"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."
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