Monday, July 25, 2011

A Call to Rest, Part 2

I wrote the first installment of "A Call to Rest" a month ago and had planned for this one to be an immediate follow-up. But life has a way of interrupting and other things were on my heart. I've learned that I typically write best out of the moment.

But I'm ready to revisit this issue of rest and priorities. Maybe it's timelier now anyway as we consider back-to-school schedules and count down the remaining lazy days of summer.

"A Call to Rest Part I" talked a lot about acceptance and surrender.

But there's another piece to the puzzle of finding rest and it deals with "opportunity cost." I've written about that before too. But I think the simplest way of explaining it is this: Every yes is also a no.

Emily was the one who really made me think about this issue in a post entitled, "how saying yes (and no) shape a life story." Consider her wise words: When you say yes to things, you automatically say no to other things whether you mean to or not.

For days I processed that simple and astounding truth. It was a total "A-Ha moment" for me. And I realized that much of the stress and frustration with myself and with others was because I refused to accept the reality of opportunity cost, cause and effect, yes and no...whatever you want to call it.

It looks different in all of our lives but for me I've often felt tension between creative or intellectual pursuits and domestic or work-related duties. Whether it's a call to write or an itch to make something, I bubble with some sort of creative juice nearly every day.

What's a girl to do? How can duty, art, and motherhood all peacefully coexist?

To complicate matters, I'm a bit of a perfectionist. I want to be creative in a clean house with clean laundry. I feel like I should make healthy, delicious meals with ingredients from the farmer's market or purchased for pennies with my stacks of organized coupons.

I'm just getting started. It gets worse.

In my ridiculously perfect world, I get up in the early morning hours to run and have quiet time before the kids get up. And after we feast on eggs from our chicken coop and muffins baked from freshly-milled grains, we begin our day of classical education at home.

We always stay on schedule. {Cue lightening bolt.} My toddler plays quietly on a rug with blocks. And as the older two kids work independently, I teach said toddler to read. Even though he is three. And then he obediently goes back to the blocks.

In my overachieving world, I am also able to weave soccer and golf and music lessons into our well as afternoon rest time and classical books that I read aloud to the children each evening.

And in the midst of these well-managed days, I find time for coffee with friends, weekly dates with my husband, and all of my creative pursuits. My house is beautiful and orderly.

Because my perfect world is also a charitable one, we volunteer as a family. And do service-learning projects. My kitchen remains clean and my floors stay mopped because I have trained my kids to cheerfully and dutifully help out around the house while I bake lasagnas for new moms.

And for the icing on the make-believe cake, we are debt-free and donate a substantial portion of our income to missions.

At this point you are rolling your eyes and so am I. Because these expectations are clearly ridiculous and too much. But that big ol' list is just the tip of the iceberg. I have at one point or another expected and even demanded that I live that impossible life even if I didn't realize I was carting around such a heavy load of expectation.

It's easy to look at everyone else and what they're doing, craft some sort of a composite superwoman, and then try to wear the every-woman-super-woman costume every day.

That's just sad. And delusional.

I can't tell you how to prioritize but I can encourage you to take inventory of your expectations. It's what I have to do every single day.

Recently I said "yes" to an all-day Saturday excursion with my daughter. We had some important coming-of-age things to talk about so I wove it into a non-threatening day of lunch and shopping. We didn't get home until dark and even then, she still wasn't done talking. Our time together had encouraged her to open up about some things. So I said "yes" to all of that too.

When Monday morning rolled around, mocking me with a messy house and the absence of bread and milk, I remembered that I'd spent all day Saturday building a relationship with the most precious girl in the world to me. I still bristled as I surveyed the disarray and inventoried the fridge, but I also experienced a sort of acceptance, reminding myself that "yes" to relationship meant "no" to domestic productivity.

This rings true for the less consequential decisions as well. When I say "yes" to writing, it probably means I've said "no" to a tidy kitchen or folded laundry.

Come fall, when I say "yes" to soccer for two kids and piano lessons, I accept that I'm saying "no" {for a short season} to calm evenings together as a family and lots of leisurely dinners around the table.

For our family, saying "yes" to homeschooling means saying "no" to a host of other good things. And for homeschooling to work for us this year, we've decided to say "yes" to childcare for the youngest. Instead of wrangling this active and extroverted 3-year-old while educating the older two, I've decided to send him to preschool from 9-1...four days a week.

Homeschooling older kids while occupying an active preschooler works just fine for some people but last year about did me in. I decided to say "no" to crazy and "yes" to a more peaceful and productive school environment for the older two and their mama.

There's no wrong...but there is a choice.

And it's tough to make peace with our choices but we must. If you're a stay-at-home-mom you've said "yes" to staying home and "no" to an extra paycheck and the personal pursuit of a career. And if you work outside the home, you've said "yes" to a paycheck and the rewards of your profession while saying "no" to lots of time at home and volunteering at your kids' school.

