The church service that day was nice, nothing spectacular as I recall, but nice. After church, my boys and I went to the church playground. They played with their friends. I talked with my friends. Then it happened. A public display of my parenting failure, at least that’s how I saw it at the time.
Patrick was thirsty. Who wouldn’t be after playing in the Florida heat on a Sunday morning? I sent him to the church gazebo to get a cup of lemonade. Only moments later he came back to me with a green face and extreme nausea. Right there on the edge of the playground, Patrick threw up. I was pretty sure of what had happened.
Other parents looked at me, wondering why I wasn’t rushing him to the bathroom. Instead, I calmly told my 10-year-old to go to the bathroom and clean himself up. I wasn’t allowed to provide any nurturing here. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I was concerned about Patrick but also about what the other parents were thinking of me.
When a child has OCD, parents are taught to avoid providing comfort and additional attention when children give in to their obsessions and compulsions. Research has shown that such behaviors actually reinforce obsessions and compulsions. That’s just what had happened, but I knew that the other parents wouldn’t see it that way. I knew because that's not how I saw it before our years of therapy.
Patrick had a compulsion related to the number five. He had one cup of lemonade and was still thirsty. So he had another. But he couldn’t stop there. Once he had one cup, he had to go to five or a multiple of five. The result: he kept drinking until he made himself throw up. He wasn’t physically ill. This was his mental illness causing a physical reaction.
What the other parents didn’t see was me lean down to Patrick and ask him how much lemonade he’d had. As soon as he told me, I knew for sure that this was OCD and not a sick child. And I had to treat it that way.
James 1:2 teaches us that we are to be thankful and “consider it an opportunity for great joy” (NLT) when faced with troubles. I assure you I did not see the opportunity for joy that day.
Looking back on that event four years ago, I still don’t see joy the way I should. I do see good though. I realize that Patrick’s illness that day led me to share more about OCD with a few close friends at church. I realize that the physical reaction showed me how severe the obsession and compulsion were so that we could start addressing them more fervently. Patrick soon felt comfortable enough to share his OCD with some of his friends at church, too.
While we are taught to see each trouble as an opportunity for joy, I think we can all agree that such an attitude is easier said than done. Thankfully, James offers advice on how to do this just a few verses later. He instructs us to ask God for wisdom by placing our faith in God alone (James 1:5) then to be patient (v. 12). To be honest, I’m glad the Lord gave that guidance through James, but I’m not there yet. It's that second part about patience that messes me up every time.
In those moments when I’m unable to find joy or even hope for future joy, I cry out a simple prayer, “Lord, please show me how to better serve You.” Simply opening my mind and heart to His will helps me to endure, to wait with greater patience, and to make it through that moment.
Am I thankful that Patrick threw up that day at church? I confess that I'm not. While I have learned to see the good in it, God still has a lot of work left to do with me before I can reach the standard of thankfulness. But I am thankful that He doesn't give up on me.
How do you find joy in tough times? What scriptures inspire you? What prayers do you offer in those times? If you can’t answer those questions, go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to reveal the answers. He wants us to experience thankfulness and joy. And thankfully, He’s more patient in waiting for us than we are in waiting for Him.