Thursday, April 16, 2015

On Fulfillment, Satisfaction and the Inconvenient Place To Find Both

"The repulsive truth is that nothing will provide satisfaction in life but self-gift. Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Married, Single or Religious, you have to find a way to give yourself to others, while expecting nothing meaningful back in return."

Elizabeth Duffy

Every day, there's a pile just outside my bedroom door. Sometimes in a basket, if one can be found, but often just a pile on the floor. 8 people live in our little house. 8 people who wear 8 shirts, 8 pants, 8 pairs of underwear. 8 people who use 8 towels, who sleep nightly on sheets. 6 kids who play in dirt and can require several outfit changes each day. Every day, there's at least a load of laundry waiting for me before I even step outside my door. Laundry is one of my jobs. It never rests and it's ever present.

I'm no stranger to large family laundry systems. When I was just a kid, laundry was my job in my own larger-than-average family. I've been sorting and folding and lugging laundry baskets for as long as I can remember. In many ways, it has so seamlessly become a part of my daily life that I hardly notice it. And, as is the case with many behind the scenes jobs that people do, it certainly goes unnoticed by those around me unless I happen to let it lapse. It's not the doing that garners attention - but when the doing stops. It's one of the ways that my work supports of the lives of others. Quietly. Invisibly. Yet entirely necessary.

I'm thinking about the relentless search for fulfillment. Sometimes it seems the more one searches for personal fulfillment and satisfaction, the farther out of reach it dances. Why is that? Why is it so difficult to name the things that bring you joy and then just do those things?

Yesterday, I said "no" in the supermarket line to one of my kids who wanted some candy. Completely annoyed at my response, this person used that opportunity to kick up quite a fuss. At one point he exclaimed "If you just buy me this, I'll never want another thing again!" Of course, I've been at this Mama gig for quite some time and I know that, even if that was truth for him in that moment? It's really not. Getting what you want when you want it may momentarily soothe you, but it won't be long before discontent shows it's face again...and you require something more. It's why children who are spoiled and given every little thing their hearts desire are often very unhappy. It's simply never enough to pursue your own wants, even if you get everything you strive for.

Fulfillment is like that. The more you pursue that as a goal, the more discontented you become. It seems to be something that only happens in life if you don't chase it. I'm not saying that accolades and recognition don't feel amazing. That in the moment when someone sees your efforts and praises them, you don't feel like you've finally arrived. But in the days and weeks that follow - that feeling fades. And if that is all you pin your satisfaction on, it's not long before you are hungry for more. Maybe that's it: lasting satisfaction does not come from human praise. While it can nurture in you a drive for more, it never lasts for long.

I want lasting fulfillment. Satisfaction that extends long beyond what other people think and say about me. No, I don't think that housework yields that. Nor parenting. Staying at home with my kids versus working a job. In fact, I see many mothers searching for fulfillment in parenting and wondering why it's not working. Why do I feel discontented? Why is this not enough? Why am I not waking each morning with a song in my heart feeling like I'm exactly where I'm meant to be? Why can't I greet each mishap with incandescent joy? It's because the focus is on the wrong thing. Focusing on being personally fulfilled may do little more than highlight all the ways life isn't going how you'd like it to.

It's awfully inconvenient, but I've found that the only lasting fulfillment comes from self donation. Being the blessing, even invisibly. I loathe doing laundry. I wouldn't list it among my top 100 favorite things to do. But caring for others in this invisible and thankless way has unlocked satisfaction in my life that wouldn't be possible if I was merely reaching for what I want. Seeing a need and meeting it with no expectation of praise - it changes you. 

There is nothing wrong with using your gifts and talents to do things you love to do. It's good and healthy to express yourself in ways that bring you joy. Praise and encouragement are beautiful ways communities build one another up and draw out the talents and gifts of everyone to bless as a whole. I would never downplay the unique giftings we all have. I think those things are important, necessary aspects that need to be cultivated to enrich our work. But I believe that true fulfillment comes from giving. Loving.

  And what is love?

"Love is...not self seeking."
1 Corinthians 13:5

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Not Cut Out For This

It's the end of a very long day and I hesitantly type it into the chat box.

"I have no idea what I'm doing. Sometimes it feels like it would be better if we could just all go our separate ways."

