I previously wrote a blog called “Boundary Stone” and would often share posts on social media. This one came up this morning as a Facebook memory, and as I cradled my coffee and read, I felt such gratitude for the ways God sees and cares for us as He helps us to grow.
I sat there watching her read from her iPad, her hands clutching the sides of the screen. She read calmly, methodically, telling us the story of how she wants to pursue personal holiness in her vocational, family and relational life. It’s something we do at the beginning of every year as a church staff, and she was the last one in our group to share.
Everyone at our table had read from their plans, repeating phrases like, “I want to watch less TV”, or “I would like a more robust prayer life”, and “I think I need to rest more this year.” My friend added that she wants more quality time in the evenings with her husband, without iPhones or catching up on shows, and more play time to invest in her young son.
And then her eyes filled with tears. She said, “I’m just so tired.”
And the two moms on either side of her also began to cry.
And my heart started beating out of my chest, watching them struggle with feeling heavy and burdened and sad.
I’m not a wife or a mother. Years ago, I played the role of “mother” to two 11 and 13-year old boys and truly, I have never been more busy or unglued in my life. But I do understand being a woman, especially a woman in a less visible life. I exist behind the scenes in so many ways, like many women living quiet, helpful lives of raising their families, being devoted friends, working hard on the job and at home, and putting dinner on the table each night.
I am also incredibly independent. Growing up an only child forced me to learn how to entertain myself and learn on my own. So self-sufficiency is one of the big things standing between me and God, and I still rely on myself to make life successful. Quite often, this seems to work just fine. And then I will trudge through days or weeks when I’m barely seeing over the water line.
It’s on those days of nearly drowning when I realize I’ve been taking care of myself for so long, it feels like I am treading water. I’m tired of owning it all. And if I happen to hear about two strong woman who have started a non-profit to save the lives of orphans around the world, or read on someone’s blog about how her life is all put together and she bakes incredible cakes and never dirties her apron (she wears an apron!) and jars tomatoes and has raised a large family all while impacting the lives of her city’s homeless, it’s not impossible for me to shrink and feel less than amazing.
I consistently have to fight against shame and comparison – or, for me, perfectionism. I have to remember that what I read on someone else’s blog is a snap shot and what I see on their Instagram feed could be the only four foot square part of their lives that isn’t a complete mess. I have to remember I’m human. I am a sinner in need of grace. I desperately thirst for God’s love and grace and Lord, have mercy.
I was talking recently with a friend about how, as women, we spend so much time anticipating and meeting others’ needs and finding joy in being able to give and nourish. We can take friends to the airport well before “early” in the morning. We notice if someone seems a little blue at work and grab an extra Starbucks on the way back from lunch. We ask how a friend is doing and then stick around long enough to hear their most honest answer. But the thought creeps into my mind, every so often, that I would give anything to have someone anticipate my needs, just for a moment.
And maybe you do. Maybe you have someone at home who is sensitive to your needs and can not only talk with you about them but will go above and beyond to anticipate and act on them. Celebrate that person! All good and perfect gifts come from God.
I desperately want someone in my life who knows me intimately and will say, “You’re taking on too much right now. I think it would do your heart some good to slow down. And let’s tighten the reins on what’s happening there with your ridiculous calendar. You don’t have to say ‘Yes’ to it all.”
I think that’s what I saw in my friends’ faces as their tears fell and we heard the echoes of our lofty plans for becoming more holy this year bouncing back and forth between us. I try to be everything for everyone. And I’m as sincere about it as I can be. But I’m often left feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.
I’ve been blessed with loyal and trustworthy friends. They have heard my story and repeat back to me the encouragement and truth I need to hear. Some know I love sparkling water and have it available when I come over for lunch. (That’s real love.) They know what I’m aiming for in life and ask how I’m doing in getting there. They are genuine. They are the jam.
So maybe what’s really missing, then, is not someone to help me get through each day, but the willingness to express my own needs.
We go through “the hard work of fighting for maturity,” as Allison Vesterfelt puts it, only to find out things aren’t easier as grown-ups and we actually have to become more responsible for ourselves rather than assume we will be cared for by others. I want to be able to say with confidence, “I could use some time alone”, or “Can I get your help with something?”, or “I’m scared to talk about this, but it’s important for me to tell you…” and then trust my words won’t wreck the relationships I’m building and make me feel like “too much”.
In the face of these verbal insecurities, I want to grow in faith by believing God will provide help when I need it and grow in trust by learning it’s okay to ask for help in the first place. It’s prideful to assume I can do it all on my own.
We were all made for a purpose and we were made to do life together. What we’re here to do might, for a season, look like raising our children, or working at a coffee shop, or being a CEO. But here’s the thing…. I don’t think anyone is mature enough, organized enough, trendy enough, smart or sexy enough to do this life alone. We are enough in the way we’ve been made by God, but we’re not enough to live completely independent of others. We are gifted in order to bless and support and make each other’s lives glimmer and shine with a little more hope.
So I’m on a mission to discover the things God created me to do and do them well. Just those things, the ones God designed personally for me. If I’m willing to do what I do well and you’re willing to do what you do well, we might be able to make this difficult thing called “life” a little more beautiful.
As my friends continued to cry and share their stories, what welled up in me was this: “You are lovely, brave women. Your gentleness and your kindness is your strength. You don’t have to be able to do it all, I promise. We end up getting cranky and weird when we try. It’s okay to ask for help. I’m learning, too. Do the things you’re great at, like being awesome moms and feeding your families and making us laugh at work. And let’s be thankful we have a loving and merciful God who picks up the rest.”
She is clothed with strength and dignity.
And she knows how to ask for help, when help is what’s needed most.