It was Sunday morning. Danny had just left for church, and since the kiddos were all up - they're early risers - I decided I would take them to first service. About 10 minutes later, the chaos began. Malachi hated the outfit I'd gotten out for him; Zeke did nothing but whine: about making his bed, about what we were having for breakfast, about the fact that his socks didn't feel right in his shoes. Karis seemed to be getting her kicks from committing random acts of meanness, which made several of the others cry and sometimes fight back.
When it came time to leave, everything fell apart. NONE of their gloves, it seemed, had a mate. Zeke went into hysterics because he'd only had 30 minutes to eat one breakfast bar and one banana, and hadn't gotten even halfway through either one. I told him he could take them with him and eat them in the van, but he dropped the banana on the garage floor and wouldn't touch it after that - just cried harder. Finally, the last straw: Karis pushed Malachi down the steps leading into the garage, giving him a bloody lip and making him howl - right after I'd finally gotten him to calm down from his fit of anger at being denied a 4th breakfast bar.
It was too much. I reacted in anger, unable (unwilling?) to keep my temper in check any longer. Karis got a spanking, and it was NOT according to the format laid out in Shepherding a Child's Heart. (It wasn't any worse than a normal spanking, but it wasn't accompanied by patient instruction as much as by yelling and lecturing!)
On the drive to church, I wept hot tears. "When does it end?" I sobbed into my scarf. "How much more of this can I take?" I felt like a total failure - as a mother, as a Christian, and as a human being in general. I wanted to drive past the church and just keep on driving. As a pastor's wife, I sometimes struggle with feeling like I don't have the luxury, while at church, of being sad or depressed or angry or just plain worn out. No matter what, I have to put on a smile and make the best of it.
The inner battle raged. The way I saw it, I had 2 options. Either spend all morning at church acting out the way I truly felt - by sulking and avoiding people, or paste a fake smile on my face and act like everything was just peachy.
When I entered the auditorium, I didn't sing for a while - I just soaked it all in, and cried out to Jesus. As is the case every Sunday, the worship, both through the music and the message, centered on the cross: beautiful words, filled with truth and grace and forgiveness and JOY. The true joy that isn't dependent on the kind of morning I've had, or the way I feel about myself. The kind that flows from, and has everything to do with, Christ Himself.
And there it was. When I'm tired or out of sorts on a Sunday morning, my face can light up with a smile springing from a joy that reaches deeper than my frustration. And when I can't even muster a smile, my soul can still be alight with the knowledge of the grace of God, the riches of His mercy, the hope of His resurrection.
Ephesians 5:18-20 says "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; ALWAYS giving THANKS to the Lord for ALL things in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father."
Always and in all things! That means when I have that kind of morning, I can, and should be, giving thanks to God for it. God's gifts aren't limited to the pleasant things in life. The difficult times are gifts, too, because they help make us look more like HIM - they bring us closer to our Savior and make us long for heaven.
So, if I'm truly living in obedience to this passage, and many others like it, I can walk into church after a hellish morning with genuine joy in my heart, because of Christ. And the more joy I have, the more it spills out onto others. And that, I am happy to say, is the real thing!