What God May Want to Teach Us through Our Exhaustion

rusting windowLately, I’ve felt exhausted. If it’s not the physical exhaustion from waking up multiple times a night to feed my four month old, it’s the exhaustion that comes with trying so hard to instill character and discipline in my 2, 4, and 5 year olds. But the reminding, the instructing, the modeling, the reinforcing—well, as any parent in the trenches knows, it’s a lot. It is hard work that takes everything you’ve got… and then some.

The other night on my way back from a book group I attend, I was thinking about some of the other mothers I know and how there is this same look of exhaustion and, at times, almost desperation in their eyes. I was thinking about how often we long to spend more time with each other, but we simply don’t have any more of ourselves to give when it comes to the end of our days. And then I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me with this question:

Do you think there might be a purpose in the near-constant state of exhaustion that we feel as parents of young children?

“A purpose?” I wondered. “Why would there be a purpose to our exhaustion?”

1. “You Need Me.” The words came as a loving reminder. A newborn baby relies on his or her caregivers for everything. From feeding, to changing, to swaddling, or even burping—a baby is an adorable bundle of need, but a bundle of need, nonetheless.

But like that baby, we as mamas are needy, dependent beings too. We face taxing physical demands: night-wakings, carrying little ones, feeding, bathing, changing, dressing, undressing, cooking and laundering for them. And beyond the physical, as our children grow, there are the almost moment-by-moment dilemmas we face in questions of discipline and priorities, the trying of our patience, and the doubting of our own wisdom.

Perhaps, God wants us to begin parenthood feeling completely at the end of ourselves because that’s the place where good parenting begins. When we realize that we aren’t enough, when we realize how desperately we need God to show up, perhaps that’s the place where everything that is any good happens.

2. “You Can’t Do It All.”
I tend to burn the candle on both ends. I have a hard time turning in when something I’m working on isn’t finished. I have to remind myself that the Bible says, “In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:2)

Part of the discipline of trusting the Lord, is trusting that he has given exactly the number of hours we need to do the tasks he wants us to do. We rest in his grace and not in our power or works, when we go to bed at a reasonable time or even take a nap when we need it. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

Jesus, himself, moved within the limits of a twenty-four hour day. Certainly, he could have worked later or gotten up earlier…healed one more, taught one more parable, but he trusted in the limits God had put on his physical body. How much more should we trust God with leaving things undone! He is in control. And rest is his gift of grace to us.

3. “You Are Loved, Just Because.” Sometimes when we are exhausted, we just can’t. We can’t take the meal to the family who is in need. We can’t sign up for the ministry that could desperately use an extra hand. We can’t even perfect our talents or gifts because quite frankly, we don’t have the time or the energy.

And you know what, it’s okay. (Gasp!)

Yes, it’s okay. It’s okay because God doesn’t love you for what you do for Him. He loves you simply because He is love. It’s okay because the success of God’s great plans doesn’t rest on your shoulders, but on His. It’s okay because life has seasons, and you are in an especially demanding season.

When I was younger, I read the biography of Amy Carmichael, a famous missionary to India who cared for hundreds of orphaned children. The thing that made the biggest impression on me was what she learned at the end of her life. After a lifetime of “doing” for Jesus, she was stuck in bed. While her mind was strong, her body was not. And for the first time, she learned that God did not love her for what she “did” for him—as if God actually needs anything from us—but that he loved her, simply loved her.

While God certainly is pleased when we join Him in serving others, He does not “need” us. He loves us even when all we can do is lie in bed. He loves us for who we are in Him.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly sure God is trying to teach me something through the exhausting, desperate days of parenthood. What better place to start the journey than at the end of ourselves. What better way to love our kids, than to know that while we are finite we can point them to a God whose strength is infinite. What better way to rest in what we have to give today, than in knowing we are loved, simply loved.

So dear one, if you are exhausted, breathe. Go to bed early tonight and trust in the limitations God has given you as part of His grace to you. Trust that the little you have is enough, if you give it to Him. Trust that He loves you, and rest.

 

Isn’t it good news that God is speaking to us in even the hardest places? I’ve come to live expecting to hear from Him in all kinds of places… places of hope, of desperation, and of joy. He whispers to us in all of these if we listen. Would you join me in expecting God in our everyday lives and struggles? If I could encourage you in this listening…in this living expectantly, it would be my honor to have you sign up to receive these posts straight to your inbox.

A Half-Full Cup of Coffee: A New Perspective on Our Interruptions

coffee


The half-drunk cup of coffee is a running joke in our family. At the end of many a day, my husband will be loading the dishes into the dishwasher and will find my half-empty cup of coffee sitting cold in the microwave or resting idly on the counter. With four children under six, the morning ritual was of course interrupted by the baby’s cry, by the toddler needing help at the potty, by the fight which needed breaking up, by the “Can you cut my waffle, mommy?”, the tantrum over not getting to be first, and on and on the list goes.

