My son turned four in January, and I have to say, I love my kids’ birthdays. I get so sentimental every time one comes around. I look back at pictures from the day they were born. I watch videos from their slobbering toddler years. I laugh with tears in my eyes at their preschool antics. I give them double the amount of hugs and special attention because I feel so lucky they are mine.
I love asking them what they want their theme to be. I tuck a special note with sparkly stickers and tiny toys in their lunch box on their birthday. I send them to school with cookies. I wake them up with a, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!”” even before their eyes open for the day. I invite family over for their favorite food and cake and ice cream and games and presents. I arrange a playdate with their friends for more food and cake and games and presents.
I’m even a sucker for Party City, with their themes and decorations and party favors and balloons. I love seeing my kids’ faces when they see their cake, even if I threw it together myself. I love searching for the perfect gift. I love seeing how happy they are to have their family and friends come to help celebrate.
I love celebrating them. On their birthdays, all I can see is their shining qualities, our best and most fun memories, and all the amazing things they add to my life. I barely even sense a shadow of the sleepless nights they’ve caused me. I don’t care what two pregnancies have done to my body. I don’t think about what we’re missing by choosing to bring these two into our lives. I don’t think about all the times they regularly drive me insane, hurt my feelings, and push me to the brink of insanity with their behaviors.
I don’t have the faintest recollection of any of it on their birthdays because all I can see is how amazing they are. And I celebrate that.
I used to think maybe I went overboard on birthdays. But this week I got to thinking. How often do we just stop and celebrate? Not just birthdays, but anything at all? I was reminded of one of my favorite books, Celebration of Discipline. The last chapter in that book is about the discipline of celebration. He writes about how embracing a spirit of celebration can make us strong:
“The carefree spirit of joyous festivity is absent in contemporary society. Apathy, even melancholy, dominates the times. Modern man has been pressed so hard toward useful work and rational calculation he has but all forgotten the joy of ecstatic celebration. Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong. Scripture tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength.”
I am usually refreshed and renewed in my love for my kids and for the hard work of parenting after their birthdays. It’s a day to shed all the tough stuff and celebrate motherhood and their precious presence in my life. Birthdays focus my heart on all the wonderful things they bring to my life, all the joy we share, and all the ways we have grown as a family. It not only blesses me, but it blesses my kids.
This discipline of celebration would serve me well in other areas of my life. Take my marriage, for example. Yes, we do dinner each year on our anniversary and get each other mushy, usually inappropriate cards from Target. But do we really celebrate? I mean, have a party, invite our friends, build each other up, and gush over how awesome it is to have accomplished all these years of marriage and to gush over how amazing I think he is? To see all of his incredible qualities and to acknowledge all the ways marriage has made us better?
Or what about a milestone? Or the anniversary of a dream job or purchase of a dream house? Or maybe even a friendship or group of friendships? Hey, let’s all get together and just be thankful we are friends. Or hey, you’ve been my best friend forever, can I treat you to a coffee or an ice cream or an evening of fun together? You could even celebrate a milestone in your health: weight loss, quitting smoking, fitness goals. Look how much stronger and healthier you are! Celebrate that! You could even celebrate a milestone of personal growth: the start of your faith journey, the breaking of a terrible habit, orthat new habit you finally were able to conquer.
Or maybe we just need to celebrate that we are alive and life has been quietly great for awhile. Or the opposite: life’s been hard. Really hard. Let’s celebrate that we are still kickin’ it with the people we love. There’s no small thing to be celebrated.
How cool would it be if we discipline ourselves to celebrate the good things in our lives on a regular basis? Maybe we wouldn’t compare ourselves so much to others. Maybe we wouldn’t be so hard on the people we love most. Maybe (probably) we would be happier. It’s like wiping the slate clean. Shed the negative and refocus on the positive. That doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen. It’s like a gratitude journal in party form.
I don’t think joy has to be a fake or fluffy thing we do. It’s a discipline in and of itself. Sometimes it takes discipline to celebrate people or things in our lives. It takes discipline sometimes to focus on the good because all we can see is all the work we have left.
But don’t forget about all the work you’ve done. Mark the progress. Pat yourself on the back. Offer thanks to God for your good gifts.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10