Back in the day, maintaining a spirit of gratitude was much
easier than it is today. The absence of
social media made it much easier to focus on what we had instead of what we
didn’t and might never have.
We lived in and among the present and tangible, our
blessings ready for the counting.
Now, it’s harder.
Just when you get your gratitude on and your mood starts to
lift, a social media gust reminds you the Enemy is alive and well and that people
all around you are enjoying what is and might always be out of your reach,
knocking you back on your tail feather.
When you find yourself in this position, the most irritating
thing someone could possibly say—in my opinion—is “Be thankful for what you
have,” which is just a spiritualized way of saying “Look on the bright side.”
We should be
grateful for what we have, of course, as the Lord, in His sovereignty and
infinite wisdom, has allowed our current circumstances for whatever reason, but
the command to do so should really only come from the Lord Himself and precious
few others, those who have walked with you a while and earned the privilege of
correcting you. After all, “be thankful”
is an admonition. We don’t say it unless
we think the person we’re talking to may have forgotten to do so.
This being true, I’m not going to tell you to “be thankful,”
“look on the bright side,” or even to “count your blessings” this
Thanksgiving. I assume you, like me, want
nothing more and are working to maintain the right focus daily, hourly,
Let me encourage you instead by admitting I’m right there
with you. Life is really, really, really
hard, much of what you want you’ll never have or have again, and very little
that happens in this life is “fair” as we imagine “fair.” What’s more: until Jesus comes back, there
will not be peace on earth because we all want our own way and can’t all have
it at the same time.
There’s no way around all this, and it stinks, but I’ve
found a couple of verses that help me when any effort I might put forth to rise
above it all seems a waste. Maybe they
will help you, too.
“For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened”
There’s a way up and out of discouragement and darkness,
friends, and it doesn’t require you to pretend things are better or life is
easier than it is. All you have to do is see God for Who
He is, acknowledge what He’s done, and thank Him for it so others will do the
Doing so may not change your circumstances, but it will
enlighten you and carry you over them, each unexpected gust turning tail wind
as it adds meaning and power to the sacrifice of praise you offer.
You see, gratitude isn’t so much about mustering excitement
over what you have as it is embracing purpose in Whom you know.
Sometimes life feels like a bad dream, the plot absurd, each
step an agony.
Like whispers of the wakeful, bright thoughts and spurts of
energy flow near and through you once in a while, but dissipate quickly. When they pass, you struggle to take hold,
desperate to pull yourself from the slog.
Then you remember.
heartless, reality weighs you down again like a lead apron, suffocating
any present hope of happiness. Head full
of cotton, heartbeat an ache, you feel the sting of pain and look down to find
your fingers, grasping nothing, have squeezed in on themselves, biting flesh.
I’ve been there.
In seasons like these, it’s hard to believe circumstances
will ever change, that you will ever again experience the peace and joy you
once knew, that you could ever again be the person you once were.
Don’t cringe. I’m not
going to tell you He will fix everything and take the pain away. He may not.
I just want you to know that He’s there (Prov. 18:24, Rev.
3:20, Matt. 28:20).
And He gets you (Heb. 4:15).
Yes, God sent Jesus to earth to live a sinless life and die
a slow, torturous death in your place so you could experience eternal life
through Him (2 Cor. 5:21, Rom. 6:23), but that’s not all the Father required.
Get this: God
required Jesus to be human for a while—fully God at the same time, yes (John
1:1)—but human! Can you imagine? Glory for grunge…33 years of it!
Now, Jesus may not have had the exact thoughts and/or
experienced the same doubts you and I have—He did have the benefit of deity,
after all—but He did experience all the gross stuff that comes with being one
of us—fatigue, hunger, loss, anger, sadness, disappointment, rejection, persecution,
isolation, and pain, etc.—in a very real, sometimes intense, way.
So He could be there for you, not just rescue you and be
gone, but walk with you in, through, and beyond the muck of being human (Heb.
