I’m over at Faith & Family LIVE! today sharing five strategies to help keep your life in balance. Please stop by and share your own tips for beating burnout.
I recently had a long phone conversation with a very wise, old woman who has a few decades on me (like almost six) whom I admire and love dearly.
We talked about motherhood and how exhausting and overwhelming it can be at times (she’s a mom of nine kids). We talked about faith (or lack thereof). We talked about a private, personal intention, and she reminded me for the umpteenth time that I can’t control the situation. “It’s God business,” she said.
And it is.
We chatted about my struggles with perfectionism. “You’re wonderful,” she said. “Stop trying to be perfect.”
“I’ll try hard to work on it,” I said.
“Don’t. Stop trying. You’re trying too hard at everything.”
“I know. I know it all intellectually. I know what I need to be doing, but it’s hard to make it happen.”
“Taking things from the mind to the heart is always the toughest part.”
That it is.
I said, “Thank you so much for this. You always make me feel better. I want to be you.”
“You know who you should really want to be?”
God? I think it, but I don’t say it out loud.
“Katie because you’re good and you’re wonderful.”
And then she said (clearly having read my mind), “And don’t try so hard to be God, or you might end up crucified.” This is her trademark humor. I chuckled and then choked on some sobs.
“I’m sorry,” I sniffled.
We even talked about blogging. This 88-year-old has an Internet connection and computer, although she admits she isn’t all that impressed with the technology. “It’s such a time sucker.”
I agreed with her.
“The few blogs I’ve looked at and I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m such an old lady,” she added. “But the impression I get is that moms take mothering and themselves so, so seriously. Everything we do isn’t that big. Kids grow up in spite of us. We’re not in control nearly as much as we’d like to think we are.”
“I know,” I said and then sniffled some more.
“Stop trying so hard,” she repeated. “Take it all to God. Lay it all down at His feet. It’s okay to just tell Him, ‘I’m a mess. Please clean me up.’”
We hang up. I sit quietly for a moment. I don’t try to do anything except pray.
Please clean me up.
And amazingly, that simple prayer is good enough as I imagine Him holding my messy, broken self close while He begins to patch things up, piecing me back together and offering me the hope for wholeness.
After a particularly rough day, I recently prayed (begged is a more accurate term given my desperate despondency over a personal intention): “God, I don’t need a miracle, but I do need to know your hand is at work in my life.” (I should have added, “But if you have any miracles to spare, I’m game.”)
Then I waited patiently – for about 30 seconds.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to expect God to be like the Internet and to give me instantaneous results in my seeking. But God is not Google, and I’ve got to stop thinking He’s going to give me what I want and need right now. I also have to reanalyze what I want and if it even comes close to matching God’s plan for me.
On this specific evening, when I heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing, I decided it was time for bed.
The following night I found myself worn out and was tempted to skip my evening prayers, especially since I felt like God hadn’t delivered the night before. I’m not proud of this admission, and lately I’ve been wondering if my spiritual dry spells are mostly a result of my own laziness in my prayer life. I don’t pray enough because I’m too tired. Then I wonder why I can’t see God working in my life more.
Ummm. Maybe because you’re not even opening the door to your heart and when it cracks open just a bit, you slam it in God’s face.
Somehow I overcame my temptation to forgo my prayers this night and resigned myself to thinking that maybe if I just showed up, something might happen.
I had recently started praying, “Lord, I believe. Help my belief.” Sometimes it was the only prayer I could muster when I felt so far removed from God’s embrace.
When I went downstairs to pray, I picked up our diocesan paper. Lately I haven’t been reading much of it, but out of the blue I just decided to read a column. (It’s not one I’ve ever followed.) It was about our questions and the mystery of faith – how we will only see glimpses sometimes and that our faith has to be enough.
Hmmmm…that was kind of cool. Especially since part of my spiritual dryness has stemmed from frustration in not finding answers to some of my questions about faith and God and why I believe in Him.
