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Christian Life, Faith, Parenting

How to cultivate joy

January 23, 2018

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
– James 1:2-4

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God
– Philippians 4:4-7

 

The last 10 days at the Pontius household have been rough ones, with Kelly, Micah, and I all in various stages of being sick with running noses, throbbing headaches, and endless coughing. Being sick is tough enough when you only need to take care of yourself but, as any parent knows, having a sick kid doubles the challenge.

For the last several nights Micah’s been awake 4-5 times a night with a wracking cough. It’s painful to listen to. Even more painful is the fact that it means we’ve spent a significant amount of time rocking him back to sleep or in some cases, sitting awake with him for an hour or two until he realizes it’s 3 AM and he’s still tired.

“Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters,” James says. The Apostle Paul echoes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Challenging words when living sick on 5 hours of sleep. And being sick and lacking sleep are, in the grand scheme of things, small troubles. What of when you lose a parent? When you’re diagnosed with a terminal cancer? When your internet is slow. Kidding on that last one, obviously. But seriously.

Regardless of the circumstance, Paul and James are relentless about joy. James is specific; count your trials as joy. Paul agrees, both in word and deed as he sits in a jail cell worshipping after being stripped and beaten in public in Acts 16. In the eyes of these apostles joy isn’t a soft and fuzzy thing. It’s a necessity for Kingdom living that is to be cultivated with almost fierce intentionality. The question, of course, is how? From these oft-quoted verses I see at least four answers to that question.

Set your mind on joy.

We are to calculate troubles and trials as something of joy. When we encounter a hardship and are determining which side of the emotional scale to place it on, we are to place it on the site of the positive.

This isn’t something that comes naturally. It takes an intentional set of the mind – a determined reckoning that says “I will count this trial as joy.” When it’s 2 AM and Micah wakes up coughing, requiring Kelly or I to drag ourselves out of bed to go soothe him back to sleep it will require a determination in our semi-conscious minds to agree with Heaven and say “this is joy.”

 

Look to the outcome, not the moment

James says that it’s because testing and trials results in endurance or steadfastness, which leads to our being made complete that we are to calculate trials as joy-bringers.

If you’re struggling with joy it’s probably a problem of perspective. Odds are that you’re more focused on your current pain, tiredness, frustration, disappointment, etc than you are on where God’s taking you in the future. Faith isn’t stuck in the present; it has vision that sees the future as beautiful. Just like Jesus “who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2), we are to look beyond the moment and by faith behold the glory of the outcome.

 

Look at Jesus, not the problem

Paul’s words in Philippians are similar to James. He says that when we’re lacking joy it’s a problem of perspective. Where are we to find our joy? “Rejoice in the Lord,” not in circumstances. Only when we learn settle our emotions in the immortal, unchangeable Father can we enter into the joy that Paul learned to practice. We do this settling doing what, to again quote from Hebrews 12, is like “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. By intentionally redirecting our minds away from the immediate problem and setting it instead on who Jesus is and what he has done.

 

Then do it again. And again. And again.

“Again I will say, rejoice.” There’s a reason that Paul repeats himself here. This looking to Jesus isn’t a one-time decision that will forever loft us into heavenly floatings of joy. No, it is a repeated practice. A continual resetting of our mental bent until the supernatural activity of counting trials as joy and rejoicing always is as ingrained in us as breathing.

As we become those people we will discover a peace and happiness in all circumstances that frees us from so many of the trappings that we think we need. Anxiety will fade away and be replaced by hopeful expectancy. Shame will lose it’s power over us and we will be loosed to proclaim the goodness of our Savior anew.

 

Tonight may be a trial. Micah may wake up a dozen times, or may not sleep a wink. You may be in the midst of the most painful season you’ve yet to encounter in life. The next week may look like an impossibility. Take a deep breath. Determine it in your spirit that by the Spirit you will count it all joy. That you will take your eyes of yourself and your circumstances and rejoice in the Lord.

My guess is that we’ll get to the end of this and be amazed at how good God was in the midst of it.