The Enemy wants you to believe you are completely alone,
that no one understands you, that God has abandoned you, that you are not
loved, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Before you ever even knew you needed a friend and Savior,
God saw you, loved you, and was preparing a friend and Savior for you. Just as He sustained Jesus against a skilled,
hateful, relentless Enemy in the wilderness when He was sapped of all strength
and ability to reason on His own (Luke 4), God will sustain you, arming you against
the temptation to despair and choose your own path by the power of His Holy
Now, I’m not going to lie.
Your circumstances may not change, you probably won’t ever
experience the kind of peace and joy you once knew, and you definitely won’t
ever be the person you were again.
But if you admit your need for a Savior—even in your present
circumstances—and accept His rescue through faith, God will give you victory
through the struggle and make your obedience count for the Kingdom (Eph. 1:11). Your peace and joy will deepen as your
intimate knowledge of God’s power and faithfulness increases, and God will
continue to transform you into something better than you were, the very image
of His son, your friend and Savior Jesus, until He calls you home, where you
will be made perfect (2 Cor. 3:18, Phil. 1:6).
The wait feels like forever when you’re hurting, I know, but
this life is just a breath (Jas. 4:14).
Hang in there. Keep
trusting. Keep obeying, even when the
Enemy whispers, your mind plays tricks, and your emotions refuse to fall in
line with what you’ve chosen to believe by faith.
Soon—when God says it is time because life is His alone to
give and take as Creator—you will stand, fully awake (1 Cor. 13:12), in the
very real and lasting brilliance of His glory, bad dream over, this present
pain a distant memory (Rev. 21: 4, 23).
No matter how you feel about your kids and/or your spouse, the
empty nest takes a little more getting used to than you might think. Without
forethought and planning, the life stage you have been told is wonderful could
become extremely stressful instead, as you will continue to parent in all the
challenging ways, like giving money and advice and solving unforeseen problems,
while no longer enjoying the perks of parenting, like face time, casual
conversation, and daily affection.
This being true, Todd and I led a breakout at the annual
marriage retreat put on by Oklahoma Baptists last week and shared some tips
with couples who are quickly approaching this life stage.
Here they are:
forward to something is almost as much fun as living it and often improves the
actual experience when it comes. Just as you looked forward to marrying your
spouse, daydreamed about what life with them would be like, and groomed
yourself for the experience, do so for the empty nest. Yes, there will be
sadness in the goodbyes to your children, but anticipating joy on the other
side of those goodbyes will soften that hurt, making the transition easier for
the two of you and your children. It doesn’t help homesick children to know
that their parents aren’t happy without them.
Plan. The first
day. The first week. The first month. The first year and beyond. Big things.
Small things. As you anticipate the empty nest, fill your imagination and your
calendar with new things that will help you celebrate your freedom as a couple.
Fill any potentially awkward or melancholy spaces with happy details tailored just
for the two of you: food you didn’t eat when the kids were home, shows you
didn’t watch, places you didn’t go, fellowship with people you weren’t free to
visit, staying out late on a school night. If college doesn’t have you pinching
pennies, you could plan a trip, but
camping out in the living room in pj’s the kids never got to see can be just as
much, if not more, fun!
spouse. The older your kids get, the crazier their schedules become,
requiring the whole family to flex and sacrifice at times. If we aren’t
careful, we can get in the habit of expecting
our spouse to give instead of asking, assigning their needs a backseat to our
kids’. Stop, take stock, and make sure you haven’t done this.Remember, you married your spouse to
become one with them. Together, you
welcomed your children into the family you had already formed, but their
presence shouldn’t alter the balance of what existed before they arrived.
If you’ve gotten out of the habit, get into the habit of
considering your spouse’s needs before your children’s, asking them to flex and sacrifice when necessary instead of
expecting, giving them a voice in all family planning even if it’s logistically
inconvenient to include them, and voicing the importance of your spouse’s
identity as an equal member with you of the family core to your children, so
they will grow up with a healthy understanding of God’s design for marriage and
family. It’s not a bad thing to ask the kids to flex for Mom or Dad either. Asking
your spouse to flex and sacrifice won’t mean much if the person being asked
can’t say “no.”
