Early last year the Lord gave me the phrase "Work smarter with a heart at peace." It spoke to the season I was in of needing to prioritize life and ministry in order to survive and my desperate need to embrace the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding in the face of life's constant transitions and anxieties. I still have so far to go in these areas but the practice of using this phrase as an encouragement, rebuke, and guiding principle for the year fostered so much growth.
I didn't intentionally choose a new focus for this year, but in the past couple of months the Lord has been unmistakably speaking to me of joy and its connection to my strength for the day.
I'm in a tough season of life for me personally: a task-oriented introvert deep in the chaos of young children and homeschooling, with a newborn arriving imminently and household and ministry responsibilities leaving a growing line of check boxes that glare at and goad me with their emptiness.
Most days I feel like I am just surviving. I get frustrated and angry and resentful and feel so alone...and yet NEVER ALONE. Deep, pervasive joy is hard for me to imagine in the face of daily monotony and zombie exhaustion. Oh sure, there is joy in listening to my kids' laughter or seeing the Lord do a mighty work in a ministry event but the strength to meet each moment of the day with determined joy? It seems an impossible dream. And then I worry that by my example I will teach my children that following the Lord is a joyless and impossible task, and parenting is a burden best just gotten through--neither of which are the truth.
And then one day a few weeks ago the Lord brought to mind Nehemiah 8.10 - "The joy of the Lord is your strength." I felt the words rush in and settle down through my body and into my soul and I felt desperate for the hope of it.
Yes. I instantly recognized the deep need for these in my life.
And so, in the weeks that have followed--being 8 months pregnant, moving, homeschooling, mothering a challenging toddler, and stepping into new life and ministry responsibilities--I have found myself breathing this verse out as a desperate prayer and life-saving promise when I have felt too inadequate and burdened and exhausted to conquer the task at hand. It is followed quickly by the prayer, "Lord, teach me what that even means" because it is clear that I don't understand it yet.
As I meditate on this verse throughout the year I'm asking the Lord to show me what it means to live into His joy and to be able to look at the future (whether it is the hours, months, or years ahead of me) with strength and joy instead of panic and discouragement.
I trust that He will answer my request because He is a good Father. And, so, I am going to rest in the knowledge that this isn't just one more thing I have to do this year, but something that can, and will, be poured into my weary self as I draw near to the Lord.
With that, my few precious moments alone are drawing to a close and as I get back in my van to drive back to the responsibilities of the rest of the day I am tempted to feel discouraged, but instead I will repeat "The joy of the Lord is your strength."
Image from French Press Mornings