Journal, Life, Parenting

Twelve Things You Don’t Do As a Parent of a One Month Old

August 26, 2016

 

 

Micah’s just over a month old, which means Kelly and I have been practicing this parenting thing for somewhere around 35 days. We’ve learned a lot. Last night as I sloowwwly laid Micah down, praying that the last four hours of trying to getting him to sleep would be over and he would stay asleep, I marvelled at just how many things two people can not get done when you have a baby on your hands. I laughed as I mentally scrolled through our undone to dos. So I made a list. For those who have had kids, you’ll get it. For those who haven’t yet, take note. Get stuff done now. You won’t later

Things you don’t do as a parent of a one month old:

  1. Shower more than once a week
  2. Clean all the dishes
  3. Get out of the house in less than 20 minutes
  4. Sleep for longer than two hours
  5. Have an in-depth conversation
  6. Watch more than half a movie
  7. Have sex
  8. Freak out about being peed on
  9. Write that book you’ve been working on
  10. Get to work early
  11. Fix the laptop that’s been broken for the last month
  12. Cook a full meal

 

Good news though – getting stuff done isn’t what life’s about. Jesus has done more than enough to satisfy any to-do list that we could ever place in front of ourselves, and God’s relational nature declares clearly that there is far more value in pouring love out for another human being while your kitchen counters disappear under dishes and your body odor builds to a crescendo than there is in keeping things spotless.

When you have kids, regardless of their age, they’re going to inconvenience you and force you to change your plans. You’ll probably get less than half of what you wanted to get done done. But what you will get in return is the beauty of shaping a soul that will bring much greater glory to the Lord than any amount of productivity ever could.

That said, I really need a shower.

 

photo credit: Grace Noelle Photo

Journal, Life, Parenting

Parenting and Shrinking Joys

August 18, 2016

 

 

 

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
– Philippians 4:12-13

 

Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe.
– Chesterton, Orthodoxy

 

It’s been nearly a month since our son Micah was born. Crazy how fast the past few weeks have gone.Leading up to his birth I’d had this expectation of some explosive revelation moment when we first met our boy. I’d heard so frequently that having a kid gives you a deeper understanding of God’s love for us, and apparently I’d figured that realization would come all in a rush there and then when we held him for the first time.

Maybe for some people it does. For me it didn’t. And, in all honesty, the last few weeks really haven’t been particularly enjoyable. Oh, there have been beautiful moments, but the vast majority of our time is spent feeling somewhat inadequate and frustrated as we try to to figure out feeding schedules, how to get a little human to fall asleep, how to do everything one-handed while holding a baby, how to operate on 4 or so hours of sleep a night, etc.

The first weeks of parenting aren’t particularly rewarding on a human level. Oh sure, we’ve got a really cute little human to hold whenever we want to, but all the work that comes with it is just hard. There’s a reason why more and more people are opting to have children later or not at all. It costs a lot, financially, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

I still haven’t had a huge moment of revelation or anything, yet as I sat next to Micah several nights ago watching him sleep, praying over his life to come and that Kelly and I would survive to see it, I realized how much my view of the world had changed and just how good that is.

Things have shrunk. Our joys and pleasures have become much smaller than they were. That may sound like a negative thing, but I don’t think it is.

The world’s expectation

The world tells us that our pleasures should always be increasing in size, scope, and intensity. This year you went on a vacation to Florida for a week. Next year you should take a two week vacation to Hawaii. The relationship you were just in was good, so you shouldn’t settle for anything less than amazing in the next one. We’re trained to be disappointed if our future experiences don’t outdo our past ones.

A prime example of this is seen in the continual increase of large, explosive scenes in the movies that we watch. Contrast the slow, intricate emotional impact of Twelve Angry Men, a film from 1957 that takes place almost completely in one room, with the city-destroying explosions and two-second cuts of the recent Avengers films. We expect the next spectacle to outdo the previous, or we feel disappointed.

The problem with this is that it burns our senses out, increasingly numbing us to the daily pleasures of life. If you’re used to the explosions and constant action, the pace of films from 20 years ago seems lethargic and boring. We build up a resistance to experiences just like we do to drugs or alcohol.

