This morning after starting my day at 4 a.m. with a baby who didn't want to sleep in his crib and a day that officially started at 5:30 a.m. when said baby decided enough was enough and it was high time for a sippy cup and some oatmeal, I sat down to email a good friend. And just after I hit "send" I had this thought: "I'm going to try harder, today." It was a prayer. A promise. A habit.
I think I say and think this every day. I'm going to try harder, Lord. I'm going to cook an awesome dinner, maybe even a pie! (from scratch, of course!)... and we're going to go to the grocery store and use my stashed coupons; we're going to have sunshine time; I'll shower, do my hair, put on make-up. I'll refrain from popping in Veggie Tales and spend all day reading books and teaching words and colors and animals. I'll do dishes and laundry, put clean sheets on all the beds, change the bag in the diaper pail and of course I will do an hour long workout and eat healthy all day long. I'll limit carbs and eat tons of fruit and baby carrots!
No, seriously. These are the promises I make (you make?) at the start of the day when it's dark and it feels as if you will have all the time in the world. And more than that, you feel this is how it works. This is what you do. What a Mommy does. Because you know, Mom's do everything, all the time. And just to add humor and reality to it all, my husband just came out to where I sit, just after I've put the baby down for his first nap of the day and says, "Can you make me lunch?"
Of course I can, honey!
Okay, I'm back from making that lunch, feeding the dog, opening the blinds so that the first beams of the day can leak into the house and my soul. I had to move a school bus and a dump trunk out of my kitchen, as well. I do so love this life. This husband. This baby. But back to the subject at hand:
I have a lot of mom-friends. I have a lot of tremendous, Godly women who love their kids and their husbands. They have home businesses and home school their munchkins, volunteer at church, work part-time and sometimes full-time outside the home. They are part of Bible studies and book clubs and mommy groups. They keep up on the hustle and bustle of life on Facebook and are always faithful to comment and encourage. And they manage to visit with friends and family, plan date nights (rarely, but it does happen!) with their hunka-hunka-burnin'-love. They are busy doin' it all, too.
And they, like me, feel there is something missing. They are frustrated within their relationship with God. Whereas they used to have quiet times - moments to read Scripture and scribble away in a leather-bound or flowery-embossed journal - now they can either barely read a verse without feeling disconnected or the majority of their quiet time, like mine, is often interrupted by a little person bringing me a toy and wanting my attention or coming close enough for me to realize it's time for a diaper change. This is life. This is life with God and babies.
I'm beginning to think that we feel guilty for sensing that things have to be altered. That our private time with God can't be the same it was when we were single, in our apartments, listening to MercyMe and the David Crowder Band. Not only do I not eat an entire pizza by myself any longer, I also don't spend all day listening to Christian radio and conclude the day sitting in the middle of my bed praying to my Heavenly Father. But I still think I'm supposed to. I still think I'm supposed to do all that, birth babies, keep them from turning into rebels and heathens and be that kind of wife that causes other men to look at my husband and think, "Dang, he did good."
I still think I'm supposed to have, a minimum, an hour of solitude with God. A solid hour. Every day. But who am I kidding? There are some days I can't even manage a shower. There are days when the dinner plans don't happen and it's pizza, again. Is that bad? Does that mean I'm failing as a Proverbs 31 woman? There's a lot of pressure and I don't think it's all from society or the church. I think it comes from ourselves. From, maybe, a more wicked place within that thinks the better we do or the more perfect we seem, the more we arrive. The more complete or at peace we will feel.
Maybe we're all control freaks. We don't need to do less, we think, we need to do more! So we volunteer, pledge to cook that casserole and sing in that choir... and then wonder why we are stressed, exhausted and feel completely disconnected from the God of our youth. I think there is enough blame to go around: Satan, us and even the church sometimes push and require too much and leave us sacrificing the blessing of our family: the children that we claim are such a heritage at their baptism or dedication service and the husband we swore up and down was God's gift to us and the parents we are still to honor.
In one of my favorite books of all time, "The Allure of Hope", author Jan Meyers writes:
"... why is this echo not resounding, increasing, expanding in the hearts of women who know the love of Christ? We are far more disciplined than we are at rest, far more committed than winsome, far more "nice" than passionate, far more dutiful than free. Far more weary than filled with hope... how do they live above and in the midst of a frenzied church culture that does not seem to stir their hearts?"
