Joyful Mothering - 2 - Raising Joyful Kids

Raising Joyful Kids

Part Two: God’s Simple Solution

by Leslie Ludy

Photos by Haley Rae Photography

Something profound happened in our family a few weeks ago. Our kids had their very first "I’m sorry" night—a powerful time of confessing sin and making things right with each other. This was not something that Eric and I planned or premeditated. It just seemed to be a miraculous work of God’s grace taking place in our home.

For a few weeks, the dynamics among the Ludy siblings had been "off." Bickering, tattling, and selfishness had been continually tainting the peaceful atmosphere of our family. Though Eric and I were following through with consistent discipline and regularly pointing our kids toward God’s pattern, nothing seemed to be reaching their hearts. We began to fervently pray for a breakthrough. We didn’t know exactly what our kids needed in order to snap out of their spiral into wrong behavior patterns, but we knew that it needed to be something significant and Heaven-born.

One evening, we sat down for a time of family talking and prayer. We told our kids instead of a home marked by complaining and bickering, God wanted to make us into the happiest family in the world. But in order for that to happen, things needed to change.

At first, I couldn’t tell if the kids were really engaged in what we were saying. But as we bowed our heads for a family prayer time, I suddenly had a sense of what needed to happen in my kids’ souls. "I want all of you to close your eyes," I instructed, "and ask God to show you in your hearts if there is anything that you need to make right with someone in this room; anything you need to ask forgiveness for."

After about thirty seconds, Hudson raised his hand. "Mommy, will you please forgive me for complaining about dinner?" he asked. After I said yes, he immediately turned to Avy: "Will you please forgive me for tattling on you during playtime?" For the next thirty minutes, Hudson humbly asked forgiveness for all the ways in which he had failed to reflect Christ during the past weeks. Surprisingly, he remembered every single offense in detail, even ones that he had committed months ago. As he confessed his sins and made things right with his family members, he began to smile with genuine joy. He told us, "Before I confessed my sins, it felt like I was carrying around a backpack full of heavy rocks. But when I made things right, the backpack was emptied and the heaviness went away!"

Hudson’s example inspired the other three kids. Soon, each of them began raising their hands, confessing sin, and humbly making things right with us and with each other. Never once did we prompt them or remind them about sins they had committed. Rather, we watched in awe as the Spirit of God gently worked in their hearts to convict them of sin and lead them to ask forgiveness for the things they had done wrong.

Incredibly, these confessions went on spontaneously for nearly two hours. The kids displayed supernatural fortitude during this process, sitting still, listening intently, asking and offering forgiveness in all sincerity. They genuinely desired to be right with God and with each other. When we finally wrapped things up with a closing prayer, the joy in our home was palpable. The entire atmosphere had changed. As I tucked Hudson in bed later that night he told me, "I’m really happy tonight, Mommy! Happier than I’ve been in a really long time!"

I told him that he was feeling the joy that comes from obeying God and being in right relationship with Him. And as a bonus, Mommy was happier than she’d been in a long time too! I was experiencing at a whole new level the words of 3 John 1:4: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth."

Ever since that "I’m sorry night," we have continually asked our kids whether they are carrying any "heavy rocks in their backpacks" that need to be emptied. They are usually quick to make things right, because they finally understand the joy and freedom that comes from having a clear conscience.

The Secret to Happy Kids

Pop-psychology tries to convince us that having happy children is a complicated recipe of "self-esteem" and "self-expression." Retailers insist that our kids will be happy if we get them the latest gadget, toy, or video game. The food industry chimes in with images of glowingly happy children eating their favorite cereal or snack, complete with their favorite Disney character on the box. The academic world says our kids can find happiness through achievements and accolades. The Pinterest-perfect craze implies that our kids would be happier if only we knew how to decorate and organize our homes like Martha Stewart.

As modern moms, it’s easy to feel that our children’s happiness somehow depends upon our ability to provide them with every "groundbreaking new trend" that this world has to offer; believing that we aren’t good mothers unless our kids have all the right toys, food, gadgets, clothes, creative opportunities, learning experiences, beautifully organized rooms, and positive psychological affirmations.

