I made a huge mistake.
At this stage, and at my age, you'd think I'd know better. I'd think so, too, but maybe I don't. Or maybe I don't want to.
We were on a road trip to pick up our 18 year old daughter who was returning from a month-long visit to America. It was going to have us in our seats for about 12+ hours (round trip) and we were doing the whole thing in one day. We left at 5am and I had a plan. I had the kids pack books they could read to pass the time and I put together two baskets of things for myself with the intention to be productive. But when we got on the road, the diesel engine wreaked havoc on my wakefulness and I realized I really just wanted to sleep.
So I struggled to get comfortable enough to doze and I did nap a bit. But when I was awake, I ended up with my phone in my hand determined to find inspirational videos on raising a family. Lately I've had this recurring gnawing in my stomach over the loss of normalcy and I just wanted to figure out a way to restore to our three little boys what they'd had before coming here. What their 5 older siblings all had ... a normal mom. I wanted the slow mornings curled up reading aloud and the quiet, cozy evenings just being together. It took only a few clicks to land on a video of a perfect looking family with a perfect sounding routine.
Casual conversation, teachable moments, tender exchanges. I wanted what I was seeing and discontent began its ugly creep. So I did the next rational thing and decided to watch more "perfect"families living my ideal so I could covet what they had, but that I couldn't.
Time passed without my realizing it and I was several videos deep, taking notes for a reality that's no longer mine. My initial intentions had been good ... give my kids better because that's the yearning of every parent's heart ... but I went to Youtube instead of to God.
And I realized, as I thought about it, that this is likely a far too common problem in our broken societies. Our homes and families don't look the way we think they should and so we feel that lack and process it as failure. Sometimes, many times even, God really is calling us to change of some sort. And it's in our best interest to listen. But there are also times when the enemy starts with a whisper, and escalates to a scream, telling us all the ways we should be unhappy with our reality.
Because sometimes marriages fall apart without mutual consent and one person is left holding a load they weren't meant to bear. Or one spouse is taken from this life, leaving the other to carry a weight intended to be shared by two people. Some families are grieving the loss of children, dealing with things they could never have forseen and felt totally unprepared for. There's all sorts of reasons why our lives don't look the way they should, and every single one of them points back to the fact that we live in a fallen world. Some of what God is patiently showing me is surely applicable in the lives of most people.
So here's a few things I'm coming to know:
Our callings are each unique. Most people aren't called to a foreign land to raise more kids than they can count on their fingers and toes. That doesn't mean we weren't. (And it doesn't mean you weren't called to do that thing everyone seems to question you for) It doesn't mean our load won't look different than all the Youtubers I can find or any of the beautiful people on my lego. It doesn't mean people won't kindly caution us that being busy or stretched could mean we're serving the wrong master. And sometimes they'll be right; a person given an inordinately heavy load can easily end up with a hero complex. But if we're doing what's clearly from God, and yet we find ourselves scurrying to keep up and struggling to find ways to better cope, it doesn't automatically mean we heard the wrong call. We're wise to openly receive advice from people who have our best interest at heart and then we need to filter that counsel through the Holy Spirit, asking Him for clear and discerning conviction. But if I compare my life to the lives of "perfect" families on Youtube or anywhere else, I'm going to end up stressed and dissatisfied.
Our callings are God's efforts to redeem a broken people, including ourselves. In an unfallen world, there'd be no single parents, no widows, no orphans. There'd be no parents struggling to hold things together in a (planet-wide) climate where everything is falling apart. And God knows this. He knows and understands, far better than we do, that what we've been tasked with is far from easy, but that it's made far easier if we first focus our efforts on seeking Him. With our eyes on what we're missing, or what we think we lack, the enemy gains the upper hand. God steadies the ground under us, however, when we recognize He hasn't taken anything from us that we need for contentment or salvation. Even peace. Even calm. Even cozy. For us, we have more than two dozen kids who aren't ours by birth which means that in a perfect world, we wouldn't have them. Not having them would translate into a lot less work or expense or even heartache ... it would afford us slow mornings and quiet evenings ... but we'd be missing out on clasping hands with the God of the Universe to reach these hurting hearts. It's the same with any family that's been thrust into less than ideal cicumstances. You've been called for such a time as this.
Our callings don't have to match our natural desires or preferences. And this is hard for people to accept. When something sounds hard, or unnatural, we tend to shrink from it or label it as radical. To a degree, I chronicle my life online with the hope that something I share may be helpful for even one person. And I choose to do it transparently rather than aesthetically. But I only share something that could be perceived as negative when God has worked me through it to a point where I've seen the positive. So while the details may not all be rainbows, there's definitely a treasure at the end of them. My life is busy and filled with demand and I wouldn't have chosen it if left to myself. Sometimes it worries people. There are days I'm overwhelmed or sad because I can't make it look the way I crave for it to look. You've probably been there, too. We don't always like walking out the details, but God doesn't require that we do. He simply asks that we hand over our bad attitudes and selfish desires, even our pain, so He can give us what we really need in order to thrive.
Comparison is a literal death knell. If I look at your life and you appear to have a tidy family with all the quiet I crave, I can easily fall into covetousness. If you look at my family and think you can only really serve God if you're way outside your natural habitat and overrun by demand or adventure, you may feel defeated thinking your own life is mundane. But if I instead look at you and pray that God will bless you where you are, and multiply your efforts right within your home, I lose no energy to grumbling that I don't have what you do. And if you look at me and pray that God will sustain our energy and fill in our gaps, you won't be overwhelmed by the lie that your life has to look like mine for it to have impact. We're on the same team running different legs of the relay, and no one leg is more critical than the other. What matters is that we all run in sync with the Spirit. It's the only way to ensure we meet up at the finish line.
On the journey home from getting our daughter she almost instantly fell asleep. Rather than falling back into the trap of scrolling on my phone, I started to crochet a temperature blanket for 2023. I've never done one before but I chose a simple moss stitch pattern that I can do mindlessly while I pray. My plan is that by the time I lay that final row of stitches of December 31 of this year, I'll have a huge blanket representative of time well-spent instead of wasted.
Because prayer is what's going to keep us grounded, but also content.