What a Difference a Year {of rest} Makes

Exactly one year ago my days usually looked something like this:

Get kids out the door for school. Sit on the sofa for hours–sometimes writing, sometimes journaling, sometimes reading, sometimes dozing. I’d leave at 12:45 to pick up the youngest from preschool. I picked up the older two at 2:30. Because I’d spent most mornings doing nothing, I had a wee bit of energy to transition into mom mode, oversee the kids, and throw together something for dinner. It was not uncommon for me to doze off by 8:30, sleepily slurring words while reading Harry Potter to the kids. The bare minimum wore me out.

For months on end, my days were characterized by exhaustion and rest. My thoughts waffled between gratitude for the opportunity to just finally stop and recover, and guilt because I had nothing to show for my days. I wondered if I would ever feel normal again. I could hardly remember what normal was for me. 

But here’s the thing about having nothing to give: “Nothing” is void of inertia. {I’m sure there is some law of physics that puts it way better.}

No amount of bootstrap-tugging or mantra-repeating can make it happen. On my better days I knew the futility of trying to make myself different than I was. I prayed and hoped that one day things would change and in the meantime, I received the grace to simply accept who I was: a tired, emotional mess. My job was to rest and heal. And so I did, some days better than others. {See? I even measure my rest as successful or not. Surely perfectionism is an illness.}

Yesterday was a day I couldn’t have executed even a few months ago. I got up early to run, came home and readied the kids for school. Then my five-year-old and I took the dog to the vet for shots. The dog peed and pooped twice in Pet Smart just like she always does. And so I cleaned it up, just like I always do, all the while laughing at the ridiculous dirty work of my everyday. I held said dog during the shots while fielding 5,269 questions from my five-year-old and making sure he didn’t collapse the folding examination table on his head. After that we went to Target, stopped for lunch, visited a thrift store, and browsed an antiques shop. I made phone calls, paid bills, talked with a neighbor, picked up kids, debriefed about their school days, fixed something new for dinner, and did at least three loads of laundry. By the time we finished our read-aloud time last night, I was tired. And I should have been. I packed a lot of stuff into the day.

A day like that would not have been possible last year. I would have been lucky to fit all of those tasks into one week, maybe even one month. It’s crazy how great I felt about myself when I went to bed last night. And I mean crazy in a bad way. 

Because here’s what I’ve learned. Productivity and “success” don’t force one to wrestle with issues of grace and acceptance and weakness. On days like yesterday, I was my own motivator and savior. I relied on my trusty to-do list, boundless energy, and welcome creativity. 

I needed Jesus less…or so it seemed.

But the “loser days” and the “winner days” are actually shouting the same message: Girl, you need Jesus every day. On the exhausting days, you need him to save you from your circumstances and your inability. On the energetic days, you need him to save you from yourself and your ability.   

Both kinds of days point to my complete and utter dependance; productivity simply disguises the need a little more. 

I wouldn’t say I’m back to “normal,” whatever that is. But I am returning, slowly, to a place where I’m more functional. Rest looks a bit different now. Last year I rested out of complete necessity; this year rest will be more of a discipline. I am learning to practice time-outs even when my mind and body are telling me I can accomplish more. 

Yesterday my running partner and I were talking about where I was a year ago. I joked about how, for months on end, I had absolutely nothing to show for my days. She said, That’s not true. All those days of rest are showing up now, this year. 

And that’s the truth. Rest takes time. Its effects are cumulative and life-giving but it requires a patience which daily accomplishment doesn’t mandate. Projects and checked-off to-do lists provide instant gratification. Rest makes you wait for it. I’ve learned this the hard, beautiful way and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

After two days of productivity, I’m forcing myself to bask in the quiet this morning, to stay in my pajamas, to read and meditate and write, to acknowledge my need even though I don’t feel it as acutely, physically and emotionally.  

Now that each and every day aren’t plagued by utter inability, I oscillate between being Mary on a pensive Tuesday and Martha on a task-oriented Thursday. And though work and rest are needful rhythms in our lives, Jesus reminds us that only one thing is truly the main course: to sit at his feet, to rest in his presence, to know that his words are life-giving and that his perfect life is what gives us life. 

We fill up so that we can pour out. 

Sometimes we devote ourselves to rest for a season, a very long season if that’s what it takes. Other times rest is a practice, a lifestyle of margin and weighing opportunity costs and tough prioritization. My husband is good to remind me that fruitfulness and productivity are often not the same thing. 

Maybe this year is one dedicated to rest for you. Maybe it’s one of new opportunities and exciting projects. Maybe it’s one of dealing with grief and debilitating transition. Our lives change but they’re tenderly held by a God who doesn’t. 

Whatever this next year holds, my hope for all of us is that God meets us right where we are to custom-fit each of us with exactly the kind of rest and renewal our bodies, minds and souls need, to fill us up so we can eventually pour our lives out in service to those around us. 


