One Monday night a few months ago, I lay curled on top of my bed, still dressed, at 9 o’clock in the evening. I was done, done, done with the world for the day. A copy of Mansfield Park lay beside me where I’d tossed it onto the bed, more like a favorite teddy bear in function rather than something I really planned to pick up and read.
“It’s really not you, sweetie…”, I had garbled in the direction of my husband as I fled to my room the very second all of our five children were in bed.
I was mentally and physically exhausted. As I lay curled up on my bed–too tired at that moment to even think about taking a shower, something surprising happened: I actually started giggling. Delirium? Maybe. But definitely a little “aha” moment of–and here’s the kicker–affirmation.
I suddenly felt this little, loving nudge that I had made a few very good decisions lately to not add some things to my plate. There had been no fewer than four different opportunities I had turned down in recent weeks, but not without a lot of internal back-and-forth on my part. They had all been things I really had wanted to say “yes” to being involved in. Ministry things that were right up my alley. Or people I wanted to get to know better. Activities my kids would have loved and I would have loved them being in. I had talked Michael’s ear off about each of these things (more-than-multiple times, poor guy). But he hadn’t waivered in his opinion about every one of them: He felt that we (especially me) had our hands full already. I listened to my husband.
As much as I chafed against saying “no” to these things, I did already have a full plate, and a plate (at that) that wasn’t easy for me to handle from day to day already. That was pretty clear from my curled-up-on-the-bed exhausted state that night. After a pretty normal day, might I add. That little “aha” moment was such a gift. I’d been second-guessing myself lately as a few of those activities I had turned down were beginning without me. And yet there I was, exhausted from a normal day of a life that didn’t include those things!
I knew once and for all that evening that the stress of doing more, driving more, thinking more, planning-and-arranging more would have been too much for me.
Thank you, Jesus, for good discernment. And for husbands who sometimes see much more clearly than we do.
You know, I can’t think of even one time since becoming a mother when I looked back on an activity or involvement opportunity I said “no” to and thought, “You know what? I really regret not getting involved in that. I had so much extra time and energy on my hands that just went to waste.”
Nope. I’ve eventually been so glad I said “no” to additional things, every time.
My older children have been entering the world of music and sports activities these past couple of years, and Michael and me have also increasingly had wonderful ministry opportunities individually and as a couple come our way.
It’s easy to get too busy, though. You know how it goes.:)
I’ve slowly been developing a list of questions that have become a central part of my discernment process when it comes to my family’s schedule, after prayer of course. This isn’t an exhaustive list of questions I try to ask myself and go over with Michael, but this list does tend to help me navigate smaller decisions more easily now.
Everybody’s discernment process is going to be different, though, because every family is unique. What may be “too much” for one person, or marriage, or family, may be just right for another one. How one family does things may just not work well for another family with a completely different set of circumstances.
My point is: We all have different resources and situations that make comparing any family to any other family…kind of ridiculous.
May I also add, humbly, the word dangerous.
I’m the first one to share that I’ve been in the trenches many times of a one-woman war that I fought against my own thoughts. My friend Fr. Josh Johnson once told me (as I was sharing how agonizingly insecure I was about something), “Erin, you should never go into your mind alone. Always take Jesus with you.”
Let us all keep this wonderful advice with us always!
One of the most important things Jesus brings to the table in discernment of schedules for me now is…me. I know I have to take into account the fact that I have to be intentional about my mental, physical and spiritual health, or my marriage and family will suffer. And so will I.
That means that, right now, my kids don’t do more than one sport or other non-music activity at a time. It means that I don’t sign up my little ones for pretty much anything until they are 5 or 6 (or older), and that I don’t drive more than five minutes to most things that we do. It means that I am intentional about leaving space for several evenings a week where Mike and I don’t have somewhere to go or extra work to do after our kids go to bed. I also plan our homeschool schedule around going to gym at lunchtime twice a week. And…if you hadn’t noticed…I don’t blog a lot right now. And my podcast is ancient history.:)
I think it’s important to note that I’ve also learned that just being exhausted at the end of the day isn’t necessarily a sign that I’m doing it all wrong. It just comes with the territory of parenthood! Suffering is part of the package. And one of the biggest lessons we have to learn as parents is that we have to call our suffering by its right name.
Exhaustion and stress are something to take to prayer, though. Here’s a novel idea: God wants us to listen to our emotions! They are part of how He made us; they’re not a weakness we have to reject out of hand and power through.
Note to self.:)
In fact, I’m learning that my emotions can often alert me to something I need to talk to God about. My spiritual director has helped me so much this year to start bringing my emotions to God to help me break open, instead of beating them back as spiritually immature somehow.
As we start this new year, I hope that these questions may help some of you dive deeper into what you and your family are saying “yes” or “no” to. Remember–there may be questions I need for my own life that you may not need for yours, and you may need to add additional ones that are unique to your set of circumstances. Be at peace that God is thrilled when we invite Him in–and that our pure intentions go so far with Him! Even if we don’t execute something perfectly, or we make a decision in good faith that ends up being the wrong one later on, God is pleased with our pure heart.
The Bible verse doesn’t say, God will work all things that were discerned perfectly together for our good.” It says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28).
Even imperfect decisions (made with a seeking and pure heart).
Even imperfectly carried-out decisions (done in good faith).
Now that’s Good News to me.:)
10 Questions I Ask Myself When Discerning My Involvement in Something
- Is comparison of myself or my family to somebody else playing a part in my decision?
- Am I considering doing this only to make somebody else happy?
- Is this “yes” truly going to be life-giving to (a) me, (b) my marriage, and (c) my family life?
- Am I thinking of doing this because I would feel too guilty about not doing it?
- How will this “yes” impact my marriage? How are Michael and I doing as a couple right now? Do we both feel like our schedule before adding this new thing leaves sufficient time and space to connect regularly, and are currently doing so?
- How would this additional “yes” impact my ability to reasonably handle my basic household and parenting responsibilities with my current resources of time and energy?
- How would this “yes” impact my homeschool (all prep work and actual teaching time, too)?
- What did God have to say about this? What have I received in prayer? Do I feel peace about this “yes” or “no”?
- Would a “no” to this particular thing actually be a “yes” to something better?
- Have I asked my husband for his opinion? Have I given serious consideration to his thoughts if they were different than my own?
May God bless you and yours abundantly today!