Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Happy Face?

Joy, bless her heart, she was having a bad day earlier.

I told all the kids that we had to come home and do a quick 10 minute clean up in the family room.  Well, Joy was having a hard time and came and told me that she didn't want to obey, so we prayed that Jesus would help her obey, she gave me a hug and started to work.  Next thing I know, I look over at her and she is crying, doing her jobs, but crying!
I asked her what was wrong, her answer? "I am obeying but I don't want to, and I want to WANT to; I want to obey with a happy face, but my face won't get happy!"
Oh heavens, how hard it is not to laugh out loud sometimes.  I told her that she was obeying and that is what counted, and she said, "but Jesus wants me to obey with a happy face and I can't!"  so I assured her that sometimes we just obey because it is the right thing to do and that the fact that she was obeying anyway is what was pleasing Jesus.

Now here's the thing, I have seen many parenting blogs, books, speakers, etc harp on and on about the importance of getting your children to obey willingly, not because they are forced to.  I do of course, agree with this. However, I have very, very often heard it expressed not as "willingly" but as "happily", or as I so glibly have told my kids in the past (and where Joy got her idea from), "obey with a happy face."   I do understand what we are after here, there is a heart attitude where the child will sullenly do what they are told but they begrudge every step they take and this needs to be dealt with, however, the idea that a child must obey happily is not realistic either.

Seriously, think about it.  There are a TON of things I do and responsibilities I carry out simply because I recognize that I have to. Not because I'm happy about it. If I was doing what I could do "with a happy face" that would eliminate most of the housework, laundry, and cooking, and all of the errands and grocery shopping.
I'm left with two choices, 1) to do what I can do happily (yay!  only knitting, sewing, and gardening forever!) or 2) to somehow feel like I must fake my happy face and then go around with a constant guilt because I'm not happy about doing all this stuff that I (apparently)  should be doing so happily!

As amusing as this little interaction with my 6 year old was, it was a bit of a wake up for me as well.  I really want my kids to grow up and responsible, dependable, adults.  I assume that we all want this.  I would caution then the way we try to "simplify" our teaching and use a cutesy phrase such as "obey with a happy face" when we really mean to obey willingly.

I've even seen some folks go so far a to say that if you obey often enough, you'll learn to like it.  Nah.  I don't care how many times I "breathe a prayer of thanks for each little shirt I fold", I still hate laundry.  Maybe I'm a slow learner, but I'm not holding my breath for the arrival of that glorious day when the prospect of  another load makes me break into song.

Some people genuinely enjoy cleaning and organizing. You know what, that's great, but that's the way you were made, it doesn't mean that you have reached a spiritual level that I am still striving for.  There are things that I enjoy that some of you would find tedious, frustrating, or boring (although what is tedious or boring about a 150,000 stitch lace shawl, I can't imagine. It's the challenge, people, the challenge! the joy of creating!).

So back to my point, how about we reconsider what we require of ourselves and our children and go for a willing spirit instead of a "happy face?"
Happiness is fleeting, it is based on chance occurrence; Joy, peace, contentment, fulfillment: these are deeper, longer lasting, and built on one willing, obedient, step at a time.

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