Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Perception vs. Reality

I have to get this thought out of my mind and onto the blog. I've been rolling it around for days and have tried to write about it several times (delete post). I think so many of you will identify with it and that's more important than sounding eloquent or finding the perfect words.

I've been noticing how Satan worms his way into my thoughts, and just this past week I realized that I'm not the only one he is attacking in this subtle way. This might be mainly a moms-of-young-children thing, but those of you who aren't in this same stage of life might disagree with me and find your own struggle reflected here in some way.

Philippians 2:1-4 says this:
"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."

I have found motherhood, at least these early years, to be isolating physically as well as spiritually. It's harder to be social, and when you figure out how to get your little brood someplace where your friends and their kids are, it's impossible to have an uninterrupted conversation.

I have also found being a mom to be the most challenging thing I've ever taken on. No one gave me a manual, or a list to check off each day. I have ambiguous 'measures of success' and even at that, there isn't really a way to define success as a mother. It's endless, it's undefined, and for anyone who has even a hint of a Type-A personality that can be really maddening.

For me personally, this has been something I've wrestled with a lot. My days at home with the kids can look however I want it to. Sometimes the day takes on a life of its own, and at the end of it I have absolutely nothing to show for my time but 3 living, breathing, clothed children who survived another day. Sometimes I determine that we will be productive, I will teach my kids something in particular, we will engage in a creative activity, or I will give them an experience out of the ordinary and I try to put a plan together and carry it out.

Sometimes we just go to the gym and I pray that no one blows out their diaper with poop, pees their pants, or hits another child and ends up in time out for most of the visit. But that's another post for another day. :)

My point is this: my expectations of myself are always higher than what is realistic with 3 little kids. And I'm used to being able to see progress and success that can be measured or compared (back when I was working, pre-kids). For the better part of the last year, I have ended my days feeling like I'm failing my kids in big and/or little ways. I feel limited in my success as a mom, and I have felt alone. I have great friends surrounding me, both geographically and emotionally across the miles. But when you are critical of yourself, you tend to look around at other people in similar situations as you find yourself in, and you make yourself feel worse because of the lens you are viewing life through. The lens of comparison.

I realized that many of us are walking around every day thinking 'If I could just be like so-and-so, I'd have my act together'. I know, because I've said it to myself a hundred times.

KL always seems to be reasonable and measured in her responses to situations and illness.
BL is tender in her loving care towards her children and incredibly devoted to her husband.
BB manages caring for twins while working a full time job with grace that brings tears to my eyes.
JM trusts the Lord through times of uncertainty, and her faith never seems to waiver.
RD has made her home such a fun, creative place to be that her kids don't want to leave. And don't get me started on all of the fun day trips they go on as a family.
SK made it through an entire pregnancy on bedrest, while doctors told her she would inevitably miscarry. She lived through something every mother fears, facing the possible loss of your unborn child. (Her baby is beautiful and thriving today.)
KR always speaks to her kids with kindness and patience (and she has a lot of them!). She has endless energy.
HD seems unfazed by the level of energy and activity her young children bring to her life, and endures major life changes with joy.
JV is wise and thoughtful.
RN is gentle.
KP is faithful.
HT is devoted.

I have looked at each of these mothers (and more!) and wished that I was more like each of them. In my mind, I would be stronger, more capable of handling what God has given to me, and a better mother to my kids if I was just more like _____ {fill in the blank with any of my girlfriends' names!}.

And I have come to realize that many of us do this. I know, because a few of my friends recently praised various things about me (OH THE HILARITY!) and I just wanted to play back the video of our week. They were impressed by how it seemed like I had it together. They wondered how I kept my patience when the kids were running in different directions after preschool. And with each well intended compliment, the desire in me to be very real with them grew.

Sure, I have moments where we are all bathed, I've managed to blow dry my hair and put makeup on, and the kids hold each other's hands as we walk. Yes, sometimes I am able to keep my eyes on the Lord and what precious blessings my kids are and my patience doesn't fail.

But there are definitely moments throughout each day that this isn't true of me.

I'm so quick to be critical of myself, and think the best of others. And it seems like this might be true for you, too.

I just wanted to share this realization because it causes a lot of spiritual harm. For me, it breeds discontentment, negativity, and jealousy. And that is clearly not why God created us to be in community with one another - each of us who are in Christ are a part of the same body. I've been looking at it the wrong way.

I am committed to training my mind in a different way from here on out. When I see Christlike qualities in my friends, I want to celebrate them instead of turning it into self-criticism ("why do I lack that quality?"). This is how I'd like others to respond to the good they see in my life (praise for God rather than jealousy), so why wouldn't I model that as well? I want to be inspired by the faithfulness and character of the women around me, and praise God for what He is doing in their lives. The truth is, no one has it all together. We all fall short, we all need grace, and we need one another as we walk through these years when our children are young and we are stretched thin. We certainly don't need to be in competition with one another, even if it's in the privacy of our own minds.

So praise God for you today, and for the part of Himself that He has shown to me through you! You are an encouragement to me.


Matt and Abby said...

Great post and very well written! I agree with everything you said. You're awesome. That's all.

The Samsons said...

I agree, great post! I think very pertinent to young moms :) "We all falls short, we all need grace, and we need one another" moving! Thanks for sharing.