Joyful Mothering - 1 - Choosing Joy

Choosing Joy

Part One: Even When You Don’t Feel Like It!

by Leslie Ludy

Photos by Let There Be Light Photography

I have a rather “girly” confession to make: I don’t really enjoy camping. While it’s true that I have some great camping memories from my childhood, now that I’m an adult the idea of tossing and turning all night in a cold tent, stumbling around in the pitch-dark at 3 a.m. in search of the outhouse, or brushing my teeth over a brambly bush just doesn’t have the same appeal as it once did. It also doesn’t help that the last time Eric and I went tent-camping with my family (ten years ago), we had an unexpected visitor at our campsite at 5 a.m.—a huge black bear who loudly rummaged for food about three feet outside the opening of our tent. That was probably the longest fifteen minutes of my life, as I tried to remain perfectly still while imagining what it would feel like to be mauled by those huge paws. Some nearby campers eventually scared the bear away, but for the rest of the day I kept looking over my shoulder, convinced the bear was still “after me” and eager to have me for his dinner.

Okay, maybe I sound a bit wimpy. In all truthfulness, I really am pretty wimpy when it comes to anything along the lines of “wilderness adventures.” It’s not that I can’t handle these kinds of discomforts when I know they serve a higher purpose—such as mission trips to foreign countries. But for some reason, I can’t quite get on board with the idea of willingly choosing these discomforts for the sole purpose of “having fun.” (And isn’t that really what camping is in a nutshell?) To me, camping seems a bit like jumping in a freezing cold lake, or throwing rocks at a hornet’s nest, just for kicks. Aren’t there better ways to find excitement?

But my kids have been wanting to have an adventure “in the wild,” as Hudson describes it, for the past couple of years. Setting up the tent in our backyard just wasn’t enough to satisfy their itch for a wilderness excursion. So a few weeks ago, we ventured up to the Colorado mountains for my first camping trip in ten years. My extended family members are seasoned campers and adventurers, so they organized all the details of our excursion. Instead of using tents, we rented two yurts, which are kind of like large, upgraded tents. There is no plumbing, electricity, or running water, but there are actual beds so that you don’t have to sleep on the hard ground, and there is a wood-burning stove that can keep you a bit warmer at night. It was definitely a step up from my last camping trip, with no bears in sight and a little less back pain. However, it was certainly not an easy experience, and it put my “joyful attitude” to the test quite a number of times!

The Attitude Test

The first night, we somehow made the wood-burning stove way too hot, and the yurt felt like a sauna. We lay there miserably for hours, sweat running down our faces. We didn’t realize that there were screened windows we could open, so we thought the only way to cool the room down was to keep the door wide open. The problem was that there were all sorts of critters around—like bats, mice, and squirrels—that would have loved to make their way inside our roasting-hot shelter to nibble on the snacks we had inside, so we kept waking up every few minutes to make sure no unwelcome creatures had joined us. At one point around 2 a.m., I heard a pack of coyotes howling nearby, and that is when I decided to shut the door no matter how hot it was inside the yurt. I figured it was better to roast all night than to be attacked by vicious, hungry animals!

By the time the yurt finally cooled down enough for us to get some decent sleep, five-year-old Avy woke up crying, saying her tummy was sick. Most parents will tell you that there aren’t many things worse than tending to a child who is throwing up in the middle of the night. But tending to a child who is throwing up in a pitch-dark Yurt, with no lights, supplies, or running water—all while trying not to wake everyone else up—certainly takes the experience to a whole new level!

Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep the first night of our camping adventure. We had a great time during the following day, but the second night in the yurt wasn’t any better. We decided not to use the wood-burning stove in hopes of avoiding the tropical sauna effect. But a cold snap came in that night, and soon we were shivering in our sleeping bags, despite wearing heavy coats and piling ourselves high with blankets. We didn’t have the right kind of wood to light the stove in the middle of the night, so we resigned ourselves to a freezing cold, miserable night of intermittent sleep. But for an extra challenge, nine-year-old Hudson came down with a bad cough, and kept waking up every fifteen minutes loudly coughing, sniffling, and fussing. Trying to keep him comfortable and quiet so that everyone else could sleep was an all-night job, not made any easier by the fact that the temperature in the yurt was below freezing and I had no access to my “mommy tools” like medicine, humidifiers, and warm tea.