And now a New Year’s Prayer for all of us:

May your 2013 be one of wisdom and encouragement. Say “no” to that which is not fruitful. Say “yes” to fresh possibilities and brave new paths. Rest when you need it. Work when you have to. Be encouraged that all work is sacred, whether you’re at home wiping bottoms or in an office filing papers. Accept the season in which you live, glamourous or not. Know that it’s divinely appointed and therefore beautiful, even if it’s a mess. If you feel invisible and unimportant, know that it’s a lie. God sees you and keeps track of every last hair on your head. You matter and he loves you more than you can possibly comprehend. If you belong to him, you’re royalty. Realize that God sees neediness and dependence as virtues, not disabilities. May his grace give you new eyes to see that He is strongest when you are weak. Amen.

Face to the Sun

Well over a year ago I began a slow spiral into complete exhaustion. In July of this year, I finally sought help from a doctor. Tests revealed that I had good reason to be in a state of total and utter fatigue. With medicine and rest, nutrition and vitamins, I’ve begun a gradual ascent into quasi-normalcy. We don’t know how long it may take but I now have more good days than gutter days. 

No small miracle.

In this season of much to do, I squint my eyes and wish for every day to be a good one. This week began with a hearty to-do list and I hoped with all my might that the energy would man up and match the list. Yesterday, it did not. 

Despite an early-morning run, coffee, and a quiet house, no amount of willpower or wishing would make this body go. I yawned. I sat. I read. I stared out the window. I drank coffee. I tried to just go. I yawned some more. I prayed for strength. Nada. 

Discouraged and drained {though I had done nothing} I took the dog outside and sat in the sun. This mild, southeastern climate is my best friend right now. On a December noonday, I sat in my husband’s Nike sweatshirt from college, closed my eyes, and let the warmth of the sun beat down on my face. I smiled. I breathed slow and long and deep. I prayed a little. I nearly fell asleep sitting upright in a patio chair.  

I’ve been reading Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling devotional for a couple of years now. She talks a lot about the warmth and light and healing of Jesus’ presence. Over time, I’ve begun to associate warm, radiant light with Jesus, particularly on winter days when the sun is such an unexpected and welcome gift.  

And so yesterday, in the midst of nothing to give, I simply lifted my tired face to sky and received the healing, comforting, love-lit warmth of Jesus while sitting in my driveway.  

Times like these have become a sort of communion, a means of grace to keep me going through the difficult days. In moments of stillness and clarity, I see the beauty in my neediness. For there are certain gifts, like Jesus in the noonday sun, that I would never have stopped to receive if the day had been the energy-filled, productive, Type-A day I so desired.

Today, we’re unwrapping the gifts of the everyday over at Emily’s {Chatting at the Sky.} And we’ll be doing it each Tuesday of December. 

What can you unwrap? 

{from Emily} Anything that causes you to pause and celebrate the moment. Not what will be or what is to come, but what is real and true this day: the messy, the lovely, and the unexpected. Share a photo, a story, or anything that offers a glimpse into your own journey of discovering the gifts in the midst of the ordinary.

Join us?

For the Mom Who’s Trying to Get Her Kids and Her Holidays Just Right

She started the list a week ago. Her delicate fingers gripped the brightly-colored pigma pens as she scrawled out her heart’s desires on the lined pages of a polka-dotted notebook. Mommy, do you want to know what I have on my Christmas list so far? 

This mama’s inner response was one of frustration and slight panic. Why is she only thinking of what she wants? My children are becoming products of American consumerism run amuck! How am I going to fix this?

I’m not sure what I said at first but within a few sentences I was waxing poetically about how we need to also be thinking about ways we can give and not just focus on what we want to receive. Like a heart surgeon, I wanted to jump right in and fix things. You know, take out the greed, replace it with selfless goodwill and sincere gratitude, stitch things right up and tada! A child who can celebrate the real meaning of the upcoming holidays because I, a righteous and intentional mother, have taught my children well.

As I type these words, I could just choke on the hypocrisy of it all. Not to mention the control, anxiety, and self-righteousness that goes along with it. 

I’m not sure that our foremothers stressed over the intentionality of the holidays and special occasions with their children the way we moderns do. They were not bombarded with Pinterest, blogs, an endless array of magazines, and HGTV segments. As commercialism and consumerism have skyrocketed, so has the “intentionality movement.” {That’s what I’m calling it.} 

Don’t get my wrong, I long to be an intentional mother. My husband longs to be an intentional father.  We want our children to be full of thanksgiving not only this week but every day of the year. We want them to know something of sacrifice and generosity during the Christmas season and beyond. We want to incorporate traditions and practices that point our family to Christ instead of to the Toys ‘R Us Big Book of Presents. 

And we can stress ourselves to death trying to do it. 

We can wallow in guilt when we don’t live up to our expectations. 

We can consume ourselves with attempts to undo the consumerism. 

We can look at what other families are doing or not doing and feel like maybe they’re getting it right and we’re not. 