But having happy kids is far simpler than we often realize.

Lily, the two-year-old girl we are in the process of adopting from Haiti, often asks this pointed question to her care-givers: "You happy in Jesus?" Such a sweet, childlike, poignant reminder about where real happiness comes from.

The old hymn says, "Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus." When we are in right relationship with God, happiness is the natural result. That doesn’t mean that life will always be easy or that we won’t go through hardships and trials. It simply means that when we have a clear conscience toward God and others—when we walk in absolute obedience to Him—the joy of the Lord will come cascading through our lives no matter what our circumstances.

When we are in right relationship with God, happiness is the natural result.

What is the most important thing we can do to raise happy kids? Introduce them to the Author of happiness—Jesus Christ—and show them how to be in a right relationship with Him. Despite what this noisy, self-focused culture tries to tell us, it really is that simple.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with providing great opportunities for our kids, helping them reach their potential academically, or building a beautiful environment for them. But we must never forget that the only way for a child to experience true joy and lasting fulfillment is through a right relationship with God. As it says in Psalm 16:11: "In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."

Hudson has had several "exciting" things happen in his life over the last couple of months, from going on his first real camping trip to finally purchasing a much-desired Lego set that he’d been saving up for. And while he’s certainly enjoyed those things, I’ve noticed that the times when he is truly the most joyful are the times when he’s had a significant experience in his relationship with God. For example, a couple of weeks ago he learned about the needs of Cambodia at church. He felt God place a burden on his heart to pray for Cambodia, and someday possibly be a missionary there. He came home and wrote about it in his journal and then told me, "I have the same happy feeling I had during the ‘I’m sorry’ night!"

Even simple steps of obedience have produced joy in Hudson’s life. Recently Hudson began asking God to help him show love to his five-year-old sister, Avy (who is going through a pestering phase which makes this a bit challenging for him!). After spending an afternoon playing with her and deliberately choosing to demonstrate patience and kindness, Hudson was radiant and smiling for the rest of the evening. He’s learning how amazing it feels to "trust and obey" and thusly to be "happy in Jesus!"

Where to Begin

As I said in my book, Set Apart Motherhood, it’s easy to spend so much time tending to the practical needs of our children that we forget to tend to their most important need: their relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you have not yet introduced your children to the Gospel, there are some great practical suggestions for doing this in Chapter Six of Set Apart Motherhood. That is a great place to start. And if your children are showing a lack of interest in spiritual things, don’t forget the power of wrestling, importunate prayer! Remember that God cares more about their eternal souls than you ever could, and He delights to answer the prayers of a praying parent.

Don’t forget the power of wrestling, importunate prayer!

Once your children have given their hearts to Jesus, make it your goal to constantly point their souls toward Him. Teach them what it means to be in right relationship with Him. Model the concept of having a "clear conscience" toward God—even if it means humbling yourself and asking forgiveness from your husband and children when needed! If your children seem to be demonstrating consistently negative behavior, consider whether they are carrying around "heavy rocks" in their spiritual backpacks of unconfessed sin. Even if they have already received consequences for their wrong behavior, make sure to give them the opportunity to make things right with God and with other family members.

Remember, being a happy family doesn’t mean being a perfect family. Our children are a work in progress, continually being honed and refined by the Spirit of God—just like we are. So don’t get frustrated if it sometimes feels like "two steps forward, one step back" when it comes to teaching your children to reflect Christ-like attitudes (this has certainly been the case in the Ludy home!). Just rejoice in every small step they take toward becoming "happy in Jesus." Even though there will be ups and downs along the way, Christ-centered families are meant to be the happiest families in the world. So by God’s grace, let’s give the counterfeit pop-culture version of happiness a run for its money!

A quote from Leslie’s Book, Set Apart Motherhood

It is my desire, by the grace of God, to continually demonstrate honorable behavior to my children, even when I am not using words. Having children has helped me maintain spiritual sharpness. Everything I teach them, I must also teach myself. (Romans 2:21)

-Set Apart Motherhood, Chapter 9