Set or reestablish
boundaries for your children. Your children don’t call the shots. They live
in your house with the people who own it and are in charge of them in the eyes
of God and the law. They need to do what you say. If you haven’t established
time, space, and property boundaries with your children, do so now. If you wait
until they move out, the sudden change will make them feel pushed out instead
of sent off, making the separation process more complicated and painful than it
needs to be.
As a couple, set aside space in your house that is just for
the two of you unless your children ask permission to enter and require them to
knock before entering. Carve out regular time that’s just for the two of you. It
doesn’t hurt the kids to be sent to their room early in the evenings so you can
have alone time or stay in their rooms longer on weekend mornings so the two of
you can have a date at home. Require your children to check with you before
making any plans that will require you to alter yours and require their friends
to call before coming over to make sure it’s okay. Require your kids to ask
permission to use anything that isn’t theirs or doesn’t clearly belong to the
Once the kids leave, set rules for coming home, like calling
first and letting you know by midweek whether or not they plan to come home for
the weekend so you can anticipate and plan couple time, even if your plans are
to have no plans—which is its own kind of wonderful after years of living on
the go—and don’t let them come home last minute if they said they weren’t going
Maintain, kindle, or
rekindle romance. If the fire is burning, keep it stoked. If it never was,
find out where you can get yourself some flint and a rock—seriously, help is
out there if you look for it. If it was burning, but isn’t now, do what you did
before. If that doesn’t work, educate yourself.
The problem in many marriages is that kids come along before
couples have a chance to fully explore and enjoy each other as people, friends,
and lovers. Wherever they happen to be at the time is where they freeze,
thinking, saying, and doing things that may or may not have worked once, but definitely
don’t hold up over time. Fire needs fuel to burn, and romance needs continued intentional
investment from both partners to flourish.
If you don’t know it already, find out your spouse’s love
language and speak it. Flirt, focus, and learn how to loosen up and have fun
with your forever date. Consider your bedroom a playground and enjoy recess to
the full. God wants you to (Song of Solomon 5:1)!
Bottom line, your
empty nest is going to be whatever you put in the time and effort to make
it. Get to feathering now, and you’ll
enjoy one of the most gratifying rewards you’ve ever earned.
Twenty-four years of mustering.
Twenty-four years of working hard to craft perfect holiday memories, not for myself, but for my family and others, and I’ve enjoyed far less of it than I care to admit.
Why? Because no matter how hard I tried or how carefully I planned, something always went wrong.
The one-year-old hated organic icing just as much as mom and dad do and wouldn’t touch his birthday cake for pictures.
The eighteen-month-old had a diaper blow out that ruined her dress on the way to church Easter morning.
Someone got the stomach bug on Christmas Eve.
The tooth fairy put so much energy into the cute note that she forgot the cash… again.
The best friend couldn’t make it to the birthday party.
The new sauce pan heated more quickly than the old one, so everyone smelled like scorched corn on Thanksgiving.
A relative who shall remain nameless thought it would be a great idea to give a taxidermied puppy as a Christmas gift to the child who had been wanting a real one for years.
You can’t possibly know, control, and/or remember everything and everyone. Did you know that? Well, it took me a long time to learn.
The unplanned, unscripted moments, though, now those are another story altogether. The moments I never expected to be filled with wonderful? Those have been the absolute best.
Truth be told, if the images I replay in my head when I’m feeling nostalgic were to be downloaded into a scrapbook for everyone to see, you’d find very few party hats or holiday decorations.
Instead, you’d see my infant daughter sound asleep on my husband’s chest for the hundredth night in a row.
