February 26, 2008
Two women are walking down the street. One looks as though she bears the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her hair is stringy and her expression growly as she walks along in her mismatched sweatsuit with her shoulders slumped. The two children she is almost dragging with her are fighting between themselves and doing everything they can to annoy her. They have been rude to her, and she has let them. She doesn't feel like there is anything at all she can do about it. After all, she just finished delivering a dinner to Mrs. Johnson, grocery shopping, and taking Timmy to baseball practice and Margaret to her piano lessons. She is exhausted. Now, all three of the them are going home where they will see their father, a kind, but worn man who has spent the day at a job he hates. He wants nothing more than to come home and retreat into his own little world. The evening will consist of everyone eating chicken strips and chips in front of the television set. When bedtime rolls around, the parents will inquire about homework. The children will lie and say that it is done. Then, they will argue to stay up and play one more video game. The mother will sigh and say "yes" because she doesn't feel like fighting another battle. Tomorrow will be another day.
The other woman is full of life. She is dressed in a smart, but comfortable track suit, with her hair pulled back neatly into a ponytail. This woman has a spring in her step as she walks. Her eyes sparkle as she laughs with the two little ones at her side. One of them has just found a sprig of grass growing up through the snow. "How does a flower grow in the snow, Mommy?" So, they all stop and talk about it for just a moment, then they continue on to their destination. That destination is home, where they will get scooped up and bear-hugged by the father who loves them dearly.
They will all share a meal together, talking about what happened that day and telling silly jokes. Afterward, the woman and her husband will catch up on their reading or projects. They will be productive but still available if one of the kids needs a quick tutoring session. Then there are the "chase breaks" to let off some pent-up energy. After some play time and some story time, it's time for bed. The children know the rules, and are off to bed with minimal fuss. Mom and Dad spend some time talking over adult things and then relax a little before they, too, turn in for the night. They are looking forward to morning… tomorrow will be another day!
Which of these women are you? More importantly, which of these women do you want to be?
Finding the energy for all of our adult responsibilities can seem just out of reach. However, turn that around for a moment. Remember that all of those responsibilities are pieces of what we like to call "life"! Our activities can often be traced back to things we have chosen, things we have wanted. Think about it, our children… we love them more than our own lives. Our work… whatever it is, it gives us something, whether it is a clean house, money to pay for that house, or a house for our own creative endeavors. Our service projects… how wonderful and blessed we are to be in a position where we can help others. Do you see where I am going with this?
So, how do you live with life?
By looking at life from a new angle. The old "look for the silver lining" may be cliche, but cliches are coined for a reason… they are often true! Most of us are in an enviable position. We have homes, families, clothes, food, recreation. We are the master's of our own ships so to speak, in that we decide what comes into our lives and what we allow to stay. So, why are we having such a hard time being happy? Why can't we step out of the rat race even when we want to? The answer to that really just boils down to perspective.
Guess what, ladies, you don't have to do everything! That's right, I am officially giving you permission to step off your spinning wheel and say "no". You can buy the brownies for the 26th children's event this month rather than making them from scratch. You can tell the church social committee that you won't be joining them this year. You can give your children limits on how many extra-curricular activities they can participate in. Then, you use your time to do the things that matter and do them well! That is how you live with life.
Here's the caveat, other people may not like it. Other moms may whisper that you were too lazy to bake. The social committee may question your devotion to the Lord (which, by the way, isn't aligned with your service on any committee). You kids may get down-right angry with you. Let them. At the beginning, it will be hard because you won't be pleasing everyone. But, I have a not-so-little secret for you:
You aren't pleasing everyone anyway. On the surface, you may think you are, but deep down you know what you could be doing better if you only had the time. The more stretched you are, the more the quality of what you do suffers. I have another cliche for you (I know, I know, bear with me!) "That which is worth doing is worth doing well." Now, my guess is that you have heard that one before too. EMBED IT INTO YOUR HEART RIGHT NOW! You will get more life out of that little sentence than you will out of 10 self-help books. The trick is to apply it to every aspect of your life. That means cutting back in areas that are not-so-important in order to focus on areas that are.
Start by examining your activities using comparison and motivation/result. Is it more meaningful if I back the cupcakes from scratch (pat on the back from other moms) or use the time to keep the house organized and tidy (more relaxed, healthy home atmosphere)? Should I serve on the social committee (kudos from church folks) or spend that time exercising (taking care of my health so that I can serve in the future when the kids are in college)? Is carting the kids around to a million and one activities (so they are "happy") really more important than guarding their time for free play, to rest, or even (gasp) to be bored (strengthening family bonds and fostering creativity)?
Just for the record, there is nothing wrong with being involved (this comes from a self-diagnosed extrovert). But, you may find yourself so involved that you say things like, "If I could just get caught up" the minute you wake in the morning or "Why do we have to go to dinner at Pete and Marcie's tonight?" when, in fact, you love Pete and Marcie. When that happens, you aren't living with life. Your life has gotten away from you.
At first, it won't be easy. Likely, you will struggle with guilt and inferiority more than anything. Pride will also rear its ugly head when it figures out that you may not be perceived as "superwoman" anymore. But, if you shoulder on and commit to your true priorities, you'll soon find the sun breaking through the clouds. Your husband may ask, "What happened, honey, you seem so relaxed?" Your kids will say to their friends, "My mommy isn't grouchy, she smiles alot!" Your friends and acquaintances will be somewhat envious and ask you how you can be so calm and pulled-together all the time.
That's when you simply smile enigmatically and answer, "I am just Living with Life!"