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Over the last few posts in my series, Grace: How a Recovering Legalist Moves Forward in Faith, I feel that I’ve done the best I can do to present theologically-sound, Scripturally-based truth about pursuing a relationship with God. My posts have been purposed and thought-out over months of planning, mulling, and meditating. What I have presented has been put-together and orderly and everything a blog post should be.
This post will be the antithesis of that. You have been warned.
Full disclosure, I started writing this post in my head about 9PM last night – as I laid on my bed and hot tears of exhaustion and feeling-like-i’m-letting-everyone-around-me-down rolled down my face.
Because in that moment I had a glimmer of clarity.
As part of this series, I’ve talked a lot about the “good Christian walk” – the spiritual disciplines. Reading your Bible, praying, etc. I’ve talked a lot about my ongoing struggle between duty (legalism) and desire.
I’ve basically boiled it all down to this:
I know that I SHOULD want to pursue a deep relationship with God, but I don’t always have the desire to. So then, if I force myself to read my Bible and pray out of duty, is not that just legalism?
I had a huge breakthrough in my understanding of these concepts which I addressed quite fully in my last post about regeneration – how God is literally changing my heart and appetites, or as my pastor says, “…at the level of thought and desire.”
But last night I realized that “duty versus desire” is a gross over-simplification of my struggle.
July is historically a difficult month for me – because it is historically a difficult month for Ezra. The excitement of a summer break has worn out. A growth spurt has taken place, and this newly-long-and-lanky child somehow regresses two years and has to re-learn everything again. (That’s the short version.)
My inability to get much of a break from him starts to wear me thin, thinner, and then some. My fuse has fully blown. I’m exhausted and weary. This July has been no exception.
July for me began with somewhat of a debacle of a beach “vacation,” during which Little Brother pretty much refused to sleep unless he was driven around in the dark. July has continued to be fraught with managing Ezra’s meltdowns and overall behavioral regressions – night waking, early rising, bedwetting, defiance, weird sensory-seeking stimming, and more.
Little Brother is most certainly not Ezra. But those who have spent extended periods of time with him have informed me that he’s definitely headstrong, strong-willed, determined, and defiant. And he’s almost three – which is a rough stage for little boys, period. He’s taking several hours to wind down at night. He’s newly potty-trained, but waking at night sometimes to pee.
Speaking of pee…between the bedwetting and potty training accidents, I am pretty much drowning in urine. When I’m not drowning in urine, I’m drowning in laundry.
The boys have finally reached the fighting stage of their sibling relationship – which was inevitable. Sometimes, Ezra’s delays in social and behavioral skills are a blessing, because they play very much at the same level. Other times, it’s a curse – because it’s basically like having two toddlers screaming, yelling, and squabbling all day long.
Speaking of screaming…my house is loud. SO loud.
This morning before I could even get a sip of coffee, Ezra was screaming at Russ over getting dressed. GETTING DRESSED.
Both Russ and Ezra have noise-level sensitivities, but are still the loudest people I know. Add a preschooler who has taken to screaming at the top of his lungs when he doesn’t get his way and it’s just all too much.
It doesn’t matter how many times a day we repeat our family rules, “Be kind…USE YOUR WORDS…” the screaming continues.
I’m touched out, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, and in desperate need of SILENCE.
Last week, my mother-in-law sent me this text message:
She didn’t have to ask me twice! Bless her forever and ever and ever amen.
I’m on my third day of “Grandma’s Summer Day Camp,” and it has been glorious. I’ve partied hard. And by party I mean laid on the couch in my pajamas working on Pinterest, folding copious amounts of laundry, and binge-watching Chicago Fire and Chicago PD. Other than picking up an online grocery order, running my fried laptop to a repair store, and taking the boys over to Grandmas – I haven’t gone anywhere.
The impact this has had on my psyche is incredible. This smacked me in the face yesterday morning, when the boys were still asleep and Russ asked me to get up and make him eggs for breakfast.
Now, I always dreamed of growing up and having a handsome husband to cook for. But after ten years married, reality has officially set in. When I’m this exhausted, my inner voice is super grumpy. I don’t let her out, but she says things like, “Are you freaking kidding me? The kids are STILL SLEEPING! Pour yourself a bowl of freaking cereal and let me drink my coffee and lay in bed in freaking peace.”
