I was lying on my couch recently, sort of stress-paralyzed. (Maybe you’re familiar with that feeling?) And as I lay there, I felt like the laundry and the dishes and my lesson plans and my to-do list and my bickering children were sort of swirling around me, untamed, leaving me further behind by the minute. It was one of those days when I woke up to counters covered with dirty dishes and 9 loads of laundry spilling out of our tiny laundry room into the kitchen. That and a full day planned with homeschooling three students, getting three meals on the table for 7 people, afternoon activities to attend, and time-sensitive to-dos all on top of the mess. Plus a three-year-old and a two-year-old along for the ride.
It was kind of laughable. A surviving-my-blessings day.
I put on a show for the kids and went and took a short nap that morning. I did some praying, took a deep breath, and then walked out of my room for the second time that morning to bring order to chaos, one step at a time. I don’t remember if I got the house in order by bedtime that night. Or if dinner had a vegetable, or if I spent quality time with each and every child, or if I knocked out at least 75% of my to-do list that day. I just know it was another day raising my kids and doing the work that was right in front of my, as best I could. And I know it was good enough.
We mothers can’t wait for the water or the weather to be just right before we roll up our sleeves and get on with it. And we can’t force the water or the weather to do what we want. We have to wake up each day ready to sail through whatever the day brings. When the storms come, we don’t go below deck and hide. We don’t have the luxury of stopping until everything feels manageable again. When we meet with a new challenge and have to learn on the fly, we can only throw what skills we’ve got at it and trust God with the rest. And when the waters are calm and clear for a little while, or we unexpectedly catch an incredible sunset, the deep work of our hearts then is to make sure we are present enough to the moment to be thankful for it.
We mother-sailors also can’t control what breaks on the ship. In fact, at my house I haven’t had a working oven for almost three weeks. Our van has been in the shop since the Monday before Thanksgiving, and my microwave, dishwasher, icemaker, and dryer are all in need of repair to varying degrees. So much has been breaking around here that Michael and I just have to laugh at this point.
It’s inconvenient and frustrating–absolutely. But there are people right beside me in traffic who are praying their severe anxiety won’t prevent them from attending holiday parties with their family, or who are begging God that the newest specialist will be able to diagnose the mysterious illness that their child has been bedridden with for six months, or who are celebrating Christmas apart for the first time because of divorce.
God has brought so much suffering around me to my attention lately. I have thanked Him often these past weeks for how minor and blessed my problems are right now. The storms of life aren’t all hurricanes, and the skill of stepping back into perspective is so important.
You know, one skill every mother-sailor needs is this: praying for the grace to know what is reasonable to ask of herself in each situation of the day. When I remember to do this, often I realize that God is often asking less of me than I am of myself.
Being realistic and reasonable with what I ask of myself can look like lots of things. Paper plates, calling a friend to swing by and pick up a child for a lesson, texting my Mom to see if she can come spend the afternoon helping out, ordering pizza, putting the kids to bed without baths, doing the dishes, not doing the dishes, getting up extra early on a busy day, adding extra prayer time, skipping a prayer time, sleeping in a little after a hard night by letting the kids watch a show, skipping schoolwork for the day, serving ice cream sundaes for lunch, a good nap, no vegetables on our dinner plates again. It’s all a constant, subtle discernment of where and when to be gentle with myself and when to push myself.
Over the years, on and off I’ve been tempted to obsess about the exact recipe of health habits, exercise, prayer, routines, activities and schedules that will keep some of the storms of family life at bay and a maximum of peace and order in my home. Often, I’m tempted to extremes. Snacks or no snacks? Is gluten affecting us? Earlier bedtimes or later ones? Should I try yet another chore chart? Should I be using essential oils for that problem? Am I not spending enough quality time with each child? Is so-and-so acting out because they need more time outside? Would elderberry syrup be helpful? Should I throw away the TV remote? Should I throw away processed foods? Should I put the kids in school? Do I need to get up earlier? Should we quit that activity? What if I laid out everyone’s clothes the night before?
However, it has always been a temptation for me to get carried away with thinking a lack of peace in my home comes from a lack in me. We do all have room for growth, both in the practical and spiritual aspects of being a mother, and we should be open to improving ourselves and trying new things that could really be helpful our marriages and families. I have many friends who have been led to make pretty extreme changes in some part of their family life, and the changes ended up being an amazing God-send.
BUT–it’s a temptation straight from You-Know-Where to put the burden of peace, health and happiness in our homes solely on our shoulders–as in feeling that a lack of those things means that you’re not working hard enough either in your heart or with your hands. I have seen the devil steal my own peace and the peace of others I know with this exact temptation over and over.
It’s not all on us to be perfect. Oh, how I need to repeat this to myself every day! I ask God often, “If I need to make a major change in [this or that] area, please make it so clear so that I will know it’s from You. In the meantime, I choose to trust that what I’m doing now is enough and is not a detriment to my family.”
I think that trust is perhaps the secret ingredient to keeping our peace more consistently as mothers. Growing in trust has helped me so much! I fall daily as a mom short of where my heart wants me to be, and the trust part for me comes in getting back up again and not letting myself wallow in self-pity and self-recrimination, but in making myself offer it all up to God’s merciful love, then refusing to dwell on it.
I think that habits of intentionally choosing peace–keeping my problems in perspective, reminding myself that I can’t control everything, and not blaming myself for difficult times–have made a real difference towards peace in my life as a mom.
Isn’t that what we mothers all desire, too? To be calmer, happier, and steadier for our families?
It seems like so many other mother-sailors I know are all working on the same thing that I am: getting our “sea legs.” 🙂