In no particular order, for me, “all” consists of: cleaning my house, feeding my family, working in exchange for organic vegetables at a local farm, volunteering in church, spending time with my husband and children, teaching my preschooler, nursing a baby, exercising and taking care of myself, serving on the city council, keeping in touch with friends, visiting family, reaching out to people I love, writing for a Maine magazine and regional publications, oh — and publishing a couple of books.
Yesterday as the rest of my family was getting ready for church, I wrote a note and left it on the kitchen counter. “I am going for a walk,” it said. “If I am not back before church, please go without me.”
Then I walked a couple blocks past my neighbor’s houses toward the wide Kennebec River that flows through our little Maine city and sat on the end of the dock and closed my eyes. It wasn’t fair to my husband — particularly since I didn’t tell him I was going. But, overwhelmed by my responsibilities and needs and limitations, I needed to simply sit alone and feel the sun on my face and to pray.
Susanna Wesley, another busy mom — as our minister reminded me, once I eventually made it to church — routinely threw her apron over her head to pray. She had 19 children — only ten of whom survived — and faced lifelong hardships including chronic poverty and a difficult marriage. Yet from this came two great preachers, John and Charles Wesley, who shared God’s love with millions.
The Wesley brothers’ astonishing faith was built not despite difficult circumstances but because of them. What better opportunity to discover our need and God’s faithfulness? And what better time to pray than from desperation?
In the beginning of her New York Times Bestseller, “Galileo’s Daughter,” which I picked up at my neighbor’s yard sale this weekend, author Dava Sobel quotes the great 16th century scientist, Galileo, as saying, “Whatever the course of our lives, we should receive them as the highest gift from the hand of God… Indeed, we should accept misfortune not only in thanks, but in infinite gratitude to Providence, which by such means detaches us from an excessive love for Earthly things and elevates our minds to the celestial and divine.”
Somehow, instead of hardship and misfortune I’d come to except something “other.” Something easier. When such expectations clash with the everyday reality of dirty socks and dwindling bank accounts and increasing needs, it’s easy to complain. To become angry and bitter and overwhelmed. Or as I’m apt to say, “I can’t do it. I’m done. I quit.”
To refocus, I sometimes take a walk. I call a friend or play with my kids or go for a drive. Sometimes I read Scripture.
I also find it helpful to listen.
“I’m so busy,” I recently complained to a 72-year-old neighbor who’d grown up in Germany during World Ward II. “I hate ‘busy.’ But I just can’t seem to keep up.”
My neighbor shook her head in disbelief. “You have five healthy children, and your husband is smiling,” she said. “What more could you want?”
Her words floored me. What more indeed?
Instead of seeing my responsibilities as hardships, I’m learning to see them as gifts. The gift of a loud, busy family. The gift of meaningful work. The gift of a home to care for and food to grow and cook. The gift of a husband who comes alongside to wash laundry and dishes and lighten the load with a smile. The gift of neighbors and friends.
And, like Susanna Wesley, I continue striving to find time to pray.
“For the eyes of the Lord are intently watching all who live good lives, and he gives attention when they cry to him… Yes, the Lord hears the good man [and woman!] when he calls to him for help, and saves him out of all his troubles,” Psalm 34:15,17 LB).
How about you? What helps when you get overwhelmed?