(This is the third in a series. Start here.)
Paul says that all things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful (1 Cor. 6:12a). This is so very true when I consider all the roles I took on during that time. None of them were inherently wrong, and some people I know and love do all of these jobs (as one person) on a daily basis. I am not criticizing the roles we take on at all or the people that choose to take them on. The problem was that to do all those things at the time was beyond unhelpful for me in a very destructive way. I am honing in on the fact that some times we take on good, wonderful things for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes we are running so fast that we can’t even stop to consider our reasons for doing so in the first place.
The next thing we know, we’re brought low by terrible stitches in our side, charley horses in our legs, unbelievable exhaustion, and more often than not, serious injury.
The question is why.
Why are we running? Why did our walk turn to a run? Are we running towards something? Or away? What messages are thudding in our ears, drowning out our heart’s call?
The number one reason I was running crazy wind sprints from homeschooling my kids to working full time from home to coordinating and teaching a homeschool co-op plus being a wife and mother and back again? I thought I had to. There are a myriad reasons why I thought it was so and I’ll begun unpacking that, but I want to say this first and foremost. Anytime something locks you up like that? I have to do this. If I don’t do this I am ______. The whole world is at stake if I don’t ________. My kids will _______ if I don’t do ______. I will be a failure if ______. I am not a good person/Christian/mama/wife/employee if I do________. These thoughts that keep you up at night? Give you panic attacks? That make you pick up those shoes and flat out run?
LIES. All lies. And they originate in the father of lies who wants to slap shackles on your heart, mind, and soul, keeping you running mad and crazy so you can’t stop, and you can’t listen, to the soft heartbeat of love and grace that God whispers to us in every moment.
I have to ______ is pride talking. It assumes that you have to do this thing, accomplish this mission, because you are in control of whatever situation is at hand. When I hear this phrase, I question my focus. Am I trusting that God is control? Or am I putting myself in a position I shouldn’t be in?
The whole world (or my world as I know it) is at stake if I don’t________________. (And yes, I realize this is hyperbole, but I know if I’ve said it in my head in fit of pique, wellll…) Either we trust in God’s mercy to see us through and that God indeed works all things together for good, or we give into the awful lie of pride that our way is absolutely the best way for things to happen. Now, does this mean that a choice, transition, or change won’t perhaps hurt like hell and feel like the world is ending? Not by any means. We will suffer, and things won’t be easy. Whether that is to God’s glory or as a natural consequence of a sin or bad choice is not for us to say. Either way, we’ve got to lean hard into Christ’s goodness and mercy.
The last three are bit harder to unpack. In my own life, I know that one of the main reasons I took on this slavish, death-bringing wind sprint was because I thought it was what a good _______ did. Brene Brown calls this hustling for our worthiness. We can’t make ourselves worthy of anybody, least of all God. The loved ones in our lives become so because they are drawn in by our worthiness to them, whatever it may be. It isn’t ever something we can force. Love is never forced. It is grace and mercy and hope and a thousand other things wrapped into a constant that even scientists can’t define. The minute we try to hustle, make ourselves ‘good’, check the box, we’ve missed the boat.
Emily P. Freeman writes about this extensively in Grace for the Good Girl, so I’m not going to delve very deep here, but I think the question that has to come when faced with phrases like the last three is how am I defining good? What is in my head that is saying to me, a good mama does x, y, z? A good employee would never ____? These answers have to be held up to the light of day and examined in prayer, held against Holy Scripture, and where possible, discussed with a spiritual mentor or Father Confessor if you are Orthodox or Catholic. I’ll tell you right now, they aren’t comfortable discussions. But they are necessary, good, life-giving discussions.
One of the answers you’ll find there is that we are afraid to be a failure, or to be seen as a failure. Whether or not it is factually true that we failed, we don’t even want the appearance of having failed. Shame is a powerful, heart-rending motivator, but it always brings death.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
We build up failure in our head so much that it ceases to be what it is: a tool for learning. Every mistake teaches us about ourselves and what we can do differently next time. Sometimes, the world is going to tell us we are failing, try to shame us into a position we don’t belong in. So what! We have to answer for ourselves, not them. Oh, how I know this is easier said than done. I fail at letting that go, too. Each day is a process, a turning, a beginning again.
The difference I find between then, when I was running so fast, and now has to do my internal heart stance. Back then, I made a lot of choices out of shame and a sense of obligation, taking on far more than was healthy for me in that time of my life.
Contrast that with the time that ran from January to June of this year- a stretch of time that looked awfully familiar in the uncertainty, exhaustion, and complete loss of steady pace due to Josiah’s frequent hospitalizations. Outwardly they may share some similarities, but my heart is in a very different place. I said no to a lot of good in that time span. I prayed a lot. Often it was the only thing I could do. I said no to continuing to-do lists that just could not be accomplished in the crazy. Our house dropped to bare minimum chores, the paper plates came out, the crockpot hardly turned off. I rested as often as I felt the need, knowing that preemptive self care would go miles farther than trying to recover from exhaustion and illness, if it could be helped. (Our bodies are not able to sustain constant stress and we will suffer if pushed too hard, too long. It’s not an if. It’s a when.)
If you were to look in on my life during those six months without knowing the background story of a child constantly in the hospital and scary medical issues and surgery of my own, you’d definitely have labeled me a failure on a lot of levels. You’d assume I was anti-social. I’ve learned to pull in boundaries and protect my heart in times of extreme stress, leaning only on my trusted inner circle. My house was a near-constant mess, laundry always waiting to be processed, paper plates and crunchy, sticky floors. There was a lot of meals that weren’t necessarily healthy, but fast and yummy. You’d assume I was lazy, especially when you’d catch me taking a nap in the afternoon, right there in the middle of the mess. You’d look at my mismatched clothes and my messy hair and the fourth cup of coffee in my hand and you’d assume I didn’t steward myself well. I know what people assume because they’d say as much to me at times! I know what I would think if I didn’t know the whole story. In the world’s eyes, I was failing, miserably. But dear reader, you and I know the fuller picture, don’t we? I was failing to meet people’s expectations, yes, but I was not failing myself or my family. I was dwelling in my life, doing what was wisest for the needs of the moment. (Ok, so maybe the fourth cup of coffee wasn’t so wise, but give a girl some leeway.) I feel at complete peace with how this last half year turned out. Did I make mistakes? Yes. Did I hurt people at times? Yes. Will I do things a bit better, a bit differently, if I have to endure another such period? Yes.
I am at peace that I did the best I could with what was given to me. That’s all I can ever ask of myself. I don’t feel the same sense of peace when I think back to then. I feel immense sorrow when I think of then. I wasn’t giving my best. I was giving what I thought was good, trying to move outside of myself and my abilities, and that is a big difference.