The last few weeks have been rough.
I cried in a crowded Costco because my 2-year-old was screaming incessantly at the top of her lungs because she didn’t want to be in the cart. I continued shopping, trying to soothe her and grimacing as I passed people who turned their head to see what was wrong. A woman came up to me, patted me on the back, and said, “We’ve all been there, Honey. It’s okay.” Her words were so reassuring, but they made me cry. It’s weird how sometimes comforting words can do that, make me break.
The next weekend, we spent the night at the coast with some friends. We had joined hotel rooms with three kids running back and forth. Instead of embracing this chaos and having loads of fun, I felt like my nerves were shot. Every time one of our children playfully screamed, I had the same sensation that I would get if someone ran their fingers across a chalkboard or chewed yarn, my whole body was having a sensory reaction to the noise. By lunchtime, I was so grumpy that my husband asked me if I needed a break while they all went out to eat.
And when I’m in that mood of just complete irritation, I tend to lash out because I feel insecure when I’m obviously not okay. Thankfully, that day, I didn’t go down that road, but I did take my husband up on the offer. I was full of bitterness and self-pity as I let them all go out to lunch, and I went to Starbucks and drank a cloud machiatto in peace (poor me!). Let me just say that no matter how delicious your five-dollar drink is, if you’re drinking it while stewing, it won’t satisfy. However, I felt much better after that small break, and I felt convicted about my attitude as well.
Then came last week. I took my girls to the library, and while we were there my 4-year old threw herself on the ground and proceeded to have a very loud tantrum. That was fun. At home, when I would try to make dinner or do the dishes, my 2-year-old would follow me around repetitively crying out, “Hold me. Hold me.” Day after day, I tried to make my plans work, and I ended the day feeling frustrated that my kids were not on board.
Then I got sick. Sore throat, headache, fatigue, the whole shebang. I missed a day of work, and I felt miserable in my body and my mind. I kept ruminating on the stack of work that was piling up from missing a day. The next day was Saturday, and I was alone with the girls while my husband was out of town. Their normal, but difficult behavior, continued even as I was sick (those Dayquil commercials are so true, you don’t get sick days from parenting). Finally, I had a tantrum of my own in which I yelled at my kids to listen to me, hit a plastic container with my hand, which made a loud startling sound, and then broke down crying.
I felt so guilty about this display of anger. Here I was repeating the kind of angry lashing out that I experienced and hated as a kid. Why was I doing the same thing?
I immediately went to my children and apologized for not expressing anger in an appropriate way, but the guilt still clung to my insides. Later when my husband got home I cried as I told him that my patience is gone and I don’t know why. How could I expect my small children to control themselves when I can’t?
I asked God to forgive me and to show me what is going on. Why am I having such a hard time with my kids lately? That sense that something is wrong with me continued to reverberate throughout my thoughts. Generally, I love hanging out with my kids. I love doing crafts and singing and playing and making huge unmanageable messes. I love taking naps and reading books over and over. So why has it been so hard? What is wrong with me?
I felt like God was speaking a lot of things to me when I opened up to him.
- I am too distracted. Sometimes I trick myself into believing that I am spending time with my kids because I am in the same house with them, but usually I am doing something that doesn’t involve them. I am on my phone, or cleaning the house, or making dinner, or attempting to write, etc. My kids were craving my one-on-one attention, and I was trying to fulfill this need by being near them without giving up my attention from the things that I wanted to do. God placed on my heart to spend more time playing with them. Not scheduling things to go do, not having them play while I clean, and definitely not staring at my phone while they play next to me, but sitting on their level and just playing whatever they want to play.
- I have too many things on my plate. Sometimes I have a plan, and I try to force it into fruition even if all the signs are screaming bad idea! It’s often a good indicator if my kids are already throwing a tantrum when I am getting them ready in the morning that a day out and about isn’t going to go well. I have different reasons why I over plan. It may be because I feel obligated to spend time with a friend, or I just want to do more than is possible in a day. I used to include my kids in doing the dishes, for instance. However, their involvement was time consuming, so I stopped doing it. I’ve been too preoccupied with crossing things off my to-do list to take the time to include them. I need to learn to let go of my own agenda, and be okay with slowing things down.
- My patience is a gift from God. The past three weeks have helped me see that patience is a gift from God and also a fruit of relationship with Him. He can take away his grace in a particular area if He needs to open my eyes to something. I felt that my grace had been removed when it came to patience because He was trying to teach me these lessons, and He was trying to show me that He deserves the glory when I am good with kids or a super patient person. It is not me, it is the good of Him in me.
- There is nothing wrong with me. It’s okay to fail. Sometimes I will fail. I won’t behave the way I wish I would’ve, but God still loves me, and I can love myself even if I’m not perfect. God still cares about me. He is a forgiving God, and He does not condemn me, but He uses my mistakes to show me areas where I can grow if I will listen to Him.
- Self-care is not optional. I need self care. I live in a body that has needs. If I have unmet needs, then I’m going to have a harder time being useful. I was sick, and I needed rest. I was stressed, and I needed quiet. Jesus took breaks, God rested after he made the world. If God needs rest, then you bet that I do. Mark 6:31, says, “[Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a little while’—for there were many [people who were continually] coming and going, and they could not even find time to eat.” I can relate to not having any time to eat. There have been countless times when I’ve skipped breakfast because I’m rushing off to work, or I’m shoving the leftovers of my toddler’s half-eaten burrito down my throat instead of sitting down to my own meal. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from external responsibilities to focus on internal responsibilities. Rest is a necessity.
This week, I worked an 11-hour day on Monday, and a 12-hour day on Tuesday. A friend asked me to attend a special event on Wednesday, my day off work, during the time my daughter naps. Typically, I would abandon her nap to do something fun, especially for a special event. But, I decided to listen to God. I told her no, that it was during my daughter’s nap time.
When i woke up on Wednesday, I stayed in bed and snuggled my two-year-old instead of hopping into my routine. I made breakfast for us, and we ate together. I tried to read my Bible, and I let it go when my girls wanted to climb on me and play instead of letting me read. I played with them and made fun crafts with them. I did some dishes while they played, but I didn’t continue cleaning when they wanted me to snuggle with them and read to them. I made lunch, and we ate together again. We laid down and snuggled as they napped. It was more than a good day. It was an awesome, super, amazing day!
Their attitudes were better. They were happier. I was happier. It was not a productive day, but productivity does not produce joy. It merely produces satisfaction. I don’t want to be merely satisfied. I want to be joyful! That requires resting when it’s time to rest. Yes, there will be days when I can accomplish all that I set out to do, but if it’s not happening, I need to remember to let go and not try to push my will when God’s will isn’t lining up with my to-do list.
If God needs rest, then so do I.
Today, I will choose peace over productivity.