Really I would’ve used a stronger term than that to describe it. I was so, so uninspired and wasting time with tiny distractions: googling this, reading that, thinking about this work I needed to do and cleaning up things in first one room and then another, all while generally avoiding any large-scale, useful-type undertaking. (Am I the only one that happens to?!)
I felt guilty: like I wasn’t using my time wisely and wasn’t being present enough with my children. Those may have been legitimate concerns but it didn’t stop there.
If I let my mind run unchecked on days like these, I can drive myself crazy. I go down a running list of virtuous things I’m not doing – but should be.
I think of friends, family and neighbors that I should and would like to be spending more time with, inviting over, making a meal for, etc. but am not for any number of reasons.
I think of how I’m failing my children. Of how I shirk my duties. Of my past mistakes and moments that weren’t my finest. The list goes on.
I also feel guilty about how desperately I want my children to nap, even when they are clearly outgrowing the need for it.
And every time they fall asleep, I feel like I am so blessed. At the same time, I’m feeling guilty for needing the break. (Oh the mind games we play!)
THE COMPARISON TRAP
Several mental pictures that compound my guilt come to mind. I think of my situation and compare it to these.
One image is that of a sod house on the wind-swept prairies, home to a young settler family just arrived from perhaps England or Scotland. One small room to cook in, eat in, sleep in. Dirt floors, mud walls. It’s their new home.
You can see and step inside a replica of this house and hear the story of these settlers at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon.
A recording there tells the story from the young wife and mom’s perspective: the despair when she first saw the tiny house her husband had worked so hard to build, the disbelief those back home would have if they saw it, and how she couldn’t let her husband sense her despair.
That’s one picture.
The other is of a Chinese apartment I once saw in a magazine. It’s a small, very small room. But tall. A family of three or four shares this tiny room; it is their living and dining room, bedroom and kitchen. Their beds and storage are stacked and suspended above the other “rooms”. All of this in a single room. The year is 2014, not 1914.
There are other homes that come to mind.
A tiny two- or three-room home we were privileged to visit several years ago in the Dominican Republic sat immediately opposite a local bar with pounding music. This woman’s door opened right onto the sidewalk. Her yard was the street where motorcycles roared by or came to a stop at the neighboring bar.
Scenes like these pop up often in my mind when ungrateful thoughts threaten to take over.
What did the Jews in concentration camps have? How did the mothers care for their children in such desperate conditions?
Were the persecuted mothers in the catacombs discouraged, despairing over lack of funds, furniture or fresh air?
Even more commonly I think of my grandmother who raised ten children and fostered four, and worked so hard to give her family the necessities of life. She lost her father at a young age, lived through the Great Depression, birthed babies at home, and lived past her 90th birthday; today in fact would’ve been her 98th birthday.
These are the mental images I begin to compare my situation to. And soon I feel even guiltier than I already did.
Who am I to complain? Living in over 900 square feet of modern luxury and convenience, in a free country with healthy children and a wonderful husband?
And yet I do complain. Forgive me, Lord.
BUT IS IT FAIR TO COMPARE?
Is it fair to compare myself to mothers who lived in conditions so far removed from my situation?
I’d go so far as to say I don’t think it is.
I do think it’s important to consider them, to remember them and to place ourselves in their shoes sometimes.
But we cannot elevate them to a place of perfection. Just like we can’t expect perfection from ourselves.
Those mothers – Jewish moms doing dishes at home before they were shipped to camps, and then trying to make some semblance of things amid filth and hunger once there; the martyr moms cooking dinner before persecution made hiding necessary and then later preparing simple fare in the tunnels they called home; the pioneer women who washed clothes in their home villages and later alone on the prairie – each and every single one of these women was human, with human desires and needs like yours and mine.
Even Mary, mother of Jesus, needed her rest and possibly some time apart from her children now and then.
These women were real. I’m guessing the majority of them were much more schooled in the areas of faith and patience and trust than I am but I know they weren’t perfect. They surely got frustrated with their children and were discouraged with their work at times.
Many, no doubt, struggled at times with debilitating fears and feelings of despair and overwhelm.
Of course I don’t only think of women like these; often the same discouraging spiral of thoughts happens when I compare myself to more talented peers, friends or relatives.
Maybe I’m comparing myself with my cousin’s fun and imaginative mothering abilities, or my sister’s creative frugality, my calm, even-tempered mom, my mother-in-law’s efficiency or a friend’s thoughtful ways. I see how I’m never going to be all of those things and discouragement wants to settle in.
Yet while it helps to remember that I need to maintain healthy thoughts and not play the comparison game, whether that’s with my peers or famous people in history, that realization alone doesn’t always make me feel much better about my own to-do list that at ten pm is still just as long as it was at the start of the day. My inadequacies loom large and it looks like there’s little hope of redeeming my day!
SO WHAT IS THERE TO DO WHEN I’M HAVING A SEEMINGLY UNSUCCESSFUL DAY?
Halfway through one tired, uninspired day it finally dawned on me what one of my biggest problems was.
It’s that I’m trying to do it all on my own. The simple yet profound truth. It’s been too long since I invited God into the picture and gave all the pieces of my day to Him.
I’m trying to follow the right formulas: be efficient, be on time, be organized, do fun stuff, be positive, or whatever it is – do this, do that, like this and you’ll get there.
But I’m not getting there. I’m just getting more tired and more frustrated and feeling further behind. Not to mention feeling even more inadequate alongside so many lesser fortunate or more talented women!
I’m trying to be the perfect mom, getting increasingly frustrated because of course I’m not and never will be.
However, I finally realized I just needed some time with God. I need to spend a bit of time with Him however I can fit it in – a prayer on my heart, a verse to remember, a devotional during nap time.
Because God is really the remedy for my day and my problems. Not The Fly Lady, Martha Stewart, the latest home decor magazine, child training book, or housekeeping blog. I might find tips and great ideas among those but I won’t find the complete remedy.
No hero from the past or present can offer a personalized remedy for my life. No friend or family member has the secret to making my life whole or complete. That’s God’s job and His alone.
It’s only after I’ve recognized Him as the real remedy to my problems that the little things can begin falling into place and the guilt dissipates.
My life may not be filled with exciting adventures, daring feats and dangerous exploits. There’s no award-winning accomplishments here, no grand victories, no extraordinary talents.
But my seemingly unsuccessful day matters to the Creator and He’s got a plan for my life too, just like He does for all of you other moms and like He has for moms throughout history.
That’s the beauty of God’s plan. He uses each one of us, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
So I’ll extend some grace to myself, remembering that mothers around the world and throughout ages have faced much the same things I face. And I’ll take the time to talk with Jesus, knowing He will always care about me and my day’s to-do list.
It’s your turn! Share in the comments how you’ve found courage during a “not very properous” day of your own.