Battling the Joy Suckers of Motherhood


The insistent whisper pried my reluctant eyes open in the half-light of dawn that was slowly creeping across our bedroom. The view from my soft, welcoming pillow showed my daughter standing there with her bedhead and in Tinkerbell jammies. Then I saw the clock: 6:03 a.m.

Mom. You gotta get us breakfast.”

Us. Us. Aw, man.

We’d had her friends, ages four and almost three, spending the night. Their mom, a sweet friend of mine, was just trying to survive a bad cold, and our family had been wanting to have her girls over anyway. But this favor had not included crack-of-dawn benefits, at least in my drowsy brain that was being held to my pillow by a strange and sweet magnetism. (Huh. And by my 12 a.m. bedtime the night before, which now looked like a really stupid idea.) I could hear the rustlings and morning chatter of two small females down the hall that confirmed my dreaded suspicions.

But suffice it to say that by 7:00, Play-Doh and plastic cookie cutters littered my kitchen table and were about to be replaced with muffin crumbs and plastic plates. Pillows from a pillow fight lay abandoned all over the den.  The bedrooms were still covered in blankets. I could already tell that two of my kids were going to need a nap that day (hopefully I would be included in that little luxury). And my mug of tea sat cold beside the Bible I had attempted to read.

As my husband walked out the door at 7:30 — rather unjustly alone and unencumbered, I thought — I asked him to pray for me. Because when I get tired, joy feels like those movies in which a door is ripped off of an airborne plane, and everything that’s not screwed down is being sucked out. My joy is tearing out the door.

This is especially true when, in my self-focus, I can’t understand the things God keeps throwing at me, like I’m tempted to do during weeks like these. It is not atypical for me to feel sorry for myself with all I’m facing or all the work before me (e.g., all the Play-Doh I get to pick up). I endure because I’m sure that’s the right thing to do. It’s a good thing God has sacrificial kids like me willing to do this for Him! I am a self-righteous martyr, suffering for Jesus on an unjust day. If only my kids would be courteous and compassionate; if only I didn’t trip on the dolly diaper bag; if only …

But on this day, I credit God alone for giving me the resources to make it through every sleepy hour with what I needed to keep my cool with my kids and superglue my heart in the right place.  It was a great day to focus on joy.

One of my kids asked me what joy was the other day, and I had to stop mid-sentence.  I do think joy is a form of happiness in God. But when I tried to elaborate on that for my kids, I was struggling. What did that look like for my friend, who lived with true joy while she lost her mom to a three-year battle with cancer? My friend wasn’t happy. But she was embracing God’s purposes and love in deep faith. Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances, I knew (ahem, like six kids up before 7:00 a.m. in the midst of a killer week). And it’s not just doing the hard thing, which I have found I’m able to complete with an entirely disgusting attitude.

The joy that seems so elusive in my motherhood is really the faith and peace to accept whatever package God has for me that day … at whatever time it arrives (in Tinkerbell jammies). Joy is a focused, long-standing delight in Him, no matter what rolls in the door. It’s a steady, faith-filled, God-worshipping trust that what He gives is what is best. He is enough for me.


[verse reference=”Hebrews 12:1-3″]Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.[/verse]

The line between “SELF-RIGHTEOUS MARTYR-MOMMY” and “SERVING LIKE JESUS SERVED ME” is thin and quiet, lying right down the middle of my own heart. In fact, I may be hoppin’ back and forth between the two (Self-admiration! Joy! Self-admiration!), performing the exact same action outwardly the entire time. But the difference lies in my focus: on God and His work through me, worshiping Him in whatever tumbles my way, or focusing on … me. Truly, I’m made to worship something. So who will I choose in each moment as the object of my affection?

This is a breakthrough for me: knowing what it looks like to choose joy. I’m hoping it transforms my motherhood, particularly my moments of drudgery and endurance and small whining children, into moments of peacefully serving my God.

I’m hoping it communicates to my kids that they are blessings rather than burdens, no matter what pigsty my house resembles or what exhausting hour they rise.

I’m hoping it transforms me.

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    1. Ha! I so hear you, Robyn. I feel like God's been bringing this post to mind over and over in the last week… Since He's been teaching me about joy, it's now a lot more obvious how much I personally don't naturally have it :). Praying for your day today, Robyn. May it be supernatural.

  1. Liz Clark says:

    What a wonderful, encouraging article! It was a perfect read today. It's so nice to know that I am not the only one who struggles. And also to be reminded of what's important and Who we need to look to in order to find the answers. Thanks so much for this!

  2. Thanks so much for taking the time to encourage me on a vulnerable article, Liz…I needed a reminder of joy several times today :).

  3. Mary Walker says:

    I'm sorry, Janel, but as a grandma; I had to chuckle while reading your post~~~~because "I've been there and done that"~~~~you make me feel like maybe I'm not so abnormal after all……

    I wish I would have had the insight you have when I was your age.

    Compare the JOY you have now to the 'empty nest syndrome'….

    Keep on writing those POSTS so I can relive those days….