anxiety, Faith, pregnancy and parenting

Something we are good at. . .and shouldn’t be


Each time I’ve been about to give birth something happens. My must-do-it-all-right-or-else streak rises like a hungry tiger. My mind whirs with pictures revolving around situations and scenarios where I will potentially fail–feeding, child wrangling, coping,  relating to my husband, relating to anyone, washing my hair, sleeping…..

It’s been an interesting weekend. It ended well, with a family drive to the ocean’s edge late this afternoon. Dr M took us up to the clifftops, and just standing there, our four little figures suspended before all that immensity of sky and water, gave us some perspective. We were all a little (okay a lot) tired. I’m sure you can relate. Take yesterday morning.E was low with high temps, while W was sky high with exuberant toddler energy …and I found myself stretched like a near to snapping elastic, barely managing to comfort the former as she lay prone and sickness-suffering on the couch, while simultaneously stopping the latter from either disturbing her or destroying the house. All while heaving my 37 week, now full-term pregnant body around the sun-soaked, over-heated living room.

Television proved a vital aid in both child cases, as did the decision to strap a resistant W into his highchair and feed him a slow degustation menu of kiddie-delights. Confession: there is a time and a season for a steady flow of biscuits and lollies and I believe this to be it.

(By this morning the situation had reversed. E had more oomph, while W had gone under. Shows just how quickly the tide can change).

But what was my inner response to all of this outer struggle?

A degustation menu of my own. Not all healthy.

To tell you the truth —I’ve been feeding myself this menu for a few days now. Maybe a week. I know when I’m eating it because I start to feel a little soul weary, as well as body-weary. The challenges of life threaten to batter me more than the truths I know and hold to be vital.

I sense I’m not the only one living like this because I hear it all the time, in quiet confessional moments of words and stories we tell each other.

And it’s not just mums I’m talking about. It’s all of us.

Before I was a mum I was weighed down with other concerns: deadlines, what people thought of me, my own personal performance in almost any avenue in life, my health and so on and so on.

We women (and men too I hazard) carry burdens we don’t need to carry.

We are very good at our burden-bearing.

Sometimes we even manage to carry our problems like invisible baskets held poised on our heads as we walk straight so no one will see. But this apparent ‘virtue’ is in fact a vice. It comes in various guises, perfectionism, guilt, fear, worry, but all are woven from the same basic materials: false beliefs in the necessity of self-sufficiency.

Let me examine this common malaise in the case study of myself.

The inimitable Ann Voskamp, blogging over at http://www.aholyexperience.com calls this condition out for what it is: being ‘sick with perfectionism.’

A common symptom of this illness is comparison-making. Along with my mind-pictures of failure in this season come other equally unhelpful mind-pictures. Those that highlight others’ success (and not happily), at the expense of my own. Often women I know, and love star in these scenarios. THEY can do it, my inner-critic says, why can’t YOU.

But the thing is, comparison-making is closely aligned with an even more capricious symptom: jealousy. When I start comparing myself to others I do neither myself nor the other any good. Rather than appreciating my friend or sister I place myself on an imaginary podium beside her: How do I rank? I cannot possibly care for her as I should when I am conducting such false calculations.

The last symptom I want to look at is joylessness. This sort of burden-bearing posture weighs us down rather than lifts us up. I am very guilty of this at times. Opportunites for joy are buried under the heaviness of my own insecurity.

When we engage in this sort of ill-thinking we take our eyes off God and onto us. Ironically, even if the camera lense is angled critically at ourselves, this too is a form of self-worship.

For our Lord is the only perfect one. That’s why he came to earth. To live and walk and breathe the life we couldn’t. To be the way, the truth and the life, to the Father. We can’t do it on our own. It’s impossible. So why do we think we need to try?

There is no such thing as perfection for us this side of heaven. There is growth, definitely, but growth comes often through struggle. Struggle is a part of the journey. And in this struggle He is our security. He tells us to come to him, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. (Mat. 11:28) Easy and light because we don’t carry it. HE does. When we walk close to him, handing over our heavy loads, we do not need to worry about the position of our head, the angle of our shoulders, the direction of our feet. He does it all for us.

And what does he ask of us in return? Again I quote Voskamp:

‘God doesn’t ask me to be perfect; he asks me to praise’

Ahh. Voskamp’s words flick a gentle, comforting light on in my heart. All the Lord expects of us is to look up and give thanks. It doesn’t matter how excellently we do what we do, only His excellence matters.And, I’ll add, we need trust him.  He is, after all our maker and our father.

One thing I’ve noticed to be true about both my children in sickness and the newborn season is how much these little people lean on us. They literally lean into us at times, letting their entire weight fall into our own. Letting go of their troubles, they pass them to us to carry for them.

We must be less like adults and more like children in the way we relate to our saviour. He told us this himself.

So, as I prepare to have another child, and attempt to manage the two I already have, I need remember this. I am a child too. And have a father who is more than capable.

[The pictures below were taken at an apple orchard we stumbled upon by accident some time ago. They remind me of more carefree times, and that for everything there is a season. And that the season is not of our own making. We are merely the fruit. He is the vine.]

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