Happiness runs. Joy stands.

When asking parents their greatest goal for their kids, so many answer, “All I want is for them to be happy.” But the reality is that there will be many circumstances our kids will encounter, unexpected hurdles or unfortunate events, that will try to steal their happiness.  Instead, the Bible speaks about a joy of the Lord that surpasses occurrences or temperament. We have an opportunity to give our kids a front row seat to the grace of God as we navigate painful circumstances. This last December I had a miscarriage, my second miscarriage. In fact I’ve been pregnant four times in the last five years. The only thing I’ve ever wanted was to be a mother. David and I do have two incredible daughters, Vivian (age five) and Violet (age two).

I was ten weeks along in this pregnancy. The devastation of loss hit me much harder than last time. I had a lot of questions for God. Mostly, why is this happening again? Why me? And a whole lot more of why me? Why me? Why me? Through a lot of time in prayer, the still quiet voice kept beckoning me to praise Him and number my blessings. It was counter-intuitive to all that I was feeling. I really just wanted to binge on junk food, sleep, and have everyone feel sorry for me.

His beckoning got louder. “In the presence of the Lord is fullness of Joy.” (Psalm 16:11) That truth ran though my head and I could not shake it. Then a friend’s words from an old post started playing over and over in my mind as well. “So much has been given to me I don’t have time to ponder what I have been denied.” The more I meditated on these things, the more I realized the way we experience authentic joy and enter in to His presence is through gratitude and praise.

The enemy gains territory in our life when we refuse to give up our pain to God: when hold on to it, roll in it, and complain about it. However, God, in all of His faithfulness, never wastes our pain. He uses it to bless others, if we get out of the way and let Him.

Over the last couple months as I’ve started to practice gratitude, little by little, the joy has followed. When we focus on our Creator and the gifts he has given us, we the shift our focus from what we don't have to the miraculous work God has done in our lives. We position ourselves to receive the joy of the Lord and not the counterfeit imitation we try to manufacture in our flesh.

As parents we want desperately for our kids to be happy. But, in reality, we’re not in charge of our children’s happiness. Happiness depends on circumstances and we all know circumstances are constantly changing like unexpected twists and turns on a roller coaster. Trying to continually control circumstances for our kids so that they will be happy will wear us out.

We are responsible to teach our kids gratitude and how to be thankful for everything. We need to teach them happiness is external and joy is internal. Happiness is fleeting. Joy comes from our willingness to align our attitude with that of Jesus.

The other day when I picked up my oldest up from school, she immediately started in with complaints about how bad the day was and how nothing was going her way. Oh the drama! I think one of the other kids had taken the crayon she wanted to use to finish her picture. “Why me? Why me? Why me!”

I’ve been trying to be more intentional about asking God to help me, especially in these situations. There are a million lessons I could have barked at her or explained for the hundredth time, the value of sharing, blah, blah, blah. It all feels so forced and obligatory.

I thought of Philippians 4:8. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - If anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”  I wanted to quote it to her like “Take that, five year old!”

Fortunately, I held my tongue. God doesn’t take pleasure in our pharisaical parenting, but smiles at putting His word into action. I asked her what was good about her day. It took a little prodding, but eventually her arms unfolded. I then went on to ask her about things she loved. Her list was awesome! It included puppy dogs, pancakes, erasers; footie pajamas, sunshine, and Tinkerbelle’s wings. By the time we pulled in the driveway, her complaining turned into giggly joy. There was a lesson there for both Vivian and me.

In one of Pastor Mark’s recent sermons he said something that has stayed with me. He said he’s trying to become more nuanced in thanking God for the small things. Instead of just thanking him for the cookie, he is thanking him for the spice in the cookie. I think the more nuanced we become in gratitude, the more nuanced the joy is that follows.

This year, I want to start thanking God more for nuanced blessings: like hazelnut coffee, timely green lights, and Tinkerbelle wings. I love how Psalms 100:4 says it. “Enter in to his gates with thanksgiving and a thank offering and into His courts with praise! Be thankful and say so to Him, bless and affectionately praise His name!”

It’s as simple as opening our mouths. It means taking opportunities to practice gratitude with our kids. In exchange for our praise, God gives us joy unspeakable. Once again, God always out gives us.

Jill Jones is an author, small business owner and a stay at home mom. Jill and her husband David live in Herndon, VA with their two daughters Vivian and Violet. David and Jill serve on the nursery team at NCC’s Ballston campus and Jill heads up a Mom’s Night Out small group.