Joyful Mothering - 5 - The Right Kind of Joy

The Right Kind of Joy

Part Five: Choosing True Fulfillment Over Temporal Distractions

by Leslie Ludy

It was a warm summer evening about seven years ago. I had just finished a major writing project. Eric had just finished several days of sermon prep. We were both ready to unwind, relax, and be refueled. We put Hudson (then age one) to bed early that night, looking forward to doing nothing more than sitting in our overstuffed beanbag chair and watching a movie on our flat screen T.V. But before we could even decide on what movie to rent from NetFlix, we both began to feel uncomfortable. God had recently been convicting us to spend our "down time" on spiritually edifying activities; to spend more of our free time in prayer and far less on frivolous pop-culture distractions. We had talked about the idea of exchanging our weekly movie nights for prayer times instead. In all honesty, the idea felt about as attractive as trading a sunny beach-side vacation for a dreary, wintery trek through Siberia. We knew from experience that prayer wasn't dull or miserable. But we had come to depend on our weekly movie marathons to help us avoid burn-out and exhaustion, and we really struggled with the idea of giving it up.

Even so, that evening we both felt the gentle nudge of God's Spirit, challenging us to do something different with our leisure time; something of far more eternal value than vegging in front of the latest release in the Spider Man trilogy.

To make a long story short, we tried it. Instead of using those three hours for entertainment, we turned on worship music and spent that time in prayer. We poured out our cares and concerns to our King. We waited upon Him and listened to His still, small voice. We worshiped and thanked Him. And at the end of those three hours, we were deeply refreshed and spiritually exhilarated. We experienced a joy and fulfillment far beyond anything we'd ever found by watching a Hollywood flick.

From that time forward, we began to experience the words of Psalm 16:11: "In Your presence is fullness of joy." Turning to the counterfeit pleasures of the culture had only brought us temporary distraction. But when we learned how to turn to the right Source for our strength, refueling, and refreshment, we gained a joy that was both real and lasting. It's not that I've never watched a movie or read a novel since that season of shifting my focus. But my approach is far different than it used to be. I've learned not to turn to worldly entertainment to find the rest, joy, peace, rejuvenation, and fulfillment my soul needs. I have come to realize that the only place where I can find those things is at the feet of Jesus. If I turn elsewhere for comfort, I'm settling for a cheap counterfeit of the soul-level satisfaction that Jesus desires to give me.

The principle of finding joy in the eternal rather than the temporal has truly revolutionized my life—especially my motherhood. The dominant cultural message targeting moms of young kids today goes something like this: "Take a break—you deserve it! You spend so much time serving everyone else. You need to take some time for YOU!"

As a result of this relentless message, we often believe that it is not only our "right" to spend ample time each week on selfish pleasures and pop-culture indulgences, but that is actually healthy and necessary to do so in order to be a good mom. The notion is that if we do not make time for leisure and pleasure, we will become worn-down, depressed, and burned out.

At first glance, it seems like a wise-sounding idea. But looking at the example of Jesus, we see a different pattern. At times during His earthly life, Jesus needed rest and refueling. The Bible describes several occasions when He periodically withdrew from the demands of the crowds and the intensity of His ministry. But He didn't lounge on the beach or turn to entertainment to find the rest and new strength He needed. Instead, Jesus went to a mountain alone to pray or rose up early in the morning to spend time in God's presence (see Mark 1:35, 6:46).

Jesus carried more weight on His shoulders than any of us can ever even imagine. Yet He knew that the only way to gain strength for the battles He was called to fight was to spend time alone with God.

Refueling the Right Way

As busy mothers, taking time to periodically to rest, refuel, and gain fresh perspective is critical. But when we turn to the wrong source for this purpose, we accomplish nothing more than to be temporarily distracted from our worries and cares.

I must constantly remind myself that taking time alone to refresh and refuel should flow from a motive of becoming even stronger and more equipped to serve Jesus Christ, not simply to escape from the responsibilities of serving my family or living a godly lifestyle. Certainly there is nothing wrong with doing practical things in order to refuel and recharge. A long walk, a refreshing bike ride, an hour journaling outside in God's creation, an encouraging chat with a trusted friend, or family vacation can be wonderful ways to gain clearer perspective. But it's important not to give into the voice that whispers, "You deserve some self-indulgence right now. Forget about everyone else. Tune your family and your relationship with God out for a while, and take time for YOU!"

Taking time alone to refresh and refuel should flow from a motive of becoming even stronger and more equipped to serve Jesus Christ.

As I said in Set Apart Motherhood, I have discovered that the best "me time" is actually not "me time" at all, but "God time." Prayer journaling, worship, and reading Christian biographies produces far more lasting refreshment to my soul than a movie marathon or social media fetish ever could.

No matter how demanding my life may be, I've realized that when I say "no" to personal indulgences in order to say "yes" to time in God's presence, I find all of the lasting joy, peace, and strength I need in Him.

Choosing God Time over Me Time

Choosing "God time" over "me time" can be easier said than done, especially for a young mother with so many demands on her time and energy. Believe me, I understand! At the end of a long day, when I get my kids into bed and the house is finally calm, I typically feel like unwinding with a good book or browsing the Internet to find ideas and inspiration for various household projects. But I've learned that right after getting the kids settled for the night is a wonderful time for Eric and me to pray together. We're able to pray about important needs in our family or ministry. This not only builds deeper unity and spiritual like-mindedness between the two of us, but it also strengthens our individual relationships with Christ and makes Him the priority of our evenings. It's not that we never spend time at night reading, talking, or browsing online, but whenever we make prayer our most important nighttime activity, both our marriage and our spiritual lives are greatly blessed. But it requires a decision ahead of time to put a priority on the eternal over the temporal, no matter what my mood or emotions might say in the moment!

Whenever we make prayer our most important nighttime activity, both our marriage and our spiritual lives are greatly blessed.

Early mornings are another time when it's tempting to put "me time" (i.e. sleep!) above "God time." But I've found that getting out of bed and making my morning time with God a priority gives me far more strength and stamina for the day than pulling the covers over my head and pushing the snooze button ever could.

Whenever possible, I get up early to consecrate the "first fruits" of my day to God by spending time in His Word and in prayer. In those seasons when it has not been possible for me to get up before my children (for instance, when I have been up all night for multiple weeks with a newborn, or struggling with a physical issue that impacted my sleep) I have had to come up with creative solutions to make time for prayer. Sometimes, I've had a helper come to the house first thing in the morning and take over with the kids while I got a shower and had a quiet time. Other times, Eric has stepped in to manage the morning routine and supervise the kids so that I can get that much-needed time in prayer and in the Word.

Once my kids got past the infant/toddler stage, I found that having a regular time each morning for them to sit and quietly read books or watch an edifying video provided a great opportunity for me to spend time alone with God.

No matter what ages your children are or what your current situation in life, I encourage you to look for times during your daily life that you can choose "God time" over "me time." It may look different during different seasons of your life. But there is almost always a way to make Christ the highest priority of your day if you are really committed to doing so. Consider spending less time on social media and more time in the Word of God, or less time in front of the television and more time in prayer. Once you begin to experience the reality that "in His presence is the fullness of joy," you will no longer be drawn to the temporal counterfeits of the culture, because you know that nothing can satisfy your soul or give you lasting joy like time spent in the sweet presence of your King!

A quote from Leslie's Book, Set Apart Motherhood

Our relationship with Christ is meant to be the "anchor of the soul" (Heb 6:19). If we allow it to fade into the background, our perspective will be out of whack. But when we put Him first, everything else in life falls beautifully into place.

-Set Apart Motherhood, Chapter 3