It’s early Monday evening, though after this day, it feels late. My husband and I had a “mountaintop” kind of weekend, where we were alive and vibrant with godly fellowship and stimulating spiritual conversation. The type of moments you wish could carry on in perpetuity.
I figured going into today that, after such a great weekend, the enemy would be on high alert to steal my joy and kill my hope and destroy my vision.
Yup. Mission accomplished.
Girlfriend, it was a day. Kids crying. Kids whining. Kids fighting. Lots of spit up and messy meals and poop. I got poop on my shirt and didn’t even change it, because I was just that—I don’t know—worn out, I suppose. The thought of making one more trip up those stairs just didn’t seem worth it. So I wiped it as best I could and went on.
I was half way through my Costco trip before I caught a glimpse of the Greek yogurt finger-painting on my new capri pants, the creative work of my 1-year-old daughter. No wonder I got so many interesting looks.
The day went from bad to worse as the impact of my 2-year-old’s refusal to nap blossomed into a full-on tantrum meltdown of epic proportions. To top it all off, on Mondays my husband attends a men’s group starting at 7:30 pm—so he basically drops in long enough to eat the dinner I’ve miraculously managed to prepare in between refereeing “toy gate,” then swoops out to enjoy calm, mature adult conversation, conveniently missing the bedtime shenanigans.
I’m dismayed and discouraged by the chaotic state of my house, but more so by the messy state of my heart. I feel an edge of bitterness, resentment, under-appreciation; basically, the makings of a legit pity party. How is it that the pity party mentality is so unattractive in others, yet so appealing when it comes to ourselves?
At any rate, I’m trying to fight it. Trying to fight the emotion, the lies, the pride, the frustration. It’s what I call collectively “The Ick.” Ick is a very (non)scientific term that includes any and all emotion, feeling, juju, etc., that leaves us feeling grumpy, disconnected, and distanced from our Heavenly Father. When it hits, I feel as though I’ve taken a wrong turn and slipped right down the rabbit hole, and I’m powerless to shake free from the dark cloud swirling above my head.
I hate this feeling. Despise it with all my being. And the unfortunate truth is, I battle with it more than I wish was the case. Tonight, the juxtaposition of my weekend and my weekday have me screaming inside, what is the solution? What is the answer to The Ick?? I so desperately long to steer my heart and spirit back on track after it’s taken this kind of downturn, or even better, as soon as I feel it coming on. I’ve been asking God to show me an answer, and while I do not (and never will) claim to have the answer to anything, He has given me some insight and wisdom over the recent weeks. I share the following for myself, because processing through writing leads me to growth and freedom, and for you, because it is my sincere hope that you, too, might glean something useful in your own battle with The Ick. Here’s what I’m learning to do:
Put Yourself in Time Out
Isn’t it staggering what parenthood teaches us about ourselves and about God? Seemingly every week I’m learning something new, having some fresh “aha” moment on account of my little ones. In my experience, “time out” has just as much relevance for us adults as it does for our recalcitrant toddlers. I’m forming the habit of putting myself into “time out” whenever I find my heart being drug away from steadiness and sanity because of The Ick. But rather than sulking in the pack-and-play, I take this time out sitting humbly and desperately at the feet of Jesus. Psalm 142:1-2 says, “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before Him my complaint; before Him I tell my trouble.” (NIV).
The idea of “pouring out my complaint” always sounded good on paper, but it felt a bit silly in practice . . . with people starving to death and war tearing lives and bodies apart in this world, does God really have time for the things shaking up my spirit? Again, parenthood provides wisdom: have you ever once looked at your hurting child and thought, there are so many bigger problems in the world right now, I simply don’t have time to deal with your problem? In a word, no. And the same is true of our Heavenly Father. I’ve been awestruck by the peace I’ve gained by running to Him and telling Him all the things—big and small—that hurt my heart and steal my joy.
In the past, I’ve felt this need to push past my feelings, as if ignoring them will make them dissipate; but ignoring only seemed to magnify The Ick. Steal away for a few minutes anywhere you can—the closet, the bathroom, the stairwell at work—and air you grievances to your Heavenly Father. He cares, and He alone can provide the peace we really need!
Put Yourself in God’s Word
One of the best ways I’ve found to shake off The Ick is by immersing myself in God’s word. I used to think this had to be a long, drawn-out, monk-like process of sitting quietly for a significant period of time. Well, who besides monks has time for that? And the great news is, a large block of time isn’t necessary. Sometimes I’m up early enough that I can spend longer in His Word, and I’m thankful for those times. But, taking even 10-15 minutes to read Scripture can make all the difference. I feel tongue-tied trying to explain the innate, surprising power of Scripture to change a hardened heart, but therein lies the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit: the words of the Bible are not like any other words on this planet.
Hebrews 4:12 says,“ For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (NIV, emphasis added). When we read God’s word, our mere mortal beings collide with the spirit world. We can’t help but be changed by such an encounter. In my experience, even reading “dry” Old Testament passages sends the joy of the Holy Spirit bubbling up to the surface. The Bible is God’s love letter to us, and we will feel that love when reading it.
I love all of His word, but if you’re new or newer to Bible reading, or short on time, the Psalms are a great place to find encouragement. In them, I often discover a reflection of my own troubled spirit. How encouraging to know that even King David—the man after God’s own heart—cried out, “To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me . . . Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place.” (Psalm 28:1a, 2 NIV). Let Scripture wash over you for a little bit and be amazed at what God can do!
Stop, Drop, and Give Thanks.
The transformative power of giving thanks never ceases to amaze me. Several years ago, I read Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts” and it changed my life. Not for a day or a week or a month, but forever. I cannot recommend her book highly enough! One of the main principles that stuck with me is the crucial importance of cultivating a “language of thanksgiving.” As sinful, fallen beings, our default setting is not one of gratitude, but rather of the “why me?” and “this isn’t fair!” kind. Through a deliberate, concerted effort to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” we can begin to learn the new language of thankfulness, and to see God’s good hand in everything that touches our lives. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV)
When I’m caught in the clutches of The Ick, the last thing I want to do is name off things for which I’m thankful. I mean, the last. Recently when in a funk, Aaron innocently asked me to name a thing I was thankful for in my day. It was his good-natured attempt at pulling me out of the funk, yet in the moment, this request incensed me! I can laugh about this now, because when I stopped and thought about the day and actually named something out loud, I felt my frigid heart begin to change. And in my experience, the hardest part is taking the first step—once I name a gift, then two, then three, the gratitude ball begins rolling. It’s like finding your glasses after they’ve been knocked off your face. You can finally see again.
So, there you have it—just a few tools that I hope you’ll find useful. I’m finding this process incredibly simple, yet deceptively difficult . . . but practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. And in the daily grind of life, I’m certain there will be no shortage of opportunities!