Then I picked up a devotional book I’ve been reading. The day’s Scripture passage was Mark 9:1-29, which included the healing of the boy with demons and the father who cried out the very words I’d been praying: “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
That’s when my first set of goose bumps appeared.
But that’s not all. Later in the week something else happened. First, the kids – all three of them – slept in until 8 AM one morning. That’s a miracle in and of itself.
Second, I opened up that same meditation book and in my bleary eyed state I thought it said that the day’s reading was John 16, so I started to read and these words jumped out at me: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”
Your grief will become joy.
More goose bumps. And then a few tears. Because the previous night I went out to dinner with a dear friend who happens to be in town for the month. This amazing woman has a real reason to be sad. She unexpectedly lost a loved one, and it makes no sense at all. Yet, she talked about how she was trying to see the goodness in her sorrow.
While I could not begin to understand the depths of her sorrow and wasn’t about to compare our crosses, I have been dealing with my own kind of grief. I cannot say for sure why I am sad or why I hurt. Could it be the chronic sleep deprivation caused not only my being a mom to little ones but also by problems with insomnia? Or maybe the potent postpartum hormonal cocktail my body seems to be sipping after this third pregnancy? I don’t know. Sometimes the fact that I can’t come up with a good explanation for my sadness and that I should really feel tremendously blessed at this juncture of my life only adds another tough emotion to the mix: Guilt. My friend has a reason to grieve. I do not. I feel guilty for grieving with her instead of just along with her.
Yet, God is here to comfort us all, and I was, indeed, comforted by what I read in John 16 (I shared this with my friend as well), including this: “No one will take your joy away from you.”
And then: “There will be trouble in the world, but I have conquered the world.”
Heartache is a part of life. So too are depressive episodes that are out of our control. There will be trouble. Lots of it. And yet, hasn’t worst possible thing that could ever happen already gone down?
God died. Let me repeat that: God died.
But the best thing that ever could happen did, too.
God rose again. He took impossible sorrow and despair and turned it into hope.
Now it’s my job to turn this hope into faith.
I was thinking about all of this and was so thankful I’d picked up my meditation book on that morning and been given such an appropriate passage to ponder. I closed my bible and returned to my meditation book and started reading the reflection based on the Scripture. It was all about obedience and I thought, “Huh? What does obedience have to do with the passage I just read?”
That’s when I saw that I was supposed to read John 14, not John 16, about how we show our love to God by following His commandments. But you know what? I didn’t need to read that – not at that moment. The words I needed, and I think the Holy Spirit (or the fact that a 16 looked like a 14 in my “mombie” state, but whatever) helped to make it happen, told me there is a purpose to my grief – even to my dark night of the soul – and that there will be joy. There will be joy!
More goose bumps. More warm and fuzzy feelings.
These were nice. I’m thankful for these moments, but I’ve had some frustrating experiences lately as well, and I’m beginning to see God was there, too.
First, there was my showing up at a scheduled confession time and then having the priest not show up. Good news is I made it to confession later that week, and Erin’s comment following my original post where I’d mentioned my frustrations with God thwarting my plans (how dare Him!?) gave me some more goose bumps.
Then I stumbled upon this great post on burnout when I was ironically over at Elizabeth Foss’s place re-reading some of my favorite burnout-busting advice (I’ve also re-read her burnout chapter in Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home , a book that has inspired me more as a Christian mother than any other book and will remain on my shelf whether I continue to homeschool or not).
All of this reading about overcoming burnout reminded me of the draft of a post I’d written during my own recent recovery process. If you give a mom a burnout survival guide, she’ll remember she started writing her own burnout survival guide but became too burnt out to finish it. That sort of thing.
A few weeks ago I’d recently submitted an article to Faith & Family LIVE! on the subject (it seems a popular topic for moms). I could not squeeze in all the tips I wanted to because of my tight word count, so I wrote post as well. Now it was about time I tweaked the my draft and scheduled it for blog publication. In the post, I wrote a lot about how using my iCal application, after reading this and this, was helping me to get organized and find a more sane rhythm to my day. (You’ll see why I’m telling you about the post instead of just scheduling it in a minute.)
