Thursday, February 11, 2016

Giving Meaning.

I have been in a funk off and on the past month. Maybe it's been more like the better part of a year. I get like this every so often and sometimes it takes me a while to get back to "normal". Whatever that really means.

Early in our marriage, these funk days were pretty problematic. My husband wanted to help by getting me out of the house, but I wanted to sleep all day.  He wanted to go have fun, but I wanted to sit and figure everything out. Eventually, I realized a lot of these "funk" days were just bad days. The type of days where you wake up in a mood and nothing can lift you out. I learned to hang on, wait out the sad feelings, try to forget the swirling thoughts, and not make any important decisions until a few days later, when I felt a bit more stable. This often works pretty well for me, at least, it did until I had several children!

While homeschooling kids, a funk day is a recipe for disaster. I try to make these days good for the kids, but sometimes I totally lose my cool. Then I live with the regret, the analyzing of every decision I've ever made, and then try to repent and apologize for my bad behavior, all while also trying not to actually admit I have a problem.

This problem has been cropping up in weird places lately. For instance, I used to love taking naps. When my second son was a baby, I took four or five naps each week until he was 18 months old. 18 months! After having my daughter two and a half years ago, I've taken about ten naps total. And most have been on the couch while she watched Frozen or Thumbelina. Part of this is because I literally do not have time to nap, but another part is the insane guilt I feel about sleeping when there are other things I could be getting done. It doesn't matter what those things are - folding laundry, washing dishes, making jewelry, reading books, working out - I cannot stand the idea of forfeiting an important activity to catch up on a little sleep.

I've been having the same problem at bedtime. How can I go to bed at 9:30pm when I could potentially get another hour of reading in, or online training, more earrings made, or folding laundry? Okay, maybe not the laundry.

Every day I have this burning desire, or sometimes a weighty obligation, to cram in as much meaningful, productive, important activity into my day as possible. The more items I check off my list, the better I feel. But lately, I am still going to bed with this strange uneasiness, even on my best days. I'm still frustrated, disappointed, feeling unaccomplished, still longing, but I can never really put my finger on why.

Finally, the other night, I had an epiphany: I keep looking at my day, for whatever I accomplish or achieve, to give meaning to my life, to make my activities and efforts worthwhile and important. I see how my kids act, how clean my house is, and how my meal plan is coming along (don't worry, it's not) and then at 11pm I try to convince myself I lived a day worth living. And it's not working. I mean, I've known it hasn't been working, but I've been stuffing that suspicion down for a while. The other night, I finally nailed down this problem.

I don't give my life meaning. God gives my life meaning. His work, His timing, His agenda. Not me, not my kids, not my efforts, or personal accomplishments. It's so simple, it feels a little crazy! But if I can manage to turn to Him and say "There it is. There's my day. Thank you for letting me live it. I cannot wait to see what you do with it." then I can go to bed, resting fully in His promise to redeem my life and I can finally sleep well, sleep happily. And I will wake up happy. Or at least not filled with dread. It's a heavy burden to try and make my homeschooling, stay-at-home life be meaningful. I know it's a blessing to my kids and husband, but it often feels small and unimportant in the grand scheme of life.

My kids' lives will be meaningful, because God makes them meaningful. My efforts to give my kids a fun dessert will be meaningful, because God makes meaning out of my service. Instead of trying to figure out what is the best possible way to make my time meaningful for those around me, I can tune into God, see the gifts of His beauty all around me, and enjoy it! The most wonderful part about this is how He often takes tiny, unexpected things, and makes them immensely meaningful for the unsuspecting person. How awesome is that? It doesn't rely on me! I just have to show up with a willing heart. I've been incredibly independent and controlling since I was pretty small, so it's weird I haven't figured this out before. My desire to control meaning, to control what makes my life valuable, actually inhibits me from enjoying the life God has given me. I mean, my husband has told me this maybe 1,000 times, more or less, but I feel like I am finally seeing how it practically works out in my day. I hope this is a helpful insight I can to pass along to those of you experiencing the same dread I was navigating.

Do you plan activities based on how important you think they will be for your kids? Do you go on adventures with a grand plan for how your family will remember the day? Do you pick out books for them to read, hoping they love it as much as you, then are unable to shake the disappointment when it doesn't work out how you hoped? Our hopes for a meaningful, important life are normal. But, they are set in the wrong places. Our God is bigger than an activity, an adventure, or a book. He is everywhere, working in everything, and you don't have to plan one second of it. Yes, you should plan dinner, and maybe some fun family outings, but you don't have to consider or carry the burden of how meaningful they will be. There is no level of performance necessary for God to use any particular moment to shape your child's life.

Let's take a little pressure and self-reliance off our plates. It will be good for our souls. And it will be healthy for our families as well. Of course, I'm still working this all out in my family, but I don't doubt God. I know trusting Him for an outcome is always a safer bet than trusting myself. He has already given us more than we realize, more than we can ever take advantage of. So expect a little more from Him, yet again. Hand Him that plate of meaning. Let Him show you what all those goodies are and how they were made. It might require you to wait, to trust in Him more, but it'll also allow you to enjoy the time you spend waiting to see what else He has concocted for you. This makes tomorrow way more exciting. Heck, it might even make Mondays really good too!

Last thought, and a mostly related verse to remind you of what we have in Christ:

"He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all; 
how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" 
Romans 8:32

God gave you the very best gift while you were His enemy. Now, as part of his team, He alone will give your life, your efforts, and your sacrifices meaning. Give it all to Him.


  1. Joellen, you are such a gift! Thank you for your honesty - even without kids, this idea of finding meaning is one I struggle with all the time. I love this thought - "there is no level of performance necessary for God to use any particular moment to shape your child's life." That's so true of my life as well. God loves me, who he made me to be, and he will use every day for his purposes.

    1. Thanks so much for being such an encouragement to me!