When The Joy Runs Out (by Micha Boyett)


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today I am thrilled to share a guest post from one of my favorite writers, Micha Boyett.  Micha (pronounced "MY-cah") is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet.  She and her husband live in San Francisco with their two boys. A former youth minister, she's passionate about monasticism and ancient Christian spiritual practices and how they inform the contemporary life of faith.  

Micha’s first book, Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer released just yesterday, and let me tell you, it’s fantastic. Endorsed by Ann Voskamp, Mary Karr, Sarah Bessey and Yours Truly, Found opens a door to Benedictine spirituality through which regularly, busy people can enter and taste, see, smell, hear, and feel what it means to live life as prayer. If you’ve been struggling with prayer—particularly as a busy parent—this is the read for you. 

But in the meantime, savor this beautiful reflection on joy: 


When the Joy Runs Out

by Micha Boyett

I gather my two pajama-clad boys in the lamp-lit living room. They climb the couch and lean against me, warm and snuggly. They wrestle for the coveted spot in my lap. The oldest is foggy-headed. The younger one always wakes chipper. He babbles on about Mickey Mouse and “Diny” and their adventures on a train last night. I listen, then tickle the older boy’s back and talk him through his day. Today is library day and he needs to grab his book and stick it in his backpack.

Somehow it’s already 6:50. Ugh. These kids are slow as molasses. This could be a disaster. I kiss their faces and send them to their room to dress themselves. “I’m setting the timer, boys!” I yell down the hall. “If you’re not dressed by 7, you have to eat your breakfast in the car!”

I run downstairs where my husband stands in front of the mirror, already dressed for work, his shirt tucked in, his jaw set in that superman stare he makes when he’s concentrating.

This will be another morning without a shower. A bun-on-top-of-my-head morning.

There’s a rumble overhead. “Boys!” I shout up the stairs. “I hope you’re getting dressed!”

They make it in time for cereal and I spread peanut butter and jelly onto bread, slice apples, pack my computer, finish the permission slip for the Kindergartener’s coming field trip.

We are five minutes late once everyone is buckled tight and the car spins out into the rain. “But 7:35 is pretty good,” I whisper to the dashboard.

*

I’ve had a Sandra McCracken song on repeat in the car these past few days, Oh for grace to be somebody other than this / To be loved with a love that I cannot resist.

I’m sure I sang that line to the skies long before I found Sandra’s words. And now, when she sighs them through the speakers of my car, I nod my head. Yes.

“We want kid music! Mommy!” one of the voices whines behind me. I hold those words a moment longer.

To be loved with a love that I cannot resist.

*

Last month, my pastor preached a sermon on John 2, that story of Jesus’ first miracle. A wedding that runs out of wine. Water remade blood red.

“What Jesus is doing here is replacing the joy,” my pastor said.  The party had failed in its hospitality and that’s embarrassing, of course. But under that story of water turned to wine is something bigger. It’s a story about everything we strive to fill our lives with, everything that fails to make us whole.

“Jesus is saying, ‘I know what you’re looking for and it’s not found here. It’s found in me,’” my pastor said.

Found. There’s that word. I always come home to that word. “In the greatest pain and suffering of our life is when we really understand that the joy actually does run out,” my pastor said. “Look at where you’re frantic and that’s probably the place where you’re trying to find joy.”

Look where you’re frantic.

*

There was a hallway outside the great big sanctuary in my childhood church. It was covered in framed photos of the church members who had gone on to full-time ministry: the missionaries, the pastors. They were the special ones, the important ones. All I ever wanted was to be included among them. All I wanted was a life that mattered.

That’s not why I went into ministry. Not really. I became a youth pastor because I loved Jesus and loved high school students. I had the energy to take a pie in the face, get it sprayed off with a water gun, sing songs at the top of my lungs, and then sit with kids and their heavy questions. Could God really love them? My job was to do all of those things: the pie and the holy conversations, one right after another. I loved it.

But we’re all full of mixed motives, aren’t we? My deepest insecurities found temporary comfort through my job. Underneath my spiritual confidence, I wasn’t sure I could ever really please God. I had too many doubts, too much anxiety. I didn’t pray enough. So I worked harder doing the work that counted most. Please God. Let my life matter.

*

When Jesus is faced with a party full of wedding goers and a room of empty wine goblets, his mother asks him to do something.  

He takes the stone jars used for ritual cleansing, water meant to scrub the people clean enough for God’s holy presence. Those jars are empty. Jesus takes them and fills them with ordinary water. Then he undoes that water’s chemistry. He undoes the elements.  Those jars of water are flooded with rich, aged wine.

You can’t scrub yourself clean with wine.

*

One year into motherhood, I quit ministry. I was exhausted. I had filled my days with the needs of my baby and the needs of my students, and lost prayer somewhere in the in-between. I blamed myself. I never said it out loud, but I knew I was a failure. If I had just worked harder, slept less, pushed through, I could have made it work.

Oh for grace to be somebody other than this.

I left ministry and moved with my husband across the country. And in a new city, with a new job as “stay-at-home-mom,” I wobbled. I was prayerless and sad.

In San Francisco, I wasn’t a minister. I wasn’t impressive to my new church. I wasn’t impressive to the strangers at the park. And I certainly wasn’t impressive to God. I had lost my dreams of being enough. And now, I couldn’t even remember how to pray. My fears and doubts raged.

The joy had run out.

*

Oh for grace, to be measured by more than my means / And to love with a love that gives free without strings.

“Change the song to something fun!” my boys scream. I turn the corner in the rain.

I think how much of my life I spent scrubbing myself with ceremonial water, refilling the jars, begging God to make my life holy enough. And all along, the containers weren’t empty at all. Wine was ready for the taking.

The story of Jesus is always shocking and usually begins in the simple places. I sit in the rain-soaked school-drop-off lane with a line full of other, ordinary people in cars.

God adds water to empty jars, undoes molecules, and the outcome is absurd and beautiful. We are invited to live the narrative of resurrection. God crushed and poured out. The one come from water, brought back as wine.

Here. Right now, in my unimpressive, ordinary morning: This is where Jesus takes my worn out empty self and changes the molecules.  The miracle is happening.

Over and over again, and I cannot resist it.

***

Find Micha on Twitter, Facebook, and at michaboyett.com.

And don't forget to check out her beautiful book, Found. 

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