You’d see my three-year-old son asking Jesus into his heart all by himself, smackdab in the middle of his Hot Wheels, because “you don’t need mommies for that, just God.”
You’d see my kindergarten daughter lagging behind on our walk home from school, her expectant eyes heavenward because “Jesus could come back any minute.”
You’d see the kids playing Legos and Barbies in the hall instead of their rooms just so they could be near each other.
You’d see my family gathered around our daughter’s bed in the evenings for Junie B. Jones and prayers.
Listen, friends, holidays and special events are good. They serve a function and have their place, to be sure, but it’s up to us to make sure they stay in their place and don’t distract us from what’s really important.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Prov. 19:21).
Life is not a party. For the Christian, it’s a mission trip, and we don’t get to set the itinerary. If we fixate on the photo ops, we might miss out on what’s truly meaningful.
This holiday season, why don’t we all put expectation aside and leave the mustering up to God so we can appreciate and participate in the wonderful He has planned?
Let’s face it: Nothing was going to go exactly the way we envisioned it anyway.
From a deep sleep, I sit up straight and grab my phone.
It’s early. Too
early. Something must be wrong.
Turns out, it isn’t.
A bleary-eyed text scan reveals everyone is safe and
healthy. No one is stranded, threatened,
Still, my heart beats hard, each thump sending waves of ache
and longing down my arms and into my fingertips.
Someone is unhappy. Deeply
Too far away to offer even a hug, I can’t fix it, and the
focus I worked so hard to cultivate as I head into another full day of creative
work is gone.
This happened a long time ago, but I’m telling you, friends,
sometimes I feel like I’m living three lives at once! When it gets to be too much, I try to remind
myself of the following truths.
Happiness is relative. Happiness is an emotional response to stimuli. We may not be able to change those stimuli, but
we can adjust our focus, perspective,
Happiness isn’t the baseline. Happiness falls on the positive side of the
sliding emotional scale. It is not the
norm. We must be grateful for the
Happiness doesn’t last. Human emotion, good or bad, cannot be maintained forever. Sooner or later, we all return to baseline,
if only for a little while.
Happiness isn’t the end goal. Christ-likeness is.
If God put Jesus through trials to shape Him (Heb. 2:10), we should
expect Him to do the same with us.
Happiness can actually interfere with
God’s plan. Happiness breeds complacency. We don’t tend to tinker with things we don’t perceive
to be broken. If God wants us to change
trajectory, He often applies a little pressure or removes an element of comfort.
Unhappiness pushes believers to
Jesus. Only the hurt need healing, and those
who know Jesus know He is the cure. If
they don’t go to Him first with their pain, they will once they discover
nothing else satisfies as deeply or for as long.
Unhappiness breeds compassion. We can’t effectively minister to those with whom we can’t
identify. If we hope to help the
hurting, we must experience some level of hurt ourselves.
You can’t fully appreciate happiness until
you experience unhappiness.
Those who never know unhappiness never
cultivate joy. Happiness ebbs and flows because it
relies on factors in constant flux. Joy
remains because it depends on Jesus, Who does not change (Heb. 13:8). If we never find ourselves tossed about by
emotion, we may never reach for the rock of our salvation or learn to abide in
If the Enemy is responsible for my
children’s unhappiness, I could be the target.
If I allow
myself to be crippled by the Enemy’s attacks, doesn’t it stand to reason he’ll
keep his aim on my children steady? Also,
parenting is only one of the jobs God has given me. No matter my kids’ interpretation of or response
to their own circumstances, I have a calling of my own and a life of obedience
to live (Eph. 4:1).
The truth is, no matter how hard I try to retrain it, my
heart will always beat for three people.
It helps to know, however, that the weight of responsibility for my
children’s happiness is not mine to bear.
news, not only because a momma’s hugs and kisses only go so far, but because the
Father alone knows what’s best both for my kids and the Kingdom. Speaking of which, Heaven—with its dried up tears and all (Rev. 21:4)—is
looking better all the time, don’t you think?