My thoughts are beginning to be these: If I genuinely miss God, I will find Him. I will see Him in the little moments of life. I will feel Him in nature. I will hang on the words and praises coming from corporate worship on Sunday mornings. I will murmur prayers of gratitude as I drift off to sleep. But, on the flip side, if I am merely striving to "fit God in" or seeking to have a Christanized "quiet time" because "that's what Christian people do", then I'm missing it. When I am seeking that, I think that's when I begin to feel hollowed out. When I get caught in the net of striving, that's when I feel far off. When I make promises to the God of everything and who is so unimpressed with my fumbles and my to-do list, that's when I feel that my heart has been carved out and lost somewhere along the way.
We all know that not every day is going to be a mountain-top day. We know that not every day is going to carry with it sunshine and inspiration and boundless energy. There will be days when the linoleum is so shiny it hurts your eyes and days when you hope whatever your kid just put in his mouth wasn't too bad for him. I talk a lot about boundaries... I am a big fan of setting parameters for your life. I think you can do, you just don't have to do it all. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to sing in the choir (I love it!) or bake that apple pie for your man using Grandma's never-fail crust recipe. I'm not saying you shouldn't read your Bible and journal and join a Bible study. I'm merely saying: find out why you are doing these things. What's motivating you? If you are trying to do more so you can feel more holy, then I think you might end up feeling burnt out and burned up, frustrated and tired and unthankful. I know I do.
The truth is: God knows you. He made you, He loves you, He gave you that husband and those kids. You are not messed up. Your desire to write out to-do lists and find the best deal and make the days matter - that's from God. It's not separate from Him. Sometimes the outline of the woman in Proverbs gets a bad rap because we feel overwhelmed and annoyed by her. I think she's kind of like that woman we spot while we're out running errands: she's wearing a cute outfit, her hair is perfect, her make-up is flawless... and she's skinny (even after having like twenty kids!). And we feel frumpy and tired and our kid is throwing their Cheerios on the floor in aisle 5. We're uncomfortable around her, because deep down, we want to be her. We want to do it all and have a manicure, too, by golly! But that's the thing.... where are manicures in the Bible? I think our view of the woman that is put together and who is praiseworthy is really not all that Biblical.
We are insecure about the wrong things.
The passage in Proverbs talks about, first of all, the worth of a woman of character and how trusting and honored her husband is to have found her. There is an emphasis on the marriage relationship - it's not just a passing thing. Marriage is a big deal and I think it should be the first big deal, always. The more secure the husband and wife in the marriage, the kinder they are to one another, the happier and more at peace the children, the more happy the home life. This woman works hard for her family. She focuses on the things that matter: fearing God and in that, providing for her husband and children. She's wise with the checkbook and discerning about how she spends her time. I think she probably had some good boundaries, too.
I don't think it's an either or thing. I am beginning to think sometimes that the things that God sees as holy and good aren't necessarily what we have been taught or pressured to believe are righteous. That, let's say, I spend the day loving my husband and children well, I take the time to talk to a friend and neatly put away the laundry, making my home a haven for all of us, but I don't spend an hour dissecting a verse or two of Genesis. This doesn't mean I don't pray or that I don't ponder the Scripture that I have tucked into my heart. I think it can all be wrapped up together. We just have to change our thinking about what is "acceptable".
This morning, while it was dark out and the coffee was still warm, I settled into my cushy couch to read some of my morning devotional while the little man played with his toys. I had barely gotten into the main idea of the passage before someone with bright blue eyes crawled over, scooting a book of baby animals under his hand. He pulled himself up to the couch, flopped the book onto my lap and smiled expectantly. I put aside my book, lifted my son onto my lap and read about how pigs oink and ducks quack... at least five times.
And you know... I think that was one of the best devotional times I've had in a long time.
"Then He told them what
they could expect for themselves:
"Anyone who intends to come
with me has to let me lead.
You're not in the
driver's seat... I am.
Don't run from suffering; embrace it.
Follow me and I'll show you how.
Self-help is no help at all.
Self-sacrifice is the way, my way,
to finding yourself, your true self.
What good would it do to get
everything you want and
lose you, the real you?..."
~ Luke 9:23-24, The Message