As a teacher in Grace Kids, I’m always mentally juggling all the big and small things I want kids to learn. We have our monthly themes, our monthly bible verses and our bottom lines. But the Sunday school lessons are just part of what the kids are learning. We are also working to teach them the life lessons that God has shown us.
Two years ago, our staff went on a retreat to Algonquin Park, Canada. I’m not really sure that “retreat” accurately depicts the trip. While there was some relaxation, group discussion, laughter and contemplation, we spent most of our time in canoes, paddling hard, digging deep for strength and trying to reach our next campsite without tipping over, killing each other or quitting.
It was an extremely challenging trip for me. I was in the middle of a massive lake that covered as far as I could see with no way out for six days. I was pushed to my mental, spiritual and physical limits. If you know me, you know I’m competitive and quitting is not an option. So, when I was asked to carry a 50 lb canoe on my shoulders, along with my 40 lb backpack, across a mile of uneven ground, after rowing for four hours and still having three more hours to go, I did it. When I was at my lowest point, mentally and physically drained, and I was out voted by the team to keep going and not rest, I did it. When it was my day to lead and I knew that any mistake could add hours to the day, I did it. I never quit.
Even though I refused to give up, I realized that my attitude was holding me back, not my ability to complete a task. I was angry, sad and entitled. My attitude said, “I hate you for making me do this, but I’m going to show you and do it, so there!”
I didn’t think I had a choice about how I felt. I just followed my emotions. However, what I learned on that trip to the middle of nowhere Canada, was that I have the power to choose joy in every situation. It felt completely and utterly impossible to choose joy in the midst of tears, frustration, loneliness, anger and pain. But once I started to practice choosing joy, it got a little easier each time. Once I chose joy, my emotions would soon follow and that was then reflected in my attitude. I believe that this is how God wants me to respond to life. Not only to choose him daily but to choose joy in the midst of the unknown and in the middle of struggle. It just makes life better!
To me, this lesson is priceless. I use it every day and it makes life better. I wish I had started practicing this earlier in life, but my hope now is that I can share this bit of wisdom in Grace Kids! I want to help the kids practice choosing joy in order to build character. We don’t have to be slaves to our emotions. We have a choice. We always have the freedom to choose how to respond to life, even when we are stuck in a canoe.