As I sat shivering next to his bed for several hours, totally exhausted and miserable, I was anything but chipper. In fact, I felt a strong temptation to exchange my joy for frustration, grouchiness, and self-pity. But God didn’t say, “Consider it all joy when things are going splendidly” but rather, “Consider it all joy when you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). I’ve found in my journey as a Christian mother that the best opportunities for choosing joy come when I least feel like doing it! Whenever I choose joy instead of frustration in difficult circumstances, the grace of God pours into my life at a whole new level, giving me the strength to triumph through challenges; to become more Christ-like through each trial I face.

Whenever I choose joy instead of frustration in difficult circumstances, the grace of God pours into my life at a whole new level.

Responding Well to Trials

I realize that two sleepless nights in a yurt might not seem like much of a “trial” compared to the many other, bigger challenges that life often brings. I’ve experienced far more intense difficulties throughout my years as a Christian leader. But I have come to realize that if I do not choose joy in the small, everyday trials and challenges that come my way, I am far less ready to respond joyfully in the major trials I face. Everyday trials—such as sick kids, sleepless nights, and physical discomforts—are amazing practice grounds that can prepare us for more extreme challenges such as persecution, grief, betrayal, illness, or financial crisis. If we get into the habit of complaining or giving into self-pity when small challenges come our way, we won’t be ready to respond in a Christ-like way when bigger difficulties hit.

I learned this lesson in an unforgettable way when Hudson was born. For the first nine months of his life, he had acid reflux and woke up screaming every thirty minutes all night long. At first, Eric and I didn’t respond well at all to the exhaustion this brought into our lives. But as we began to ask God to teach us through the experience, we began to realize that He wanted to use this trial to make us spiritually stronger and able to carry more weight. Instead of complaining or feeling sorry for ourselves when Hudson woke up through the night, we began rejoicing and praying instead. By choosing joy, we not only gained the supernatural strength we needed to triumph through that situation, but also to carry even greater weights without crumbling emotionally or physically.

When God called us to start a church and discipleship ministry a few years later, we had developed the fortitude to handle the weights and challenges of frontlines ministry. We remained strong during situations that caused others to crumble. But we hadn’t gained this kind of strength overnight. It started with the simple step of choosing joy over frustration when dealing with a high-needs newborn named Hudson!

What Real Joy Looks Like

Are there difficulties (small or big) that you are facing in your motherhood journey? I encourage you to embrace them as opportunities from God—opportunities to choose joy over frustration; opportunities to respond to trials in a Christ-like way; opportunities to see the grace of God poured out in your life in a whole new way. But remember that choosing joy is not something we can do in our own strength. The moments when we feel the least able to respond joyfully are the moments to cry out to our Lord, allowing Him to do through us what we could never do on our own. When we surrender ourselves fully to Him, that’s when His life, attitude, and nature can flow through us and change our attitude from selfish and frustrated to triumphant and joyful. And remember, Christ-like joy is a heart-attitude, not merely an emotion. Choosing joy doesn’t always mean that you feel like jumping up and down in happiness. Rather, it simply means choosing a heart-attitude that declares, “Lord, I know that You will be faithful through this difficulty; I know that You have a beautiful plan and purpose for what I’m going through right now and that You will never leave or forsake me, and in light of that reality, I rejoice!”

When we surrender ourselves fully to Him, that’s when His life, attitude, and nature can flow through us.

Walking through difficulties with a joyful, triumphant attitude is so much better than walking through them with a frustrated, defeated one. And thankfully, God has made a way for us to do just that. May our lives echo the words of Paul when he declared, “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ!” (Phil 2:4).

A quote from Leslie’s Book, Set Apart Motherhood

As I seek to honor Christ in my motherhood, it becomes my delight to give my best to my children, without concern for what I'm getting out of it, but only with what He is getting out of it.

-Set Apart Motherhood, Chapter 2