I should know. I've done both and I've struggled with balance and guilt and acceptance in every season and with each decision.

In recent months, I reluctantly said "no" to two part-time jobs even though I enjoyed them and they helped us financially. But my family has some special needs right now and I need to be focused on marriage, children, home, and healing. Those "no" decisions have ushered me into a place of peace and prioritizing.

Sisters, we can't do it all but we live as if we can. And then we wonder why we're guilt-ridden, tired and lacking.

Sometimes rest simply begins with accepting the yes and the no for each day and for each season. I repeat this sentence to myself multiple times every single day. Because I said "yes" to ________, I've said "no" to _________.

These days, I aspire to do less and to live more. To tidy up less and to rest more. To do what I can, when I can, and to accept the undone and unattempted. And I'm learning, ironically, that being an intentional "underachiever" is actually a great accomplishment.


  1. Oh, Marian. I could have written all of this-- the insane and deafening mocking of the image of the perfect family/house/homeschool environment/woman. How in the world do we think we could ever accomplish these things in a world full of people as flawed as we?! It sounds like you had a wonderful time and talk with your girl, and how precious those moments--how treasured! Your frustration at the house will all blend together in retrospect (MINE TOO!), like one blurry blob of mediocrity. But those moments-- they'll rise and last like the heirlooms they are, and they'll keep you warm when the kids are gone. :) I am going to steal your mantra: Because I said yes...., I said no..... . What a great reminder to those of us who are naturally overcommitted.
    Thanks for sharing your heart. Many times, it's let me know I'm not alone.
    And for what it's worth, Penelope's preschool year was dear and special to her. She loved every second, and she was welcomed lovingly into a little kiddo world where she blossomed. I don't regret it for a second.

  2. I found myself laughing at how much I could relate to your description of your expectations for yourself and your family. That kind of serenity is such an appealing fantasy! But your kind of serenity, the kind where you accept the yeses and the nos for what they are and become an intentional underachiever, that's the kind we can actually achieve. I'm stealing your mantra too, because I need to remember. :) Thank you.

  3. Oh my.
    Your expectations are very close to mine - reading them made me chuckle and wince at the same time. Ouch! I have also been contemplating this season in my life as one which requires a lot of saying "no" to outside commitments. My recent pondering has been on the idea that inside the house I have a ton of commitments, too! Just because I'm not signed up to volunteer at church or on the neighborhood association doesn't mean I'm "not doing anything." In that sense, your "yes/no" concept applies as well. Thank you for writing and sharing honestly.

  4. I found this link though a friend on Facebook. How I hate Facebook. People post such wonderful fun family moments, pictures of perfect holidays and perfect picnics. People never post videos of tantrums or whinging or piles of ironing. Facebook is a place to make the average mother seem totally inadequate. It is so good to read that the average mother is normal. Thank you!

  5. I am so glad your post ended as it did because I was 2 steps away from my phone and a call that said, "And I thought you were only a little crazy."

    I was getting a little anxious there. But also think it would be fun to challenge all your readers to putting in print their "perfect" day so we can all see how ridiculous it sounds.

    My life is nothing like I thought it would be. As I struggle with strong willed children who will one day be wonderful adults who are not scared to stand up for their faith and their beliefs, I have in my head this sweet precious family that never fights, serves ONE ANOTHER gladly and puts everyone's interests above their own. But now that begins to sound a little freaky because REALLY??? I MEAN REALLY!!!!!!

    I honestly believe opening up the mess of our lives and our homes is a blessing to other moms. Maybe not to dads because my hubbie likes an orderly house....(highly overrated in my book), cats that don't climb on the kitchen counters (our immune system must come from somewhere), and children that say "Yes, Sir." every time they speak. I'm just ok with a "Yep".

    Life is crazy. Crazy busy. Crazy hectic. Crazy tired. Crazy fun.

    I think living in the reality of the moment brings blessing we don't see otherwise. Satan, be gone!!! We live in the I AM.

    Love you like crazy.

  6. Yet another fabulous post. Everything that we do during the school year starts up next week and I sat down (while I was on vacation) and looked at it all. MOPS, MOMS group, 2 Bible study groups, going to the gym, blogging, managing social media, shopping, reading books and the Bible, laundry, housework - and I tried to fit it all into some semblance of a weekly schedule-ish-thingy.

    I quickly realized that something had to go.

    And by something I mean most. of. the. things.

    In the end I had to cut a lot more than I wanted to. Sit out of MOPS. Only go to the gym twice a week. Only have dedicated time for blogging twice a week. Add in a day for rest and reading for sanity's sake.

    I don't like it, but I know I will be better for it.


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