1 Corinthians 6:12-- "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything.
In this season as a mom of several little ones, I have come to believe that it is significant-- crucial, even-- for us to guard our hearts and minds by prayerfully cutting out things that are unnecessary and unhelpful. When we are living with increased hormones, and the daily wonderful but nonetheless real responsibilities and stresses of life with young children (including its physical and mental demands), we are under great strain.
Our culture bears the signs of this-- the rise of postpartum depression, a grasping for "me time", an insistence by those who choose to avoid it in some way - "Oh, I could never (FILL IN THE BLANK: stay home, homeschool, have that many children, give up my career, have them that close together)" -- these things hint at the reality of the difficulty of this season. Others see it, and we feel it.
And God Himself sees it... Isaiah 40:11 says that our Shepherd "gently leads those who are with young." He knows that we are under great strain, and need to be handled gently when we are in this season of mothering young lambs.
In that same vein, I have learned to deal gently with myself-- giving myself grace and space to breathe and have a little spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional margin. Like the woman to the right, we are faced with an overwhelming number of possibilities, and our culture encourages us to go-go-go-go-go. Our lives have only so many hours, only so much physical and emotional strength to exert, only so many things we can be committed to do and do well. So I try to carefully weed out unhelpful things that add strain and stress to my life.
Examples in my life of this are:
- Too many outside activities-- Instead of finding a place of stillness and quiet, our hearts have a tendency to churn... to commit to a gazillion "opportunities" for our children that in actuality require a pace that is exhausting and draining for everyone... to be busy and going, virtually all the time. Our culture (even church culture sometimes) places great value in activity and encourages us to place value in investing in OTHER people rather than our own families... to call OTHER service "ministry" but not that which happens within our own four walls... to look for satisfaction, entertainment, thrills, and distraction outside of our homes rather than in the relationships and eternal beauty of what happens inside of our homes. For my part, I try to carefully limit how often we are out and about, and choose to spend the vast majority of our time and energy at home. I'm an extrovert, and I enjoy being out and about... that's not it. And our children are actually quite enjoyable to take to stores, go thrifting with, or steal away to a bookstore for an afternoon with... that's not it either. They also are very good at athletics and fine arts so it's not that they can't be successful or that we are opposed to those activities. It is simply this: when we are outside our home, running around, we are much more likely to settle for distractedness rather than engaging in relational growth and intentional interaction... when we are going places, we are-- in our souls-- constantly disrupted, distracted, wandering. There is a beauty and rarity in having a quieted and contented soul, and I find that being home-- truly staying home-- (at least, most of the time) feeds that quietness and gives us all time to be "at rest." This may not hold true indefinitely but for this season of having little ones, it is a beautiful thing that I can testify feeds the souls and bodies of each member of our family.
- News-- for me, in this season, I've found that the news is an unhelpful and disconcerting intrusion into my life. There are only rare moments where something truly necessary is shared on the news, and even then I know it will be told to me other ways. If I hadn't had CNN on the morning of 9/11, I still would've learned about it within plenty of time. If I didn't already know that we were under a tornado watch last week, the texts from Doug & Cate would have alerted me to it. When I do (rarely) watch a news program now, I am appalled at the depth of darkness and depressing topics. Abductions, sexual assaults, scandals, "entertainment" news (filled with sexual topics and divorce-type "news"), and far-off disasters fill the 30-minutes or hour. As a mom with so many things on my mind, so many concerns in my heart to pray about, watching the news is worse than a mindless distraction-- it feeds fear, anxiety, anger, and discontentedness, and also stirs up discontentedness and judgment about other people. For many years now, I have opted out of news 99.9% of the time, and I am more at rest because of it. I still check yahoo! headlines for huge-mega-world-important-sized news, but aside from that, I try to exercise self-control and not take on stress, depression, and burdens that I can do nothing about when there is so very much right in front of me requiring my mental and emotional exertion.
- Shopping as a boredom-fixer or pick-me-up-- Shopping malls are designed to make us discontent with our lives. Catalogs, online retailers, marketing e-mails, and more, all call out to us: "come, spend your money here on this cute tunic dress, this new diet book, this great kitchen gadget, this trendy piece of jewelry, this adorable pair of summer slip-ons, this bestselling novel... etc." But there is no bottom to this money pit. There will always be a new trend, a new book at the top of the list, a new diet everyone's "raving" about, a new "must have" item for your home. No store or retailer wants you to keep your money in your pocket. Shopping as a distraction from real life is not the answer to depression, discouragement, boredom, frustration, bitterness, a difficult relationship, or physical/mental/spiritual exhaustion. At best it is a temporary fix that drains your resources. At worst, it can land you in debt and lead your heart to believe that things will make you happy. That things are where your treasure is. That things are what make you valuable, pretty, or unique. I am not perfect at this (bookstores are my weakness) but this is an unhelpful habit (just cruising the mall/glancing through the catalog/browsing amazon wishlists) that I have tried to cut out of my life. When LLBean or Coldwater Creek send me their catalogs, unless I'm looking for a particular item that I have in mind right then, I go ahead and pitch the catalog right away. When a retailer sends me a coupon, I flag it in my e-mail box so I can go back and find it if I need it, but I don't go to their website to begin scouring for something-anything-please-please-please to spend it on. Shopping is not the answer to my boredom or discouragement, and admitting that and finding ways to deal with it has been a reality check for my soul, and has been a gift to our pocketbook.
These are three "unhelpful" tendencies I've tried to eliminate from my life. Can you think of any unhelpful things you've eliminated from your life or home? Are there things God would have you eliminate, even for a season, to feed your soul and body and give you rest? I welcome your comments.