Well, I opened what I thought was the file, but it wasn’t the right content even though I’m 99 percent sure it was the document I’d created. So I did a search. And another search. And another. (OCD much?)
Then I thought that perhaps I was going crazy and I’d actually drafted the post on Blogger rather than in Word. Nope. Maybe it was on Dave’s computer. Nada.
Where was that blasted burnout post?
The clock was ticking. The sun had set long ago. I needed to be getting to bed. In the misplaced post, I’d actually discussed how I was determined to not burn the midnight oil and to return to retiring with the sun and being the morning person I’m programmed to be. I’d promised myself I’d be in bed early that night. I’d promised myself this blog was not going to be a source of stress or a contributing factor to burnout. I was working on being happy and at peace with being a mom.
Yet, here I was getting all worked up about a stupid, inconsequential blog post on burnout. My, there’s a lot of irony in my life.
Not to mention – if I remember correctly – the whole point of my writing was about how I was striving for a more Godward life by building in more prayer time into my life and by not simply turning to spiritual books or other blogs as a source of encouragement. I need nourishment from God right now. The rest – books on faith, Christian blogs – are only the icing on the cake. God is the cake. I’m afraid I’ve been stuffing myself with too much icing and leaving little room for the cake.
I’m not suggesting I have regrets for having read Jen’s burnout survival guide, because first off, it’s chock full of great advice and had a lot I could relate to like:
“We’re all designed to need regular periods of rest and refreshment, and if you’re not getting that, it’s critical that you recognize that that’s a big problem. For me, it is usually pride and fear that cause me to ignore my own basic needs: I don’t want anyone to think I’m weak or lazy if I can’t do as much as other people can do, I won’t take anything off my plate because it’s all too “important” (yet I refuse to ask for help), and I fear that critical things wouldn’t get done if I broke down and admitted that I just can’t do it all.”
However, there’s a bigger reason I’m glad I read it. It made me think of that MIA post. Which led to frustration as I thought about everything I wanted to share like how my nifty iCal is certainly helping to lighten my load. Instead of feeling like every minute of my waking hour should be devoted to tidying up, for example, we have specific cleanup times. Oh so much nostalgia for that vanishing post. It was so much more eloquent than what I’m writing here (anything that goes unpublished is always our best work, isn’t it?).
I so wanted to find that post, but my maniacal search was fruitless. But not really. Because just as I was feeling my blood pressure begin to rise and considered chucking my computer (iCal included) out the window, I realized I was doing it again. I was shifting the focus from God to what I wanted. I was sweating the small stuff when I needed to be saving my energy for tackling bigger issues.
I was not suffering joyfully. Really, at that moment, I shouldn’t have been suffering at all. It was a silly post for goodness’ sake, not my 2,000-page novel (that one can’t be lost because it’s in my head, not stored on some temperamental hard drive, so take that you sneaky computer).
Still, I shed a few tears. My frustration burned inside of me. Then I quieted my interior ranting. I stopped my grievance collecting, and I listened. And I heard my husband, who is not a signs and wonders guy at all, say, “Maybe this is a sign to just let it go.”
And that is what I did.
However, I didn’t just let go of that errant post, but I released my feelings of frustration over this and bigger things into God’s care, too. I felt that’s the least I could do after all He’d done for me over the past week.
I’ve been praying for signs that God is at work in my life. God answered this prayer. There were no flashy miracles. It wasn’t earth shattering. It wasn’t enough to ease all my doubts and the litany of questions that clutter my mind. I am not and never will be inoculated against struggle. But for now, what God gave me is enough.
What did He offer me? Glimpses of his goodness and providence, gentle divine nudges. Cynics might call them coincidences, but a good friend of mine once told me that since God is not showy, coincidences are merely His way of remaining anonymous. Sometimes He chooses to be subtle so that we’re forced to look outside of ourselves more.
I realize God won’t always give me goose bumps. He won’t always answer my prayers the way I’d prefer them to be answered (with a chorus of ethereal, halo-wearing angels, please). But He is at work in my life. He’s right here. Now and always.