A lot has happened since writing this (the temporary suspension of the flight program in Chad and our family returning to Canada very unexpectedly....blog post to come), challenging the very ideas I wrote about in here...'choosing joy and being thankful in all circumstances'.....Hope this encourages you as it has me.
This simple 3 letter word isn't so simple. I am and will forever struggle with having 'joy in all things'. Seems impossible to me sometimes. This has been the theme of my third year in Chad...another life lesson that God has been trying to teach me while living in the most difficult place I have ever experienced. But, if I can learn to be joyful here in Chad....well, I think I'm off to a good start! :)
I remember chatting with Phil one night about life and how things were going and we both agreed that finally, we were beginning to feel more settled. Chad, our house and compound and work and church and friends and shopping and food and money and the way we did life here...well, that was starting to feel normal which was a tad shocking as I thought I would never get used to life in N'Djamena.
But, despite the ease at which we maneuvered life here, there was this constant voice in my head whispering discontentment with the way things were. I felt like I had gotten the short end of the stick...as Phil winged his way across Chad, seeing and meeting and experiencing some amazing things and I....well, I was on the compound...again.
I would hear of the various ministries people had here in Chad and how they were making a difference to the Chadian people and I....well, I was on the compound....again.
I would visit facebook and see the amazing experiences kids and families were having back in my home country (libraries, parks, swimming lessons, pinterest worthy parties and home decor etc) and I....well, I was on the compound....again.
Do you get what I was feeling and thinking? I was not happy at all with where I was at...even though I felt like things were more normal, doesn't mean I was exuding joy. Phil was working like mad, flying and away a lot, leaving me on my own, and the phase of life Evie was at was just wearing my down and oh ya....I lived in Chad! So, I went right ahead and launched myself into a pity party. (I don't recommend this)
I had stopped being thankful and was choosing to complain and take the glass-half-empty view to everything that came my way.
How do I get that? I wanted it so bad. I wanted to stop the negative thoughts, the crippling comparing game, the pity party....I am a missionary for heaven's sakes!! GET IT TOGETHER!!! How do I find joy in the mundane? In the seemingly unimportant?
I read and talked and listened and asked questions and sought advice from wiser wives/moms and I knew what I had to do. I had to ask for joy (from the Lord) and then I had to manifest it through thankfulness instead of complaining.
There was a verse that I had read a zillion times before (well, maybe not that many...but I was super familiar with it) and as I read it yet again, I finally got what it was trying to say.
"The JOY of the Lord is my STRENGTH" (Nehemiah 8:10c).
Here I was, struggling to make it through my days, wanting to feel that joy in the ordinary but coming up short so many times and just feeling so done at the end of the day. And then I read this. And I realized that it is the Lord who gives Joy and that when you have that Joy, you have strength to make it through whatever you are going through....whether it is cleaning up a juice spill for the 10th time that morning, or doing the dishes (again) or doing the school run, or welcoming a husband home well beyond dinner time.....there can be joy in those things. Not necessarily a happy, big smile, on top of the world joy....that to me is happiness, which can come and go as quick as the weather changes....no, I'm talking about joy, being content in whatever circumstance....and this can often be identified in how much of a thankful person you are.
Are you quick to complain or be disappointed? Or do you try to find things within the hard times that you can be thankful for? I must admit, my tendency is towards the former but I want to be characterized as the latter.
Good news: We can change our attitudes by:
1. Recognizing the negative, complaining thoughts and stopping them dead in their tracks before they take root and poison your vision in the moment. (I literally say to myself...STOP thinking that!)
2. Asking God to help us find something to be thankful for in the moment (your perspective has the power to change a bad situation into a not-as-bad-as-I-thought situation)
3. Replace the negative, complaining thoughts with thankfulness and asking God to forgive us for our selfish, pity party!
As an example from my life:
There was a time when Phil was extraordinarily busy with work stuff and I was slogging it in the trenches with my super busy/clingy 18 month old and I remember just thinking random thoughts throughout the day like....'He is NEVER home and I have to deal with this beast of a child all by myself, all the time!!!!", or "If Phil was here....things wouldn't be so bad", or "Phil is gone AGAIN...and I'm stuck with the kids and having to parent them on my own, again!"......
I know the thoughts that were cycling through my head (and many others...too many to mention or remember) were not from God and I was taking those thoughts and chewing on them all day, every day and the root of bitterness, discontentment and ungratefulness were burrowing deep...and I just wasn't joyful. It showed in how I spoke to my husband, or how I talked about things with others and even how I acted and spoke towards my kids....I can just imagine how lovely I was to live with! But God being gracious, confronted this sin of ingratitude in my heart through his Word and when I read that verse...I knew the key to Joy was thankfulness. I wanted to conduct myself as a wife, mother and friend (three of the main roles which encompassed the ministry that I felt God had called me too) in a manner pleasing to God and encouraging and inspiring to others...and to me, thankfulness and joy are so intertwined and such imperative characteristics to have in this ministry.
There are a lot of 'things' in Chad (and life in general) that can suck that joy and gratitude right out of me....but it is up to me to recognize my deep need for the One who gives Joy freely and ask Him for an attitude of thankfulness so I can live life to the fullest....with his strength.
I'm still working on it...one day, one moment at a time.