Like I said, I don’t let her out, but I can say that there’s a considerable amount of sighing and huffing and yawning and eye-rolling going on when I’m asked to get up when the kids are still sleeping.
But yesterday, I was surprisingly okay with getting up before my children and making eggs for my husband. It was like our relationship had time-travelled to our pre-baby days!
Which is when I realized that it’s amazing what six hours completely by yourself can do.
Last night, after another whole day to myself – I wanted to spend intimate time with my husband.
I laid in his arms and tried to get the words out, “I’m sorry I haven’t made more time for our relationship. I think having the last two days to myself has just given me that mental space to get to that kind of a place.”
He shushed me. “It’s okay…everything is fine.”
So instead, I cried.
What I was going to say was that I wish I knew why I can’t stop feeling like I’m letting everyone down. I wish I knew when this was going to get easier. I wish I could move beyond mere survival mode. I wish I had more to give and wasn’t so depleted and running on empty.
Which is when I had my realization:
Maintaining a relationship with someone does not just require the desire to do so. It also requires mental, emotional, and physical energy.
Having these last two days to myself has shown me that I DO desire to cultivate my relationship with my husband: to be intimate with him, to greet him at the door happily when he gets home at the end of the day, or to serve him in small ways like making him eggs for breakfast. The desire is there…it’s just buried under about a billion tons of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion.
It’s a well-meaning Christian phrase to say, “If you are too busy to read your Bible, then you are too busy!” or “You have time for what you make time for!”
But you know what’s not true?
“You have energy for what you make energy for.”
You can’t manufacture energy – trust me, I’ve tried!
What it took for me to move from grumbly-unaffectionate wife to sweet-serving-and-sensual wife was 12 freaking hours to myself.
I liken my mind to a computer having 500 tabs open all the time. Ezra takes medication 5 times a day, plus Miralax. I have to take my meds and supplements every morning. Everyone needs clean clothes. I have to make sure Ezra’s sensory needs are taken care of. I have to make sure both boys poop every day, especially Ezra.
There’s mounds of laundry to do. The boys bathroom smelled like something died in an outhouse because LB didn’t make it to the potty in time and peed all over the floor. I used towels and bleach spray to clean it up, but left them in the hamper instead of taking them to the laundry and promptly forgot about them for two days.
Everyone needs meals and snacks – and two out of the four of us have food allergies I have to plan around. Not to mention trying to eat healthy and lose weight (an ongoing battle). Planning out healthy meals and snacks takes MENTAL ENERGY and planning.
Bills need paid. The pest-control company needs paid. There’s that unpaid toll bill sitting on the coffee table from the trip we took in May. Also, I have to ship my computer out for repairs. There’s the upcoming boy’s birthday party to plan. Preschool tuition to pay. Also, my floors are gross. Russell’s car carpet needs steam cleaned from where LB vomited on it last month. I have to practice music for Sunday. And on and on and on it goes…
So this is where the struggle lies: where does my relationship with God stand in all of this?
Growing up in the environment I did, it seemed there was almost a magic-genie-spell-power given to the all-important “quiet time.”
The speakers or preachers would talk about how their day was falling apart until they realized they hadn’t had their “quiet time” and that was why. It was almost as if having quiet time was this mystical ritual that would magically make your day free from all worries and cares – or at the very least, cover you with an angelic aura of peace wherein the daily struggles simply wouldn’t bother you as you “count it all joy” and smile and laugh through your day.
Stuck in traffic? Got rained on? Spilled your coffee? Forgot your homework? Someone stole your parking spot? Hit all red lights?
Must have forgot your quiet time.
I’m exaggerating, but only slightly.
It’s just never worked out that way for me.
I know that moms of young kids go through busy and challenging stages where it’s just harder to make time for “quiet time” without interruption. The problem is that the burdens of special needs parenting don’t seen to be lifting any time in the near future.
Make that eight years. EIGHT YEARS. My baby is going to be EIGHT YEARS OLD, and he’s still screaming at us over getting dressed.
Eight years of battles. Eight years of meltdowns. Eight years of fighting. Eight years of sleep deprivation. Eight years of exhaustion. Eight years of wondering if this will EVER get easier.