There’s a glorious inefficiency to motherhood. It doesn’t seem to matter the task, there are always ample interruptions before it can be completed. This, of course, is because there are so many little people who depend on us to do the most basic stuff of life: from pouring milk to wiping noses to intervening in conflicts.

There are points in my day where I do nothing but hold. The baby needs holding because he is fussing. Just about the time I get him down for a nap, the toddler wakes up from his nap grumpy. He refuses to be put down and so I hold him, loving him happy again. About that time the baby has woken up again and needs feeding and a fresh round of holding all over again. And whatever task loomed large in front of me, is still undone.

By the time the day is done, the tasks are still half-done, like my half-drunk cup of coffee. There’s this tantalizing satisfaction that eludes us. If I could just finish… If I could be left alone long enough to… If I could even complete a thought… how wonderful it would be to finish something—especially that cup of coffee.

Perhaps it is because the work of raising children is so abstract, that we long to complete something, anything. But in our lust for completion if we’re not careful, the children come to be seen as obstacles, impediments to our progress.

It’s hard to remember amidst the pure drivel of mundane how deeply important all of those interruptions are. In fact, perhaps it would be better to see things in reverse: the tasks (laundry, dinner, cleaning, our work outside the home, etc.) might, in fact, be the things which interrupt us from the main work of loving these little people into mature adults.

So here’s another perspective: art has never been an efficient process. An artist doesn’t sit down to his canvas and think, “How can I finish this process most quickly so I can get on with the other parts of my life?” We’d laugh if we heard an artist say that. We might wonder: “Where’s his passion for his work?” “When did something of beauty come quickly?” we might rightly ask.

Van Gogh once said, “Christ is more of an artist than the artists; he works in the living spirit and the living flesh, he makes men instead of statues.”

Perhaps, mothers work in this same domain. It is a work which happens in cooperation with the Spirit of God and only through His empowering, but it is a work nonetheless. It is a work which does not belong to us, isn’t completed by us, and yet somehow, we get to participate in it for a time.

Did you have to stop loading the dishwasher to teach a child to share? You work in living spirit and living flesh.

Did you have to put a pause on supper to help a little one acknowledge his wrong and say he’s sorry? You are making men, not statues.

Did you put down your phone, or computer, or turn off the TV to hold a crying child, to let her know she is deeply loved. You are working in the realm of something which will outlast time itself.

Can we find a little dignity in our duties if we see ourselves as apprentice artists with Christ—allowing God to work through us in the clay of molding and shaping the character of our children, graciously chiseling away at the bad habits, quietly brushing away the debris of sin and selfishness? Can we be patient with the process—remembering that in His time He will bring completion to His work?

Most importantly, can our children become the masterpieces in our eyes and not the impediment to it? Maybe, then we’ll see that half-drunk cup of coffee at the end of the day in a new light. We won’t feel sorry for ourselves, but rather remember how caught up we were in the beautiful work—God’s beautiful work. Maybe we’ll see the glass half full.

 

Thanks for reading–I pray you found something here of encouragement.  Perhaps, there’s a line here that will help someone you know love a little child a little better today–would you mind sharing this post with your friends? And if you aren’t a regular here, consider signing up to receive these posts straight to your inbox. It would be great if we could keep on spurring each other on to live a deep and fearless faith.

Two Gifts to Give Before Valentine’s Day

IMG_0547It was summertime. The car was suffocating, but it wasn’t because of the heat. It was because neither of us were talking. If we hadn’t had 3 kids in the car making their own racket, the silence would have been deafening.

The day had started out as a lovely idea—a late afternoon trip to Harper’s Ferry. We’d show the kids where William & Clark laid in supplies for their famous journey; we’d sit out on a patio somewhere and enjoy dinner in the late summer air; and later, we’d walk down to where the rivers meet. But like so many lovely ideas that begin so well in our imaginations, it had ended with us grumpy, irritated, hurt, and frustrated.

It was a series of little things: whiny children, overpriced food, a closed museum, pet peeves, unmet expectations and it culminated in a moment where we both felt the other had woefully missed the mark. It was a narrow sidewalk with cars passing. There was a couple kissing in the sidewalk and a lady taking pictures, apparently an engagement photo shoot. I was trying to keep the kids from stepping out into the road. He thought I was being rude to the couple in their special moment. I thought the smooching couple (who had been there for at least 30 minutes trying to capture the perfect on camera smooch) was being inconsiderate of a pregnant woman trying to keep two kids from oncoming traffic (albeit very slow traffic) and a dad with a baby in a stroller. My husband called my name in an exasperated and embarrassed voice. And I felt like crawling under a rock and dying right there I was so embarrassed. He felt frustrated and embarrassed by how inconsiderate I was being. At that moment, I thought he considered someone else’s bride more important than his own.