I don’t have answers. I never have answers. But writing and sharing helps me process the tangled state of my heart and mind as I consider the unnecessary pressures and obligations of the holidays. Personally, I long to be reasonable and balanced in a way that fits the uniqueness of our family. 

I like pretty things and baking and crafts and sacred traditions. But if my family emulated every great and intentional idea we’ve ever seen, we’d be up to our ears in Advent calendar-ing and devotionals and cookie-baking in the shapes of Christmas symbols and doing lessons on the Christian history of Christmas and volunteering in homeless shelters and giving shoes, toys, clothing to the needy and buying goats for a family in Africa and making sure each child only gets 3 gifts because that’s what Baby Jesus got from the wise men…

And I am so not even done. 

Those are all wonderful endeavors. You may do some of them. We do some of them as well. Do not misinterpret my condensed list of good things as cynicism, sarcasm, or apathy. It’s because I care quite a lot about mothering well and modeling compassion that I stress and digress. 

We are called to give generously and to live sacrificially. Honoring traditions create lovely memories for our children that they may even want to honor with their own families one day. 

But we cannot do every good thing. 

We cannot change the hearts of our children even though we try like mad to do so by mandating certain behaviors or instituting various family practices.  

We cannot save the world. That’s what Jesus came to do and is doing. I think the most lasting thing we can do with our families is to speak, love, and live every day in light of that Truth: Jesus came! To save the world! 

Gratitude for the truth and beauty of the Gospel inspires and enables me {and my family} to shine a light in the small, humble corner where we live. 

Dr. Tim Kimmell in his book, Grace-Based Parenting, says this about families:

God left our families in communities to serve as porch lights, if you will, for the lost people around us. We are to be the steady glow that helps them find their way out of the darkness. When families are committed to being this light, they are inclined to live more intimately with Christ. {And I would argue that the inverse is also true: When families live more intimately with Christ, they are supernaturally more committed to being this light.}  

… {Historically} Parents armed with little more than a vibrant relationship with God consistently served as the ideal springboard for great people. So something changed. We got scared. And I think that fear is what motivates so much of the Christian parenting advice we get. 

This excerpt was not written to address the issue of being intentional with our kids regarding the holidays, but his words nonetheless apply. 

We fear that we’re not doing enough in our family and for others. We fear that our children won’t be compassionate and generous if they’re too excited about their own presents. We fear that they’ll be lacking somehow if our own traditions are missing creativity and consistency.

When I’m motivated by fear, I tend to control and manipulate. Things become contrived instead of sincere, forced instead of free-flowing. It’s ugly.

I often think of Emily Freeman’s quote in Grace for the Good Girl

Fear drives. 
But Love leads. 

Do you know what I wish I’d said to my daughter when she came to me with childlike excitement over her Christmas list? 

I love your list. This list shows me how much you appreciate beauty and anticipate delight. You know, God made us this way. In the garden, there was a limitless supply of beauty, an endless array of his good gifts. No living thing lacked anything. That’s how we were created to live and one day all of that will return. In the meantime, dreaming of lovely and delightful gifts show us how much we long for beauty and goodness in a broken world. Receiving and giving presents are a little foretaste of what was and what is to come. And of course all of this pales in comparison to the greatest and most undeserved gift of all: Christ Jesus, through whom all of this was promised and is possible. We have so much to celebrate, so much to receive, so much to give…

Because she is 11, she would have probably tuned me out after the first two sentences. But if we’re living out what we believe every day of the year, though we’re doing it so imperfectly, perhaps it eventually gets through. Trickle-down theology?

Though excess and materialism can poison our hearts, so can good deeds and sacrifice when they’re driven by duty-bound motives or dripping with self-righteousness. 

We can’t make our children’s hearts change. We can simply love them, provide for them, teach them, and model for them, albeit imperfectly. Only God can knock down the idols of their hearts and replace their love for the created with a greater love for the Creator. Only God can do that in my own heart and let me tell you, I sometimes wonder if I’m much further along than my children.

This year I’m starting over, at least in my mind. I want a brand new paradigm. It’s not about getting it all just right. It’s not about making sure my kids love Jesus on Christmas morning more than they love the new Lego set they just unwrapped. 

It’s about pointing our own minds and hearts, as parents, toward the beauty and wonder of Christ and hoping that a bit of that beauty and wonder will spill over and cumulatively settle into the hearts of our children. And also hoping that it will flow into our spheres of influence in ways that are genuine and authentic and personal. Like the squares of a patchwork quilt, there is such beauty in the uniqueness of our families and how God uses us differently in our communities and beyond. 

I don’t know about you but that sets me free in all sorts of ways. And I think it really is that simple…

Start first with my own heart. Live gratitude. Receive the love and mystery and wonder of Christ every day.

Perhaps setting our minds on these eternal truths will have a way of making everything else fall into place over the coming weeks.

A thrill of hope, the weary mom rejoices…


How about you? Do you struggle with “intentionality guilt” like I do?


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{This post appeared in BlogHer’s “Family” section, November 26th, 2012}

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