A verse that caught my heart and I was able to teach my kids from an early age was:
2 Corinthians 9:7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
“The answer to the question you are pondering is, “Yes, Ma’am (or Sir). When Mom or Dad asks you to do something, you should do it quickly and with a cheerful heart.” It was a kind of obedience that I had to teach my own heart to submit to, too.
I am not sure how it happened, maybe it had something to do with moving to a new house in a new state, but in the middle of our homeschool years I suddenly found myself surrounded by stinky boy socks. I felt like they were stocking me. Too punny? Everywhere I turned, no matter how much I complained there on the floor was another abandoned, stinky, boy sock (and sometimes even stinkier boy shoes).
I went to the Lord and prayed an exasperated prayer asking (possibly demanding) God to tell me how to make my kids remember to pick up their socks. He answered, “You pick them up.”
I was shocked. It was not the answer I expected. I thought that every responsible parent taught their children to pick up after themselves and that one day all my training would pay off in grateful son and daughter-in-loves. “Pick up dirty boy socks??”
John 13:12-17 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
My heart was pierced. I didn’t grow up with brothers. I was just learning how stinky boy socks can grow in the hot, humid, Florida summers. Stinky enough to make your eyes water.. and worse. And now, I had to submit. I had to obey. I had to pick up stinky, boy socks without whining or complaining. My only answer was, “Yes, Sir.” I had to follow my Lord’s example.
Philippians 2:5-8 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
It took a little while before I learned to be cheerful about it, but I did. I learned to apply the principle to other chores, too. I learned to enjoy the warmth of soapy dish water. I learned to thank the Lord for my children’s safety as I mopped up wet foot prints off slick tile floors. I learned to sing worship songs while vacuuming and while cleaning bathrooms. I learned to pray for wisdom and direction and safety for each child as I searched for matching clean socks and hung their clothes fresh from the drier. Every act from dusting to homeschooling became an act of cheerful worship. Each moment serving my children was lived out as a precious gift. And it all started with choosing to cheerfully pick up stinky, boy socks.
This Easter weekend it dawned on me for the first time that God loves a cheerful giver because He Himself is a cheerful giver.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
Yet the LORD was pleased to crush Him severely. (Isaiah 53:10a)
The opposite of a cheerful giver is one who gives grudgingly. God found pleasure in giving His Son freely and without condemnation.
Hebrews 12:2-3 Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t done with out tears and pleadings for another way. But the moment the cross became an act of obedience, He gave His life for the joy.
This lesson of the stinky boy socks did something wonderful for me. When Joel was suddenly taken from us, I found that I was free from regret. My time with Joel had been sweet. I had spent most of it as an act of worship, grateful for the gift of our time together rather than resentful and fighting over stinky boy socks. Our relationship wasn’t without fault, but the cheerful, sacrificial love we shared made it very good.
John 15:9-13 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Fighting to continue that cheerful service has been where some of my fiercest battles have been waged. Without a word, the stinky socks disappeared as suddenly as they had first appeared. I don’t remember seeing a stray sock or shoe since giving away Joel’s last pair. I know not all the stinky boy socks belonged to him. I would give anything to cheerfully pick up his freshly made stinky socks again.
I remember washing dishes the night after Joel was gone. The weight of dirty dishes had diminished noticeably and I found myself in a battle against feeling frustrated with Joel for not being here to dirty his share. Craziness.
Just a little while before we lost Joel, Holy Spirit encouraged me to prepare my heart to take over Joel’s trash duty. I thought I was preparing for when Josh and Joel moved out together. Adding to my list of ways to engage in cheerful service had become a common occurrence by then. We (Holy Spirit and I) decided that each time I took out the trash I would use the opportunity to be thankful for Joel. That little exchange with Holy Spirit has been a comfort in the midst of many battles.
I didn’t realize just how much wood and tile floor we owned until Joel was no longer here to sweep for me. It was honestly too much. I couldn’t take his place and sweep where he had swept week after week, where he was no longer playing his guitar, or near the front door where I so longed for him to run in. Tears would pour out onto the dusty floors and it took all I had not to collapse into them. We bought a Roomba. Joel must be thinking, “Now, you buy a Roomba!”
The bitterest, most exacting battles have been fought in my laundry room. Years of cheerfully washing, drying, matching and folding stinky boy socks while freely bringing every care for their owners to my all loving and all knowing Lord had transformed my laundry room into an altar.. a holy place where I entered boldly into the throne room to petition His coveted mercy and grace.
My heart now crushed. My deepest, most primal heart’s desire for Joel’s safety answered with a pulverizing “No.” I stood, sometimes doubled over and wailed, in my place of prayer and struggled to utter more than “Please, HELP!!!!” The grace I’d always believed would made the hard things easy just didn’t. Much like the Heaven sent strengthening preceded, but didn’t prevent Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. Losing Joel, then opening the most vulnerable part of my heart to the One who had allowed it to be so incredibly broken was inexpressibly hard. All I could see or hear was the resounding “No.”
My kids need a praying mom. I’d seen the fruit of my cheerful service. I was severely aware that at any moment I could loose another child. I didn’t want to leave room for regret. I desperately wanted to be the cheerfully praying and serving mom that I had been, but all I could do was hang empty clothes in wordless sobs. As was constantly confronted with my inability to be faithful in my habit of prayer, I found comfort in Romans 8:26-28
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
A few months ago I tried to coerce a prayer. The words came out strained and weak. When I got to Joel (he is still my kid and still on my list), I felt worse than futile; frustrated, so confused and helpless. How do you pray for a child in Heaven? What could they want or need? Wisdom? Direction? Safety? Has even this one small act of loving service toward Joel been striped from me?
Then a couple of weeks ago, Holy Spirit met me at my altar and suggested that instead of praying for Joel, I could give thanks for all Joel is now enjoying in Heaven. I have offered thanksgiving for those things before.. in my journal, while on walks and in other holy places, but not in that very broken place at my laundry room altar. Learning that I could give thanks in my place of prayer was small victory in my struggle to continue in cheerful service. I plan to go back over the things I have learned about Heaven, make myself a more concrete list of things to be thankful for.. for Joel and for hope.. and hang it in my laundry room as a visual reminder.
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of Heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Colossians 3:1
Much like when I struggled to find safe things to be thankful for “My Cautiously Thankful When it Comes to the Temporarily Temporal Heart,” I am still fighting to find ways that I can pray for my surviving children and not be crushed a second time, if answered with a “No.” It’s not that I no longer pray big faith filled prayers. I still pray often for Joel’s resurrection. Not for the one I know we will all experience one day, but for the one where Joel walks in the door where my Roomba sweeps now and we are elated to welcome him home.
I am learning to ask believing my Cheerful Giver will answer with His best for us.. even if that includes sharing in His suffering. “Lord, please, heal, protect, give, lead, resurrect.. all according to Your will. Please, give us the strength to trust and obey in a way that honors You with cheerful service no matter what You allow.”
“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear. What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows..
32-34 “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in Heaven! And the purses of Heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
35-38 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.
Did you catch the overwhelming cheerfulness of our Father described by Jesus in verses 32 and 37?
“I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!” ~Jesus in verse 49
of the smoldering wick (Isaiah 42:3)