There’s a reason why billionaires still search for satisfaction despite the fact they can buy anything they want.

What these first weeks of parenthood have taught me is that the small joys bring lasting pleasure. The grand, world shaking ones fade away in an instant.

God of the shrinking joys

In stark contrast to the world, God seems to delight in drawing us into smaller and smaller joys so that the grander things seem ever greater. Witness Elijah’s experience of God speaking through the small, still voice rather than the whirlwind. The quiet encounter made the nation-shaping miracles seem all the more powerful.

Whereas previously a great night for Kelly and I was going out to eat, watching a movie, and staying up late it’s now several minutes of quiet with Micah asleep before we go to bed. A weekend trip has been replaced with the smaller joy of two hours out to eat when grandma comes to watch the baby.

Pleasures have shrunk, but not lessened. The things that were becoming for us commonplace are now precious. We are being taught to take joy in small things and as a result the big things become even bigger and more wonderful. As G.K. Chesterton says, it is limitations that make art art, and therefore beautiful.

Don’t buy this world’s demand that you always need more than you currently have. Instead zoom the frame in, shrink your joys into the concentrated power of simple pleasures and learn to delight in the nuances and small gifts that God showers upon us each day. Attempting to constantly increase the grandeur of your pleasures will drain you and leave you empty. Embracing the God of shrinking joys will lead, ultimately, to eternal pleasure and joy.

As I sat there next to Micah’s tiny sleeping form and soaked in the joy of a peaceful moment, two weeks of a thousand frustrating moments melted away. I am, indeed, learning to be content in all circumstances, and in that there is great reward.

 

 

 

Culture, Poetry, Quotations, Relationships

The Hurt Child

January 18, 2012

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
– Colossians 3:21

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
– Ephesians 6:4

——————-

The Hurt Child by Margaret Atwood

The hurt child will bite you.
The hurt child will turn
into a fearsome creature
and bite you where you stand.

The hurt child will grow a skin
over the wound you have given it
– or not given, because the wound
is not a gift, a gift is accepted
freely, and the child had no choice.

It will grow a skin over the wound,
the hoarded wound, the heirloom wound
you have pried out of yourself like a bullet
and implanted in its flesh –
a skin a hide a pelt
a scalded rind,
and sharp fish teeth
like a warped baby’s –
and it will bite you

and you will cry foul
as is your habit
and there will be a fight
because you’ll take the fight out of the box
labelled Fights you keep so carefully stored
against emergencies, and this is one,

and the hurt child will lose the fight
and it will go lurching off
into the suburbs, and it will cause
panic in drugstores and havoc
among the barbecues
and they will say Help help a monster
and it will get into the news

and it will be hunted
with dogs, and it will leave a trail
of hair, fur, scales, and baby teeth, and tears
from where it has been ripped
by broken glass and such

and it will hide in culverts
in toolsheds, under shrubs,
licking its wound, its rage,
the rage you gave it
and it will drag itself to the well

the lake the stream the reservoir
because it is thirsty
because it is monstrous
with its raging thirst
which looks like spines all over it

and the dogs and the hunters will find it
and it will stand at bay
and howl about injustices
and it will be torn open
and they will eat its heart

and everyone will cheer,
Thank god that’s over!

And its blood will seep into the water
and you will drink it every day.

 

-from The Door

Prose

Leaning In

February 1, 2010

Just read this short post by a fellow writer. Some beautiful thoughts on life as a parent. Read the full post at Quadruplelife

I’ve never been oblivious to the fact that parenting can be a trek—an up-hill-hot-day-black-flies-no-water trek at times. These days come and go, and often with a descent nap or an evening out I am able to settle back in, pull my babies close, kiss them tenderly, and keep on hiking.

But lately I’ve noticed a shift—not in my children—they remain gloriously obvious to the hike, running on ahead—and this is just as it should be! How terrible would it be for them to have any grasp of my parenting frustrations! No, the shift is in me. The walk seems harder, the hill steeper, my pack heavier than usual…