Today is a big day. Today is my long-awaited first day to breathe deeply again. Unfortunately I’m having trouble stilling my thoughts.
In mid-February I finished a ten-month writing project (yay!) after balancing it with two others since last fall (phew!). For nearly a year I’ve been governed by meticulous time management, holding my breath lest a big interruption derail my efforts, juggling all the balls without dropping any on my children’s heads or lobbing one at my husband’s. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write. The creation and refining. How a phrase sprouts from a single thought and blossoms into a chapter. But it is a process that taps my energy deep inside my gut and yanks it all the way up and out through my head. Over and over until the end. It’s exhausting.
When everything seemed on course at the beginning of 2014, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and finally allowed myself to dream of the upcoming post-project break. I envisioned taking time for any old thing my heart longed to do: relax, read, bike, window shop, play. However, as life would have it, my R&R was delayed several more weeks by caring for a houseful with the flu and strep and lack of sleep and more snow days (a plethora). Granted, the abundance of time with the family offered a lot of sweetness, but eventually sickness and snow need to go (amen?).
So today, instead of recollecting myself, I’m feeling more scattered than ever. It’s no wonder that this morning–when both kids are back in school, no one is sick at the moment, and no winter storm lurks in the forecast–I’m struggling to find my next purpose, the next first-things-first thing.
I’m pretty sure some of my scattered thoughts are still gasping for breath back in November or January, so this recovery phase may take a while. I think back over just this past weekend and sigh. Sure it held laughs and precious memories, but my thoughts zero in on whether I’ve been enough for my family. I have to work hard at patience. I wouldn’t characterize myself as a yeller, but my tone can get testy when it should sound more upbeat. And this morning I sent two not-so-happy children off to school. My son’s tears were brief amidst complaints about having to go back. My daughter’s were more lasting and haunting to my heart. Did I comfort enough before sending them off to do what they need to do? Sure I’d had enough of the whining, the griping, the wishes for more, more, MORE of me; but mama-guilt visits anyway and it’s a demanding guest. And to top it off (BIG SIGH), I’ve been eating too much sugar as a coping mechanism and feeling the effects. Irritation, indignation, inflammation! And I wonder why I see the best and worst from my children?
So much for my determination to maintain patience and a good attitude–at least a better one than I expect from my kids. So much for my 2014 word of the year: delight. Delight isn’t the beat of my heart right now. If only I could still my spirit. If only I could reduce the inner frenzy, enjoy the here and now. If only.
I picked up Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus on a recent morning similar to this one. No coincidence. A slim book, easy to read, it has been sitting on my shelf for years, but I hadn’t read it. Well, it hooked me with the first couple of paragraphs. Nouwen speaks of how he was forced “to let go of my relevant self–the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things–and forced . . . to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments” (chapter one).
I’ve noticed something peculiar about my temperament. Back a decade or so ago when I worked in an office full-time, when I had coworkers to relate to, people who weren’t committed to me for a lifetime, I rolled with stress better than I do now. More effectively than I do in my own home with my cherished family.
At home we’re supposed to be allowed to let things fall. To be released from the pressure to be on, to do, to perfect, to achieve, to surpass. We need this down time to feel life’s highs and lows in security. To connect with who we are and who God wants to be in our lives, freed from pressures that eventually dull us.
When I give in to demands to keep the schedule filled with opportunities, to push my kids to achieve now so they don’t lag behind later, when I don’t embrace the glory time of refreshment, I’m giving in and believing a lie that says we’re on this earth to prove ourselves. It tells us we must be bigger, better, stronger, smarter, always moving fast to be fully alive.
But we miss something greater when we are too busy to recognize the lie for what it is.
You see, when I review the past weeks and even just this morning, I see my children’s struggles with emotions and attitudes and my own battle to relax. I understand that they are adjusting to being back to school after a full weekend, a time change, and a chopped-up school schedule this winter season. We’re off-kilter around here and for good reason. For my daughter, as much as she loves to get out and go and learn and grow, she loves time to be cozy at home. She insisted on quitting dance last month because she was done. She needed a break to breathe too. And my son . . . as tenderhearted as he is, he is a growing boy with testosterone flowing, who is learning to manage his aggression and coming to terms with what it means to feel frustrated but not to let those rule his behavior. A lesson his mother still struggles to learn. Is that best learned filling up his agenda without giving him space in his day to let him be him? He’s seven, and he does a superb job staying on task for seven solid hours a day five days a week. If he doesn’t have time to breathe slowly, that aggression’s going to pop, and who could blame him.
So what am I trying to say? I quit.
I quit the hamster wheel that pushes me to push. I want to be here and now. I want to slow the pace, purposefully, so that I can be my best for the primary ones in my life, so that I stand a stronger chance of nurturing the best in them. I want to actually delight, not just think about the concept in a wistful way. I want to free my children from the trap that says they have to be involved in such and such so that they can compete well in later years. I will not, WILL NOT, give in to the lie that says they must be on the track of star athlete or musical prodigy or future Nobel-prize winner. I want to protect their need to just be, and their time to play, at home, no agenda. I want them to be them because they are worthy of delighting in. I want my husband to feel respected and supported because he is who he is. I want to put away the computer keyboard and not feel as though I have to jump to the next project. When we overload the minutes, we often lose the slow grace of the moment.
When we overload the minutes, we often lose the slow and steady grace of the moment.
When we lose the grace of the moment we weaken our connections with other hearts–and with our own. Too much chronic busyness is a joy stealer, and I choose joy first. I want to focus on filling hearts, not minutes. I will not steal the joy from our lives, or the gift of giving my family a mother who is at peace, or a wife with energy enough to support and laugh. I will not contribute to life’s challenges by setting up my family to be daily drained of living whole. I believe that living whole means giving up too much busyness and a misinformed “need” to accomplish more in order to matter more.
I quit the craziness and choose to live unadorned by a lie. I will live whole and will set an atmosphere for my family to rest in that cocoon as well.
If I don’t take the time to breathe without immediately looking ahead to my next goal, I cheat life and joy. I cheat my family and myself. And I cheat the next project from a refreshed perspective. This is a heart thing for me more than a scheduling thing. I want a next project. But I want whole hearts more, for my family and myself. So I must take time to refresh and set the example in front of my kids. Am I disillusioned enough to think that I’ll never again battle this tendency toward busyness? Not at all. I know for a fact I’ll find myself pulling out of this trap again, because life will always push us to stay more busy than wise. As seasons ebb and flow, so does our energy. But I will strive to return myself and my family to unadorned living as frequently as possible. More and more I’m coming to believe that kind of unadornment is key to raising truly well-rounded people.
So there are my scattered thoughts. They really are all over the place, but I’m putting them out there anyway. They’ve led me to discover that my next first thing is to live unencumbered by a need to tackle any other next thing until my rested spirit allows slows grace to do its steadying thing.
I wish a delightfully unadorned day on you.