This is my two-cents for Sarah’s Carnival – head over and link up if you have some practices to share. As a disclaimer: this is some serious stuff I’m writing about here today, and I haven’t had time to edit or to make sure its pretty and nice. But I want anyone who comes here today to know this: if you are where I have been, if you feel out-of-control of your own life, you’re not alone — and its NOT what God wants for your life. Changing it won’t be easy or simple, but if you are willing, He can move you to new and exciting places! But not without some work. Feel free to comment or write me at jme.ann (at) gmail (dot) com — I would love to be praying for you.
When I first read Sarah’s Practices of Mothering series, I enjoyed it so much that I sat down one day to punch out a few practices of my own: what motivates me to love my family? What values do I hold dear in my mothering? Months have passed since then, and I dug through my drafts to find the post in order to spruce it up for the Carnival being hosted over at Emerging Mummy this week. But, at the risk of sounding totally dramatic (because it is, really), my close dance with an emotional breakdown made almost everything on that list irrelevant right now. Going to the park everyday? Please, I’ve barely left the house in weeks! Total open door policy? I’ve avoided the mailman because I’ve been in my jammies too much. It was apparent that my practices needed a makeover.
The things on that list (which won’t be published here today, obviously) are still dear to me. I want to snuggle in my boys’ beds as often as they ask me. I want to touch my children whenever I think of it. I want to make being in the sun a priority for us. But they are in-process, for further down the road in my life, when I’m rested and healthy, able to handle the ‘extra’ it takes to do them. Instead, the things God has been teaching me the last few months overshadow them – two things, in particular – and I’m going to call them my ‘umbrella practices’: those things I will strive to do that will cover almost everything else I hope to be as a mother.
#1. Practicing emotional health.
So I can’t talk about an emotional breakdown without at least giving a few details. If your a regular around High Countries, its no secret that things have been tough for me the past few months, but I don’t think I’ve gone into detail about exactly HOW tough. The (utterly and perhaps confusingly) brief version is that the summer before my junior year of college (about 8 years ago), through various encounters with friends going through deep places emotionally, I realized that my heart was badly crippled. I couldn’t connect with my life the way those friends were doing, and I couldn’t remember the last time I cried. The more I thought about it, I didn’t recall feeling anything other than anxious or scared most of the time. Also, in hindsight, I was having regular panic attacks over silly things, but I didn’t recognize them as such. So, in an effort to experience more passion, really, I started seeking some help in the ways I knew how, and God began a healing process in me that has taken years to come to completion, with one of the biggest steps happening four years ago, when I moved to Japan. For this reason, Japan will always be a huge part of my life — its where God brought me to heal and bandage my wounded heart. Another huge step (and last in this particular area, perhaps?) happened during a healing prayer session with one of our leaders about one month ago.
Going back to that year in college — my crippled emotions left me unable to handle stress in a healthy way. Like I said, I was having regular panic attacks, and I was finding it difficult to be open with friends, feeling angry and almost defensive with them that they’d even ask me to spend time with them — don’t they know how tired and upset I am? Things changed slightly in college, but after graduation, my life filled to the brim with (normal) stress that almost pushed me over the edge — I graduated, married, and found out I was pregnant (surprise!), all within two months. I was terrified by the thought of becoming a mom — I didn’t know the first thing about it (who does?), and my panic attacks increased (although I wouldn’t have described them as such then — I thought they were normal and what everyone must’ve felt). (My poor husband! He had no idea the mess he was signing up for.) Add to the mix the fact that we were preparing to move to Japan as missionaries (for ten years! May as well have been till death for a 22-year-old), and I began to unknowingly sink into a depression that I’ve been trying my best to climb out of for the past five years (through two years of language study and two more babies). I didn’t know how truly unhealthy I was until just recently, when God showed me that it wasn’t normal to feel angry all the time, or to feel out-of-control of your own life, or to explode without a moment’s notice, or be unable to emotionally cope with normal things like crumbs on the floor. Throughout all this, I was an avid mommy-blog reader, which was alternatively good and bad. Good: I learned that something wasn’t right, because although other mommies were facing the same frustrations as me, they weren’t responding as I was (cue: more fear, but thankfully, it led me to the throne of grace!) Bad: I strived to add more unattainable standards to my already long list of what I wanted as a mommy — unattainable because I feel to pieces and wept if my toddler didn’t nap at the moment in which he should. (Really, I did this in a frequent basis.) More than anything, there were standards that I held myself to as a mother that I wasn’t meeting, and I was beginning to feel like I might never meet them — like reading often with my kids and being PATIENT with them. They weren’t unattainable standards of perfection that should NOT be met — they were the things I wanted my life with my kids to be marked by (like Sarah’s list of practices), and because I was close to losing it, it wasn’t possible to make them happen, and that made me so incredibly SAD.