Because family life is many things. Many happy, easy, blithe things, yes, but also many hard things. Many "I didn't think it would be this way" things. Many "I don't want to do this" things. At the end of a long day when my patience ran out long before lunch and every interaction thereafter was anything but pleasant, when my texts to my husband could be made into a manual on why not to have kids, I tell my best friend: "I'm not cut out for this."

But the thing is, no one is.

That's the way it is with refining. With sanctifying. That's how it goes with becoming holy. Our original state isn't made for it. It's only through the self-sloughing, the burn off of resistance that it's found deep underneath.

No one it cut out for this. Instead, we are sanctified through this. Through the predictably unpredictable nature of human children. Through the messes and the bills and the unexpected snags. Through the temper tantrums and botched discipline attempts, the marital disagreements and the days when quitting seems the only viable option.

When I think of it this way, I can see it as good. As opportune. As the point, really, of family life. Not smooth sailing. Not easy seas. If it was that simple to get along, would we be?

When I'm up to my eyeballs in the needs of others, even keeping another person's heart beating in my sleep - I can feel spent. I can believe that service is in the doing, the making, the cleaning, the feeding. I can forget altogether that begrudging giving isn't the point. My long sighs and eyerolls and texted complaints show me for the fraud I am. Because all of it is null and void without coming from a heart place. A love space. I can scrub that kitchen sink til it shines but if the only way I can speak to my tween is with a sarcastic snap, I missed the point.

Yes, life would be easier if we never had to share. If we always had what we wanted when we wanted it. If we all got enough sleep each night. But life isn't about what is easy, and lifting only light things doesn't build muscle.

If I want muscles of mercy, service, humility and compassion, I need to work them. Thankfully, family life gives me ample opportunity for just that. Through every bad day, it's the promise that keeps me afloat. Even this is for His glory and my good.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Prioritizing Confidently

This weekend was bright and sunny, warm (by Michigander standards) and lovely. The kids were out in the golden goodness all day and when my Mom stopped by for a rare visit, we walked around the yard a bit. Oh, it's a mess. A big mess.

The downside of greeting a new baby during my favorite time of year is that I can't get to it as much as I'd like. Oh sure, I have friends who dig and rake and plant and spread mulch with huge pregnant bellies, but I've found I have to choose. My big, unkempt back yard or my little, quickly messed up house. And I've discovered that my own mental clarity is much more dependent on the tidiness of my indoor surroundings during these last few weeks. To be blunt, staying on top of laundry takes priority over cleaning up garden beds. I wish I could have it both ways, but my energy is finite and the demands on it near limitless. We're still slogging through the last few lessons of school with increasing resistance due to the beautiful weather, and it's just all I can manage at the moment.

This choosing, this looking around at all the possibilities and deciding against spreading myself whisper thin in the futile pursuit of cramming it all in - it reminds me to be purposeful in the other areas. The ones that are harder to choose. The ones that require regular evaluation, weighing out.

I've always been someone with a wide variety of interests. So many different life options appeal to me. I have trouble saying "no" to new opportunities because I want to do all the things. I want to write, sing, doula, lawyer, homeschool, be with my kids, get really good at yoga. I want to invest in friendships with the many many many wonderful people I know, find out what makes them tick and have strong vibrant relationships. I want a close partnership with my spouse and the time to share interests and experiences. I want to make and keep a beautiful home. I'd love to farm a little, to read all the amazing books out there, to sew and knit and make time to create every day. Basically, I want it all.

All good, wonderful things. All worthy, valid pursuits. All impossible to cram into one life at one time. Especially while having seven small children at home. Dreams and hopes, interests and passions are beautiful gifts. We are all equipped for a large variety of paths and there are so many options that sometimes the act of choosing can be a painful one. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to others.

Still, when I turn 31 and spend the day as normally as possible - I realize: I'm at peace with the choices I'm making today. With where my focus is. I feel confident that it's where and what is right for me right now. I know that these gifts and passions that I have outside of my current little sphere still inform how I live. They impact those that I'm sinking myself into day in and day out. Maybe not in the big, grand ways that they would if they were my primary focus, but they filter in nonetheless. They aren't a waste. They might be a wild tangle that I don't have much time to tame, but I can still walk through them and appreciate the potential that's there - and dream of what might be. Someday.

With purpose, I can carve out a life that puts first things first. With confidence, I can go to bed each night knowing that a life that puts faith and family first is in line with my priorities.

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