Petty. Small stuff. Stuff that looms enormously large at the moment, in the raw emotion of the moment, but which even a few days or months later just seems insufferably inconsequential.

But it’s what we do with this kind of thing that makes marriages either crumble or grow stronger. Do we stuff it down? Do we put on a civil face but inside fume and fester? Do we burrow down in our own little bitterness hideout? Do we bring it up? Snap it in one another’s faces at the most inappropriate times? Do we add it to a list, a list which will come out to hurt and haunt the other at just the worst time or a list which we mull over again and again in a growing pleasure of discontent? Do you see?

What do you do with this kind of stuff?

Before I got married, I took a trip to the tiny country of Rwanda. In a country, hardly bigger than Maryland, in 100 days, close to 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutu were killed. I went to interview these brave survivors, to hear their stories and to hear how people who had lost children, parents, a husband or a wife were now radically forgiving those who had hurt them. I heard how former enemies were now caring for one another, helping one another, rebuilding their lives.

Now fast-forward 8 summers later. And there you’ll find me—uncomfortably silent, seriously having trouble forgiving my husband for wanting me to move a few inches over out of consideration for someone else on such a special day. Um hello? Yes, I am this petty. I get caught up in my own self, in my own thoughts, in my own agenda.

But I’m glad that I began my marriage with writing a book about radical forgiveness. Even though it doesn’t keep me from stupid misunderstandings and hurt feelings and unkind words I wish I hadn’t said. It does often harken me back to reality. It makes me say:

“Can we talk about what just happened back there? I want to tell you how it made me feel…”

It’s tough sometimes to swallow your hurt and anger and frustration enough to open up this kind of conversation. But if you can, and if you can really listen, often you’ll discover you didn’t have the whole picture. Often you’ll discover a way to have compassion for each other, a way to have empathy for one another. And perhaps, you’ll find it in your heart for what comes next.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t seeing things from that angle.”

“I’m sorry. I would never, ever want to make you feel that way.”

It leads to me taking the time to get my heart to a place of true forgiveness because I know just how much it matters. It leads to words of forgiveness. It leads to burying the matter in the past and moving ahead together.

Because here’s the thing, when we keep that list—the one where we keep track of the wrongs against us—pretty soon we only see our loved one through the hazy lens of that list. Pretty soon, no matter how hard your spouse is trying or what good things are also happening, every moment is seen through the tainted focus of the list of disappointments and wrongs. And when we stuff it down and can’t talk about the hard stuff, we don’t get to enjoy the intimacy of knowing another better, of loving another with a more intricate knowledge, of discovering empathy.

So, before you get to this Valentine’s Day. Could you do yourself and your spouse a favor? If you’ve been keeping a list, or keeping score, or burrowing with the hurt, could you deal with it?

Here are two gifts I recommend that we all could give:

In every relationship—be it marriage or friendship or parent-child, we will all play both the part of the offended and the offender. Two little words—“I’m sorry”– wrapped ever so carefully, ever so sincerely, these words can begin a trajectory of restoration. They can begin a conversation of healing.

Three words can be given as a gift even before they are spoken. “I forgive you.” True forgiveness—sincere forgiveness–not only is the key to unlock our own prisons of bitterness, but it is also a gift that can change someone else’s heart. It can start to work its miracle before a cold heart has even acknowledged a wrong. Forgiveness thaws. And once that thaw begins… winter’s grip is never again so strong.

So, I’ve taken a moment to be vulnerable with you. Would you take a moment to be vulnerable before God? Would you be honest with the ways you’ve been petty? Would you be honest with the things you aren’t forgiving? Would you be honest with the ways you’ve wronged the one you love?

Flowers, dinners out, chocolates, or cards mean little if there is an unhealthy relationship just below the surface. Why not give some better gifts this Valentine’s Day? Before you speak a word to your spouse, talk to God about these gifts. Ask God to show you how you’ve wronged the one you love and ask God to give you the grace to forgive the ways in which you’ve been wronged. Ask Him to help you to turn conflict into opportunities for growth and intimacy. And then ask Him what next. Chances are this gift won’t be quite as easy as flowers and candy, but there’s a guarantee that it will be sweeter.

 

(By the way, just in case you were wondering, my husband was in 100% agreement with me sharing this post. He’s awesome like that. ) 

And if you’re new here, I’d love for you to find a friend here in this little corner of cyberspace. I’m reaching out trying to encourage myself and others to live a deep and fearless faith. Hard things like forgiveness are part of it. Radical things like joy are too. Sign up to have these posts delivered to your inbox or follow me on Facebook. I’d love to walk this journey with you.

