Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Seeking Significance, part 1: It's not what you do

You guys, I love being a mom. I really, really do. Some days I can't even believe that I get to raise these three.

But "mom" is an identity that it's easy to get lost in. It can be all-consuming--and at the same time, it can feel oh so small. Show of hands, my stay-at-home mom friends: How many of you have been asked what you do, and have answered, "Oh, I'm just a mom"? Don't worry, my hand is up. Well, figuratively speaking. I'm not that good at typing with one hand. The point is... just a mom? I'm just a mom?

Many years ago, when my wonderful hubby and I were wondering if we would ever get to have kids, I longed to be a mom. When we finally got pregnant, I could hardly wait to be a mom. And I knew--I just knew--that being a mom would be the most satisfying and fulfilling thing ever, and that I would love every minute of it and never take it for granted.

And then I actually became a mom.

It really is wonderful and amazing and a blessing and all of those other things. But being a mom to an infant can also be hard and exhausting--and yet feel quite inconsequential. I think Lamb was maybe two months old when I wailed to Mr. Fantastic, "A trained monkey could do this job!!!!" Changing diapers and bottle feeding didn't exactly seem to be putting my college education to use. I felt small and insignificant and rather lost in it all.

Fortunately, I found this amazing group of women--my local chapter of MOPS. What a lifeline! I started attending when Lamb was just 6 months old, and within a few months had volunteered to join the Steering Team. Putting together a newsletter, helping to organize events, working with other women to guide the group... now THIS felt like I was really doing something.

But then a funny thing happened: it wasn't enough. I wasn't totally fulfilled--there was still a hole. So I joined a Bible study, so that I would have more spiritual accountability. I started a monthly play date, so that I could connect more with other moms. I stepped up my leadership within the MOPS group and began to lead the whole thing.

Over the next several years, my commitments--and my family--kept growing. More Bible studies, play groups, and book clubs. I joined the worship ministry at church. I started a supper swapping group. I took meals to other families. I planned some bigger women's events. I volunteered more at church. All while being a wife and mom (first to one baby, then two, then three).

And it was never enough.

That's not to say I wasn't stressed. I was stressed and overwhelmed all.of.the.time. There were never enough hours in the day. Mom guilt pressed in on me from all sides. I was exhausted and overloaded. So why did I feel so insignificant?

I remember one particular fight with my husband when an opportunity had come up--I don't even remember what it was. He very gently said, "That sounds like a good thing, but I'm starting to feel like you're stretched a little thin right now."

"I understand what you're saying," I told him, "but I really feel like this is something I NEED to do."


"Because I'm not doing enough. Because I am not enough."

What had started simply as a way to expand my horizons and make some new friends in those early days of motherhood had turned into a search for significance, and I was hopelessly lost.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you have been that young mom who feels so overwhelmed and so inconsequential at the same time. Maybe you are the woman who thinks, "If I just do this one more thing, then I will be content. Then I will be doing enough. Then I will be enough."

My dear friends, my heart aches for those of you who have climbed into this boat with me. Let me assure you, it leads to nowhere. Significance is not waiting at the other port--only more frustration, stress, disappointment.

Let's step out of the boat together. Let's get our feet on dry ground and take a good, hard look at what it is to be significant. Over the next couple of weeks, I would really like to dive into this with you.

Here's what I can tell you today... You will never find your significance in your accomplishments. No matter how busy your schedule, no matter how much good you do, there will always be more. And if there is more to be done, there will be more that you could do. And if there is more you could be doing, your pride will whisper, "How can you be significant when you can't do this one simple thing?" And you will find yourself back at square one, feeling worthless.

(And by the way, when you try to do too much, you end up not doing anything well--and then talk about feeling like a failure! No one needs that kind of guilt. So just make like Elsa and let it go, my friend.)

And here's the real kicker for us moms... When we try do find our value in what we do, we are teaching our kids to do the same. I realized a few years ago how performance-driven my kids had become, and I thought, "Where are they getting this? I have worked so hard to not teach them that they have to earn my love by what they do." And yet, my actions taught them that I thought MY worth came from what I did--and that it was destroyed by my failures. Why wouldn't they apply that to themselves? Have you heard the saying, "Faith is caught, not taught"? Well, the same goes for so much of life. Our kids will hear our words, but they will truly ingest our actions and attitudes. I need to get this right, not just for myself, but for them.

You will never be enough by trying to do enough. How different will our calendars look if we live like we believe that? Would we be free to embrace what we love, what we do well, if we let go of what we are doing out of obligation--especially when those "obligations" are quite possibly all in our own heads? You were made for a unique purpose, but you won't find it by trying to fill everyone else's.

Your significance is not in what you do.


Robin Lee said...

Love this…keep at it. My youngest has special needs. I get this.

Kelly S said...

I love what you have to say here. It is easy to find significance in being busy. This-- "You will never be enough by trying to do enough." So true!