It isn't easy for adults to be joyful in the midst of difficult circumstances. It's even tougher for kids. Children, with their concrete-thinking minds and lack of maturity, live in the moment. They often can't see beyond the immediate. Often they act like the crisis of the moment will never end.
So, living with an attitude of joy in the midst of difficult circumstances is hard. We need to help our kids see that joy is a choice. It's not dependent on what is happening to you. It's dependent on knowing that God is in control and that He loves us and wants a relationship with us.
Paul says in Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" He doesn't say "Rejoice when things are going well" or "Rejoice when everything is just the way you want it." He says "Rejoice in the Lord, always."
That seems impossible. Crummy stuff happens in our and our kids' lives. Someone makes fun of your child at school. Your daughter doesn't make the soccer team she tried out for. Your son strikes out three times at his baseball game. People get sick. Finances are in a shambles.
Yet in the midst of those trying moments, the Bible says "Rejoice!" Because we know that this is not all there is. We know that the eternity we gain when we accept Christ into our hearts is so much better than this troubled world. When we live with an eternal perspective, we discover that we have reason for joy.
Joy is a condition of the heart. It's not dependent on anything going on in our lives. We can be joyful even in the midst of the most dire circumstances because we know that God is in control and we have a relationship with Him because Jesus died on the cross for us.
Teaching our kids the difference between joy and happiness when they are young will give them an eternal perspective from which to approach the trials and frustrations of this life.
- Have your kids make a list of the things that make them happy. Think of Maria in "The Sound of Music," singing "My Favorite Things." That's the type of list your kids are creating. Have them write down the things that give them a pick-me-up. Talk about how all of those things are external things. They are things we can do or see or touch or eat. While they may make us happy for a few moments, they won't give us a long-term joy. Explain that our joy -- a long-term attitude -- comes from knowing God and having a relationship with Him. That type of joy lets us have a joyful attitude even when our external circumstances stink.
- Give your kids a Goldfish cracker or some other type of easily crushable cracker. Put the cracker on a paper towel. Tell your child to crush the cracker with his fingers and look at what happens. Then give your kids a wooden block. Ask them to crush the block with their fingers. The cracker will break into a bunch of tiny pieces, but unless you have a child with Herculean strength, the block won't even budge. Explain that bad things happen in our lives, and we can choose to either let those things crush us or we can choose to find joy in God despite our circumstance. If we choose to let external circumstances dictate our attitude, we're like the Goldfish -- easily crushed. But if we choose to find our joy in our relationship with God, we are like the block, and we can stand firm in the face of difficulties.
Help your kids understand that happiness is fleeting, but joy gives us strength. An attitude of joy lets us face whatever comes our way strong in the knowledge that the God of the universe loves us and He wants to have a relationship with us. That is the source of our joy, and no outside circumstance can take that joy away.