I know God cares. I don’t doubt that He knows and loves and sees and cares.
But what I don’t know is how to really depend on Him.
When I’m dealing with a screaming child at 6:15 AM – I’m sorry, but reading a Psalm isn’t going to do for my worn-out body and soul what that first sip of coffee does for me.
When the noise is too much and I just need to escape, pulling out a devotional can’t refresh my spirit like a hot shower can.
When I feel like I must be doing SOMETHING wrong for parenting my kids to be this challenging, reading a passage of Scripture for the 10th time doesn’t have the same soothing power as my mom telling me her parenting horror stories or laughing with me about my children’s antics.
When I’m stressed and angry and frustrated after fighting with the kids all morning, the verses on my wall don’t calm me down the way wrapping up in pajamas and fleece blanket while vegging out on an episode of my latest TV show does.
When I feel like everything is reeling out of control because even though we do this every day, I still have to tell him FIFTY MILLION TIMES to just PLEASE for the love of my SANITY get your FREAKING SHOES ON – having the power to open my Bible doesn’t ground me the way that shoving that chocolate-frosted-with-sprinkles donut into my mouth does. (The whole stress-eating-for-control issue is another blog post for another day.)
It’s not like I haven’t tried.
A few weeks ago I put the She Reads Truth app on my phone and paid extra for the unlimited Bible reading plans.
But, I’m sorry, when I’m in the middle of wrestling an almost-8-year-old child who is screaming, banging his head into me, and kicking me while trying to drag him to a quiet corner of the YMCA so we can calm down because Ms. Alex wouldn’t blow up a balloon because he already put his mouth on it – that cheery DING that says “Time to read truth!” goes ignored as an annoyance rather than heeded as an encouragement.
When I struggle with the hard questions of WHY we have to deal with such brokenness in our family, the “all things work together” answer feels more cliché than truth.
I don’t know how to fix this disconnect of God not feeling in-the-moment relevant.
Other than knowing that God is with me through the pain (and I believe that He is) and knowing that He intercedes for me with the groanings of my weary soul that I do not even have the energy to utter (and I believe that He does) – I don’t know how to access my relationship with Him in these moments in a way that feels real and attainable and like WILL ACTUALLY HELP ME RIGHT NOW.
At the risk of this being the most unChristian thing you will ever read on the internet…
I don’t need to read the Bible as much as I just need a freaking break.
I know that’s not true. I know that I desperately need God. I just don’t know where and how to find the mental and emotional energy to pursue Him. I can only draw comfort from knowing that His Spirit IS within me and believing that He IS doing a mighty work in me – even when I can’t see or feel it.
I see SO many parallels in how I feel about my relationship with God and how I feel about my relationship with my husband.
I love Russ deeply and fiercely. I’m never going to walk away from him. I want to want to spend time with him – but the honest truth is that most of the time I just want to be left alone. I want to want to serve him – but sometimes I just feel like I don’t have anything left to give him. I feel like I let him down so much of the time. I can only hope and pray that he knows my heart. He knows that I love him. It’s just hard right now.
I love God deeply and fiercely. I’m never going to walk away from Him. I want to want to spend time with Him – but the honest truth is that most of the time I just want to be left alone. I want to want to serve Him – but sometimes I just feel like I don’t have anything left to give Him. I feel like I let Him down so much of the time. I can only hope and pray that He knows my heart. He knows that I love Him. It’s just hard right now.
The song Breathe by Jonny Diaz has become one of my many personal anthems for the past few years.
Alarm clock screaming bare feet hit the floor
It’s off to the races everybody out the door
I’m feeling like I’m falling behind, it’s a crazy life
Ninety miles an hour going fast as I can
Trying to push a little harder trying to get the upper hand
So much to do in so little time, it’s a crazy life
It’s ready, set, go it’s another wild day
When the stress is on the rise in my heart I feel you say, “Just breathe.”
I’m hanging on tight to another wild day
When it starts to fall apart, in my heart I hear you say, “Just breathe.”
I want this to be easier. I want to be a shining example to other Christian women of how to maintain a rich relationship with God even during the hard and busy times. But I haven’t figured it out yet.
So here I am. Just breathing.
What about you? How do you pursue a relationship with God when you’re exhausted?