Dad and daughter drove off to an early morning coffee date on their way to school. I set the two breakfast plates on the table and called for the boy to join me. He hustled in and climbed up the big chair while chattering away, too-long pajama pants dangling to his pudgy toes.
He stopped mid-climb and mid-sentence and made a face. “Just peanut butter? But I wanted jelly. Or Tunella!” That’s his word for “Nutella,” a once-in-a-while treat that I have forever regretted purchasing.
I calmly sent him to his room, since he knows the rules very well: Complain about what you’re served? Sit on your bed until you have a thankful heart. That may sound harsh to some, but this is an on-going issue with the boy. He has developed a bad habit of this. To your room is now the immediate consequence, with an opportunity to re-enter and join the meal appropriately. And good grief, the kid asks for peanut butter nearly every time I serve him something else. UGH.
A few minutes later, he moped back in. If you’ve ever seen this boy mope, you know he does it well. Face hung, shoulders hung even more, so much so that it looked like he might actually topple forward. Slow walking with shuffling feet. Head swinging from side to side with each step.
He climbed back up in the chair, put his elbows on the table, and dramatically flopped his long-but-adorably-chubby cheeks into his hands with a sigh.
“So?” I asked. “What’s up?”
“I’m trying to decide,” he said with the saddest voice he could muster.
“Trying to decide what?”
“If I’m gonna choose joy or the grumps.”
I tried not to chuckle. “Ah. Looks to me like you’ve chosen already. But the great news is, you can still change your mind.”
He rattled off a few whiny remarks about his food, and how hard it is to choose joy when you really feel frustrated or angry or tired or don’t feel like eating something.
How thankful I am for a boy who can clearly communicate his every thought. Sure, sometimes it’s exhausting, but in moments like this, I so love that he can articulate exactly what he feels. It makes talking through his thoughts and feelings so much easier.
And it usually provides great teaching moments for both of us…
“Yep, I know, Bud. It’s hard to choose joy when you feel all those things. But that’s why joy isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice.” He looked up at me but didn’t respond – which is unusual – so I continued. “The Bible says to be joyful always. That means that even when we don’t feel happy, we can choose to be joyful…”
“I don’t want to choose to be joyful,” he interrupted with his down-in-the-dumps-voice. “I choose the grumps.” Without me saying a word, he slid off the chair and headed back to his bed, this time not as a consequence, but because he felt the need to sulk. At least he’s honest, I thought. And I can relate. I don’t always want to choose to be joyful, either.
I decided to eat my breakfast alone and give him time to think and calm down. After clearing my plate, he came back in, face still hung, shoulders still hung more, feet still shuffling along slowly. “Mommy, I just don’t want a peanut butter sandwich.” His face was pained.
“I know. And so you chose the grumps. What happens when you choose the grumps?”
“You get in trouble.”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you get something else for breakfast?”
“Did you get to eat with me?”
“So you didn’t get what you want. You were just miserable. And now you have to eat alone, so your problem got worse. What happens when you choose joy?”
“I don’t know. Because I still don’t know how to do that when I feel so mad.” Have you ever seen someone talk with their whole body? Flailing arms, face, torso all showed me the frustration of this comment. I’m sooo mad, and I have NO IDEA how to be joyful when I feel this way.
We talked about what it meant to choose joy. Be thankful for the many blessings we have. Be thankful for a special time with Mommy. Be thankful for getting your favorite green plate and not having to have eggs. Focus on the things that you can be thankful for, and remember that they are gifts from God. We talked about the rest of that verse. Be joyful always. Pray continuously. Give thanks in all circumstances.
He flashed his wide smile, and for the first time since I made his breakfast, his cheeks looked round again. “YEAH! And know what else I’m thankful for? Behind the man-cave (the play area he loves at the Krause House) there are some blackberry bushes. And when it’s Next-tember, I want to go PICK SOME!”
He chomped into his sandwich and started rattling off a list of things he was thankful for. “Mom, know what? I decided. Today, I’m gonna choose joy.”
And my heart smiled.
Cute story, huh?
Well, too bad it didn’t end there. But this is not Leave it to Beaver, and I am not June Cleaver. This is reality, people.
Maybe – hopefully – some of you can relate to what happened next: He chose the grumps every 2-3 minutes for the rest of the morning. Time to get dressed? I choose grumps. No snack? More grumps. Pick up your toys? Epic-ly grumpy grumps coupled with wailing and gnashing of teeth.
And in the meantime, I’m having to choose joy a million times every minute so I don’t lose it. <—– This itself is an absolute miracle right from Heaven, and likely happened only because I was doing my best to teach him about choosing joy, which is kind of hard to do when you’re screaming about it.
After much ignoring-with-a-plastered-smile by me and multiple back-and-forth to the bedroom by him (mostly his choice, unless of course “the grumps” resulted in a mini-fit in which case he went by my direction), I decided I’d help distract him…
I attempted a tickle fight, which resulted in a fair amount of giggles. And just for fun, I brought out the big guns… the squirt guns. (This possibly could have been more to get my own aggression out than to make him laugh, but whatever. Two birds, one stone.) After I totally kicked his 4-year-old-sopping-wet-tail, the grumps returned yet again.
Some days are just like that, right? We have to decide to choose joy in each moment. Not just once when we wake up. Not just after the first frustrating moment. But all along the way.
Today, I choose joy. Even though my head hurts. Even though my favorite shirt is dirty and the kitchen is a mess. Even though I’m about to run out of gas on the way to work and then I’m late and then I forgot my lunch in the messy kitchen and then someone makes a rude comment and I can’t find an important document and everything seems to be falling apart. And not to mention, my head still hurts.
I will choose joy. Because in your presence, Oh Lord, there is fullness of joy.
Joy isn’t about the circumstances I hold, but who is holding me in my circumstances.
I guess I just needed that reminder today.