The apostle Paul lived before Twitter became a thing, but if he’d had access to social media I can imagine him tweeting, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
I doubt his message would have gone viral; it’s a bit too perky. But this is not a case of over-optimism. The man who wrote these words was in prison; the people he addressed were confronting life-altering difficulties of all kinds. And Paul was not alone—every book of the New Testament carries this theme. Rejoice in the Lord. Not because we are naively privileged and have no real sense of sorrow or suffering. No, we are called to rejoice because God’s joyous presence is. And through the practice of celebrating, we learn to see and embrace it and fan it into flame.
Have you ever undergone physical therapy? I once had to relearn the use of my left hand, and the therapy required was painful. It wasn’t fun; it was suffering. I didn’t go to the therapist because I took so much joy in bending my broken fingers again and again, but because I had so much pain in the practice.
Likewise, we don’t draw our attention to the daily miracles of life and beauty because we are so peaceful and joyful, but because we are miserable, tense, and worried. Celebration is practice, and spiritual disciplines are physical therapy for the soul. With each painful repetition we gain a bit more mobility, a bit more strength. We wouldn’t need so many reminders to rejoice unless we so often didn’t feel like rejoicing. Mindful celebration is how we turn our troubled spirits to God and choose life. One tiny baby step at a time.
I’m rushing to the store and make a left-hand turn onto the highway—and right into the most magnificent sunset. Walking down the sidewalk I notice the beads of dew still clinging to the velvet-soft leaves of my newly budding trees. Interrupted after bedtime again the evening before my deadline, I notice how sweet my girl looks in her footie pajamas.
Of course, this might not be enough. There may be deep problems that plague your spirit, that call for radical interventions. After all, cancer is not cured by physical therapy! If you are experiencing abuse, you need help and a major life change. If you’re experiencing depression or a mental illness, you need competent, compassionate clinical help. But throughout it all, celebration is the daily practice that will make us stronger, that will shine a bit more light into our spirits, day after difficult day.
The purpose of spiritual exercise has always been to infuse daily life with opportunities to practice placing our eyes on God rather than on ourselves—loosening our grip on everything else and falling into him.
Motherhood does this on its own, each and every day, if we let it. So, what if we take our focus off what we fail to do, and instead awaken to the efforts we put forth every single day?
Just as my children rehearse scales and ball dribbling, there is value in practicing spiritual disciplines. A life spent cultivating prayer and service, meditation and worship, fasting and celebration, will reap a harvest. Our mommy days are fertile ground for this practicing, because our mundane moments are ripe with opportunities to lose our grip, our patience, ourselves.
Yes, we rejoice in these everyday miracles not because we are so happy, but because we desperately need the practice.
Taken from Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood As a Spiritual Discipline by Catherine McNiel. Copyright © 2017. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.