In my short time of being a parent, I keep relearning that happiness is when life is not all about me.
Recently talking with one of my friends, I recounted a sleepless night of Thomas popping out of bed. How at 2am, after being up six times, Thomas pushing back each time, my teeth were gritting, patience waning, blood beginning to boil, simply wanting my son to GO TO SLEEP.
She put a phrase to my exact feelings toward my son: “Why are you making my life so difficult?”
“Why are you making my life so difficult?”
It was a relief to have words for my experience. But the words kept finding their way back into my mind for reflection.
Sure, I was exhausted by Thomas’ new sleep schedule, but I also felt like there was something not right with how I was handling it. I had found a way to make motherhood about me- my sleep, my schedule, my life.
There are different layers to the story that life will be happy under prescribed conditions that we create for ourselves as individuals. One layer is what we are often fed by media and popular culture. Images of lives filled with friends, success, influence, and fulfillment when a person can have or do particular things. This is accompanied by the idea that what you have and who you are is not enough. I will be happy if… I will be happy when…
Another layer is more inconspicuous, and can sometimes take up more space in our minds and hearts. That is, the narratives that we create about our relationships. For me, this happens in sharpest relief with my toddler children. “Why won’t he just go to sleep? I am so tired. Why won’t he listen? I am so frustrated. Is she really smearing oatmeal through her hair again? Why can’t we just go on a walk without crying or getting out of the stroller?, Etc.”
You may not have toddler children, but perhaps you have your own narratives about your spouse, grown children, friends or coworkers. “Why doesn’t he appreciate me? Why doesn’t she respect me? Why doesn’t she ever follow through? Why doesn’t he listen to me?” When we allow internal questions against those around us to grow, frustrations to a fulfilling life such as self-pity, undo anxiety, resentment, and ingratitude work themselves into our minds and hearts.
When I am concerned with my schedule, how I want to be productive, what I want to accomplish as soon as I get home from a day at work of accomplishing, my children become burdens. And I’m tired. And ungrateful.
When I am open to (and expect) my schedule to be altered, my desires to be put second (or third or fourth), my toast and coffee to get cold, and my body to be tired, there is new life and love. There is rest and joy in taking snack breaks when before I’d charge on. There is amazement and gratitude for wells of patience that being a mother has dug deeper than I thought possible. There is increase in compassion for my children who want to express themselves but don’t yet know how. There is peace in putting aside productivity in favor of presence. There is freedom in detachment from things that I once perceived as necessary to my happiness.
Living a Christian life challenges us to incarnate a counter-narrative of self-gift; on a smaller and more particularized level, being a Christian mother challenges the notion of life being happy when life is about me. It challenges me to cultivate a generosity of life that seems intimidating until it is lived.
Let’s live generous lives starting with the ways we can exactly where we are. Let your coffee get cold in favor of serving breakfast to and feeding the little mouths in your home. Let your current urgent task go in favor of a co-worker who needs help. Let your phone stay in your purse or pocket in favor of being present to the person in line with you or the person checking you out at the store. Let your judgment go in favor of loving someone different than you. Let your pride out the door in favor of letting a new perspective in.
Sometimes I am tempted to think happiness happens when life fits my plans. And then I look around and within and realize that my greatest happinesses have been gifted to me. God is a generous giver, and I want to be the same.