"Mom, which Winnie-the-Pooh character do you think you are most like?"
"I don't know. Who do you think I am?" I asked as I stroked my seven-year-old son's silky brown hair at bedtime.
"Definitely Eeyore because you're always sad or sick. And also maybe Kanga."
We were playing a game I had made up years ago. The game was called "Who do you think you are?" We would pick a story and then ask, "Out of all the characters, who do you think you are most like?"
I play this game with my children to get an idea of how they see themselves or with whom they identify. It often leads to great conversations with them. For example, my youngest thinks he is like Tigger, and my oldest thinks he is like Rabbit or Owl. I would have said that my youngest was like Piglet and my oldest like Christopher Robin–but this is an opportunity for me to stop putting my expectations and desires on them and make room for how God is developing them. Or, conversely, this is an opportunity for me to speak truth into their lives if I see that they are identifying with something that isn't God-glorifying.
However, on this cold wintery night in the beginning of January, as Christmas lights still hung above us in my children's playroom where we were laying on an air mattress (which they were sleeping on because guests were sleeping in their beds), the tables were turned. My son wanted to see who I thought I was like and then held a mirror up to my face. I realized that the sadness and overwhelm I believed I was hiding from my children was painfully obvious to them.
After my son's "Eeyore" comment, I finished up my kids' nighttime routine–read stories, said prayers, and kissed foreheads–before I slipped out of my boys' playroom and tip-toed into my room. I flopped onto the bed and told my husband what my youngest son had said. My husband was kind and supportive and assured me that I was a good mom. But something else was nagging me, If I know Jesus, why didn't I have more joy? Why was I so sad?
To be clear, what my son was seeing was not someone struggling with clinical depression. Instead, he saw an over-committed and perfectionistic mom who desperately tried to twist, fit, and control events until she was so tired from all her controlling that she would drop into bed or fall ill because she was pushing herself too hard.
At the time of this conversation, we had just celebrated Christmas, the most joyful time of the year. And instead of seeing a mom who was rejoicing in the coming of our Savior, they saw a mom who was stressed out, overwhelmed, trying to perform and make everything "magical" until she dropped into exhaustion and tears.
As I thought more about this, Psalm 51:12 came to mind, which says, "Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit." There is a lot I pray for the Spirit to develop in me. I often pray, Lord, make me loving.... Lord, give me a heart of generosity and compassion.... Lord, give me your peace. But joy? I never pray about joy. Rather, I march through my checklist, often joylessly opening my home to others.
But our God is a God of joy! It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). So why didn't I have it? Why didn't I pray for it? Upon reflecting on these questions, I knew it was time for a change.
It has been a few months since that night with my son. I have since prayed about my lack of joy and meditated on Psalm 51:12. One thing God revealed is that, first and foremost, I was not seeking to glorify God. I was seeking to glorify myself. I was the proverbial Martha in the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38–42). I was concerned with getting things done instead of enjoying the presence of Jesus.
Looking back on my desire to make Christmas "magical," God revealed how flawed that thinking is. I don't need to make Jesus "magical." I don't need to fit Him into a box of my own making. Instead, I can point my children (and my own heart) to Jesus and make room for my children (and myself) to be awed by His magnificence.
I don't need to spend more time stressing over my to-do list. I do need to spend more time basking in Jesus's presence through Bible reading and prayer. I don't need to pursue the world's standard of what daily life should look like. I do need to lean on the help of the Holy Spirit as I experience the sanctifying work that only He can do. Truly, it is when I set aside my imperfections to focus on the perfection of Christ that I find true joy.
Though I still like to play the "Who Are You?" game with my children, I also realized that I don't want to be remembered as a mom who always made holidays "magical." And I certainly don't want to be remembered as being like "Kanga" or "Eeyore." At the end of my life, and through God's sanctifying grace, I hope my children can answer the question, "Who was your mom most like?" by truthfully answering, "She was a lot like Jesus."
As I close today's blog, I want to invite you to consider whether you are a joyful Christian. Or are you constantly allowing the world's stress and expectations to rob you of the "joy of your salvation"? If so, I encourage you to confess this and turn to the Lord today, for He is the only One who can truly fill us with joy.
If you would like to learn more about joy through a gospel lens, I encourage you to do The Fruit of the Spirit study, which walks you through all the fruits of the Spirit.
Any diagnosis of clinical anxiety or depression must come from a medical professional who is qualified to diagnose and treat such physiological symptoms. You should never attempt to self-diagnose. If you think you may be struggling with clinical anxiety or depression, please seek the help of a qualified mental health professional. We hope that this blog will be an encouragement to you regardless of the nature of your anxiety, overwhelm, or depression as God and His Word speak to every condition, physical or spiritual. And we can cling to His Word even as we partake of the physical blessings of professional help and means of care that He provides to meet our specific needs.