It Matters Deeply: The Heartbeat of a Home

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Think warm. Think Spring. Think St. Louis. A child is at home with her mother listening to the radio as they go about their kitchen chores. The radio is playing some Gospel music and both mother and daughter are singing along, cozy and deeply happy.

As the music swells: “Mother started whirling and dancing gaily as we both sang about the greatest love in all of life—our sweet Lord Jesus. This love sparkled and was enjoyable and gave gladness. I laughed as I joined in the dancing with a joy that can still bubble up. I’ll always remember this lovely young mother, the atmosphere of the home I grew up in, and that special scene,” writes Susan Schaeffer Macaulay of her mother, Edith Schaeffer, in her book For the Family’s Sake.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this image and about home. And by home I don’t mean the physical four walls and roof. Rather, I’m writing about the atmosphere that creates the feeling of home: the people who create “home” for others and the spirit which they create with words, actions, and attitudes. I’ve been mulling this because I think more than anything this is the life-shaping influence our children or those who enter our homes will remember.

More than anything I want my boys to remember one day a mama who was so in love with Jesus that they could see it on her face, that they could hear it in her voice, and could sometimes even feel it in their bones as she whirled them up in her arms and danced around the kitchen with them. I know that each moment will not be such a spiritual mountaintop experience, but I want my boys to remember a mama who more often than not sang with the love of Jesus on her lips, who laughed with a heart full of joy, and could be in the moment because she could trust her cares to her Creator.

These kinds of memories of home have nothing to do with how well the home is decorated, with the kind of furniture or home one can afford, or whether or not a parent stays home or works full time. They depend on the kind of relationship a mom or dad has with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with one another.

I have lovely memories of my own home growing up. I remember the feeling of being picked up and carried to bed as a little girl by my dad’s big strong arms. I remember my mom comforting me with Scripture when a midnight storm had made me afraid. I remember my dad’s bible open on the kitchen table, and the reverberations of my mom’s upright piano as she played a favorite hymn. I remember games, and laughter, and good-hearted teasing, affectionate parents, and a spirit of hospitality. I remember earnest prayers prayed and answered, and a habitual desiring that others might know Jesus and know His comfort through our family. And I remember most of all being deeply loved and cared for in every imaginable way. As Susan Schaeffer McCauley writes:

“There is so much more that I could tell, for I was taught Bible stories clearly, even in those years when I was six years old or under. So I knew this Lord Jesus by word, by song, by hugs and comfort, by forgiveness and faithfulness and meals all together, blessed with prayer.

A childhood home like this is a very great and godly gift. Such a legacy does not come from perfect parents, thank God. In fact perfect parents could not prepare us for a life that is to be full of our own and other people’s failings. My parents were always open about the fact that they weren’t all that good. Anyway, all children see parents as they are!

How could anyone dare to suggest or say that working at the huge task of making a home and carrying on through years and years of ups and downs is not one of the very few truly worthwhile ways to spend our energies and gifts in human life?”

We create the atmosphere of our homes. And we are largely unconscious of how we make it. But it begins and ends with our own relationship with Jesus. Is it living and vital, not a last year’s faith, but a faith of today, of this right-now moment? If we are unhappy because we have not known what it is to be filled deep down in our souls by the One whose love means more to us than our bank balance, our self-image, or our failures, then our children and those who enter our homes will feel it. But if the hard things—and heaven help us, they are many—are all tempered by the sweetness of the peace we have in our Savior, then those who come within our walls will not remember the circumstance, but rather our peace and our joy in the face of the circumstance.

What a great privilege and duty it is to help set the tone of our homes! How important it is that I find my joy in that which truly satisfies so I can pass that joy to the others who enter my home. I can do my children no greater service than to think deeply and act boldly to create the aspects so vital to developing a rich home atmosphere. How will I work to create an atmosphere where each person matters immensely, where compassion is a muscle exercised often, where books, and music, and art are laid before my children regularly like a feast, where vastly diverse people are routinely welcomed and served within our walls, where conversations rise above the frivolous, where laughter leaves us wrinkled in all the right places, and where Jesus is enjoyed and exalted in manifold ways throughout our days and years.

Would you think about this with me? It matters deeply.

 

Homes matter. And creating a life-giving home is a calling that every adult, single, married, widowed, with children or without, has. Because homes are not only our refuge but our outposts of ministry, we should give thought to the atmosphere we create within them. We should pray that the Lord would make them alive with His work within them.

Want to keep digging deeper and living bolder? Keep exploring with me here at Live Expectantly. I expect God to keep showing up in our lives and in our homes and to keep hearing from Him if we have the ears to hear. Stick around. Let’s see what He wants to tell us. And if you haven’t become a fan on Facebook or signed up to receive these posts in your inbox, would you take a minute to do so? Now that you’ve followed this crumb-trail of words here, I’d hate for us to lose each other.

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