father’s love for His child.” (A.W. Pink)  You are loved by God!  You are called and equipped by Him!  He is working on your behalf and will make a way.  No matter what your feelings are at any given moment, encourage yourself in the Lord.  He is the strength of your heart and your portion forever and is worthy of praise!  If you are experiencing doubt or feeling discouraged, take heart by meditating on the truth of God’s Word.  Psalm 42:11 is a great place to start:  “Why are you cast down, O my soul?  And why are you disquieted within me?  Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”

Joy-Stealer #3: Distraction

In Joy by Design, Part 1, we looked at how there is joy in doing family life God’s way.  There are specific roles God has designed for the family unit that are a profound display of His glory, grace, and goodness.  In that post, I described how I came across a little Christmas memories book last year while Bryan and I were doing some Christmas clearance shopping (found here: http://wp.me/p8h8cl-6E).  The next morning as I was flipping through its pages, a quote caught my eye at the bottom of the very last page.  In scrolling type were these words: “Traditions cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labor.”  It was almost an admonition – there was both a joy and a gravity in this statement.

It made me consider how the beauty and joy of intentional design can easily be lost in the often hectic pace of life.  We can so quickly become distracted.  In a family context, this begins to contribute to an often-subtle yet unhealthy distance between the family members where the family is simply not together, both in proximity and in their values.  This can lead to disconnection and discord in a family unawares.

In a U.S.A. Today poll taken over multiple years, it was found that busyness was increasingly becoming a cultural norm, contributing to less sleep, less activity, and less time with friends and family.  “The respondents also reported that in l987, 50 percent said they and ate at least one family meal everyday; by 2008, that figure had declined to 20 percent.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201207/why-busyness-is-not-productivity)

So what is the solution to a family that becomes too busy, too distracted, and that has even experienced ongoing disunity as a result?  There are many practical anecdotes that we explored in Joy by Design, Part 2 (found here: http://wp.me/p8h8cl-7n). But I would like us to consider the heart issue that is often behind these scenarios of distraction and disunity.  Psalm 119:36-38, David prays, “Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetousness.  Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.  Establish Your word to Your servant, who is devoted to fearing You.”  Just as we are to incline our hearts fully to the ways of our Lord, so we are to intentionally and wholeheartedly incline our hearts toward our families!  The Focus on the Family organization describes it well as “turn[ing] our hearts toward home.”

Time on Pinterest, owning and using tablets or personal devices, watching a movie, involvement with sports and extracurricular activities, time with friends, and so on, are not wrong in and of themselves for you, your spouse, or your children.  But have you meditated prayerfully about this passage?  Are you intentionally inclined your heart toward the Lord in the area of family?  Have you felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit in any areas of your time usage?  Do you feel as though you have lost focus on what is most important in the dynamics of your family life?  Is the overall design of your family life one that demonstrates – in all that you do – a wholehearted devotion to prioritizing family in a way that honors the Lord and draws you even closer together?  Psalm 133:1 tells us, “Oh how good and pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity!”  The Bible even includes the exclamation mark for us to emphasize the joy that is found in a unified family.  What areas of distraction might be producing an unspoken distance or disunity in your family relationships, friendships, or your home?

Time to Reflect

Ladies, the joy of family life by God’s design can often be diminished or even stolen by discontentment, doubt, and distraction.  Take time today to open up your Bible and journal, quiet your heart, and prayerfully reflect on two different things: First, what do you most desire to be prioritized as part of your family design?  (i.e. Priority of marriage, no complaining, uninhibited creativity, a love of reading, family meals, prayer for the nations, physical intimacy with your spouse, clear communication with your spouse, etc.)  In contrast, what elements of your daily life and family “design” are currently depleting the joy found in family “by design”?  What daily disciplines do you need to be intentional about to counteract those and to enrich God’s design and plan for your family?

These may take different forms depending on if a woman is single, married, a parent, the age of her kids, and so on. Though our focus has been on family by God’s design the last few posts, the joy-stealers explored in this article can also apply to friendship, the workplace, and many other contexts.  Instead of focusing on things that feed discontentment, doubt, and distraction, how can you be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58) in both your family relationships and in other areas of your life, too?

Wholehearted Women of God, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10)!  Remember that no matter what you or your family may be feeling or experiencing today, our Heavenly Father is “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”  (Psalm 46:1-2)  Be assured that we need not be faint-hearted, “for at the proper time we shall reap a harvest” (Galatians 6:9) – not growing despondent and never giving up as we experience true joy by God’s design with His help and to His glory!     

*          *          *          *          *