A lot of things have happened between that day and now — making lists of things that could “go” in my life, having long serious talks with my hubby, eating more “easy” food than we ever have — but the one thing that really started the change was crying out to God. Someway, somehow, after knowing something wasn’t right and asking God over and over, “What do I need to do? What can we change? How do I get over this?”, God opened my eyes and gave me true understanding of how my tiredness, crabbiness, and general inability to handle my life would effect my relationship with my children if left unhealed. I was downstairs laying on the couch while they were upstairs sleeping, and as these realizations began dawning on me, I had a moment of sheer horror. I got down on my knees and wept, so afraid that I would end up regretting more in my life than I ever wanted to if God didn’t change something.. NOW. I begged Him to intervene, and not for my sake, but for the sake of my babies.
God has been doing amazing things via healing prayer, community, the Bible, and His Spirit to help me move toward healing since then, but the practical things have been just as difficult to change. I’ve made myself go to sleep, even when I didn’t want to. I’ve let go of all standards and meetings outside of our home — I haven’t been to church in weeks, because I just couldn’t put forth the energy it would take to wrangle three kids there. I’ve asked my husband to do the grocery shopping, and we’ve hired a babysitter to come once a week so I can get out of the house without my husband’s help. (He watches the kids once a week, too, so now I leave and get time to read, write, listen, pray TWICE a week.) I’ve stopped taking my kids to the park for the time being, and I let their daddy take them when he’s able — they play in the sandbox, or they jump off the bunk bed. We’ve told our son’s school that we won’t be going to anything extra-curricular for a while. My oldest keeps asking to go to friend’s houses and play, but I just keep saying ‘no’, because figuring out the cultural difference between Japanese moms and myself and how we do playdates is just too much for me right now. I’ve stopped folding laundry, and we only take baths two to three times a week now (instead of the every day that my kiddos prefer). And you know what? There are a lot of things on this list that could make people crabby, but instead, we’re all happier than we’ve been in months — years, for me, really. And I think that its because mommy is starting to be happy.
The most surprising realization of all this for me is how I haven’t been angry or yelled in weeks. Really, was that all I needed? To let go of unhealthy standards, to move forward in healing, to be realistic about my needs and the fact that I wasn’t doing well? Because I would’ve changed that years ago, had I known.
Again, there is so much more here that needs to be unpacked, but just let me end with this: if you find yourself getting angry more than you like, crying more than you like, feeling resentful with the people in your life, yelling a lot, and overwhelmed by the jobs that surround you, DON’T PASS IT OFF AS NORMAL. It’s normal for us to feel tired as moms — our job is rough. But those other things? That’s not normal. Those are signs that somethings wrong and you need a change. Listen to yourself, and above all, listen to God.
#2. Practicing living by the Spirit.
This is going to seem very short, by comparison, but this (new to me, but not to Christendom) idea has totally blown me away.
I used to struggle mightily with guilt, and I’m beginning to feel that walking by the Spirit is one of the main ways God wants to deal with our guilt as mothers. (There are, of course, a variety of reasons we may struggle with guilt, the least of which is spiritual bondage or real sin issues that lead rightly to guilty feelings — I’m not discounting any of these things, I have experienced many of them myself, but I’m not going to go into them here, either.) My days may look exactly the same from an outside perspective, but internally, I’m not feeling guilty for what I’m doing or the choices I’m making anymore. Why? Because I’m asking God about everything.
Should I read this email now, or later? Later, okay. Should I let Ezra help with the dishes or not? It’s okay not to? Alright, I’ll find something else for him to do. I have a quiet moment right now — what should I do with it? Sit down and read? Alright.
Hearing God’s voice will take years of practice for me, I’m sure, but I’m already amazed at how He will have a straightforward answer to the small and seemingly insignificant details of my life. And because I’m asking Him about what I should be doing, I don’t feel guilty about what I’m doing anymore — and if I do, I take to Him and ask: “I feel (blank) right now — should I be doing something different? Is there anything I need to confess? Do I feel guilty because Jones asked me to read that book, and I automatically said ‘no’?”
This may sound like a lot of work, but I assure you, its much less tiring and living under a constant weight of unreasonable, irrational guilt. It has brought freedom to the choices I make as a mother, whether they center around my children, my household duties, or the care of my spirit.
Much more needs to be said here, but for the sake of brevity in this already-too-long post, this is where I will end it today.
Hooray for those of you who persevered to the end — leave a comment and let me know you made it!