Can I be enough?

I’ve been struggling lately with a bit of a spiritual funk.  I feel as though I am weary from all the striving and trying to live up to unrealistic expectations (most of which are self-imposed).  The demands, or at least perceived demands, on the average person these days is enough to put anyone over the edge.  We are overworked and over-scheduled and we live overwhelmed and overdone.  It’s a vicious cycle that people cannot thrive in so they settle for survival.  But I don’t just want to survive.  Do you?

It seems like just trying to live day-to-day has become a challenge tantamount to climbing Mount Everest.  If that is the case, I’d rather actually climb Everest and have something to show for all the effort rather than the lack of satisfaction that comes from a mundane, sleepwalking existence that may, in fact, be equally draining.

When everybody wants a piece of me, I am pulled in so many directions that I often feel  there isn’t enough to go around.  This living fragmented is tough.  Really, it’s broken.  It’s certainly not the way to wholeness.

I’m trying to get back to the basics, to weed through all the extra stuff and make sure that my focus is where it ought to be. I know it is distracted and distorted and I want to get back on track but I feel like the usual paths are not getting me there.  Sometimes even the doing of the right things just adds more to a to-do list that is already a mile long.  The things that I have done in the past to reconnect are not working.

Perhaps the secret is to stop doing.  To become undone, so to speak.

Jan Johnson, in her excellent book, Abundant Simplicity, writes of the abstinence disciplines such as fasting, solitude, silence, and simplicity as “breathing out”.  The modern church seems to be focused on all the engagement disciplines (study, prayer, worship, fellowship and service) which are the “breathing in” and has, by in large, excluded the rest.

The trouble is you need both to have a complete breath.  The constant inhale will not work.  Much has to be exhaled to keep things in balance.  This is wisdom that we are largely missing as Christians in the North American Church, if my experience is any indicator.

I need this undoing.  I need fewer pieces and more peace.  I need to breathe fully the breath of God and experience that divine restoration because the expectations I have for myself will never be satisfied and I will continue to deplete without His strength.

Johnson also quotes Paula Hudson on the subject of living with a singular focus:  “interior chaos subsides; the psychic battlefield goes calm and silent.  People can experience themselves as whole and at peace instead of fragmented.”  SO. WANT. THAT. A holy fixation that realizes that I’m not enough but He is and that is okay.  That is enough.

5 Simple Ways to Love your Kids

A little bit of thoughtfulness can go a long way.   I have made it part of my personal mission statement to act on those divinely-inspired impulses as they come to mind  – right in that moment – if I am able.  Otherwise, the moment passes, and the opportunity is lost to forgetfulness.

But…I tend to be better at practically sharing the love with friends and neighbours than I am with my own crew.  This school year I’m determined to be more responsive to the day-to-day opportunities that arise but I also think it is important to add some intentionality to my plan.

As far as my kids go, I recognize that I can have all the best intentions in the world but unless I make a commitment to actually put those ideas into action, they just bounce around in my brain and leave me feeling like a neglectful parent.  Don’t ya just love false guilt?

I have also learned (from experience) that parenting goals need to be simple and realistic.  It is easy to get overwhelmed trying to live up to the impossible expectations that I have set for myself.  So, in an attempt to be deliberate AND reasonable I am narrowing my focus.

I am working on a parenting manifesto but since it is in process, I decided to at least get rolling with a few accessible goals.  (For a beautiful and inspiring example of a parenting manifesto – and a multitude of other glorious things – click here.)

As we embark on another busy school year, I’ve designed a little experiment to connect intentionally with my kids and I’m using the 5 Love Languages as a guideline.

With four kids, we have determined that all the Love Languages are identified in several combinations so I’m trying to cover all the bases in equal measure. We have other routine things in place (like shared journals, gratitude books, and a prayer wall, and highs/lows at dinner) but I need a few new ideas to keep me motivated and connected to my crew.

So, here’s the plan to fill up those love tanks:

1. Words of Affirmation:  Little Love Notes

I’m going to make a special point of writing down the wonderful things that I am noticing in my kids.  Handwritten notes of encouragement are a great way to celebrate growth in character or to communicate support or caring.

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A classic spot for these little love notes is in their lunches.  I have found that Super Sticky Post-Its are fantastic but I am also a big fan of the new Rice Krispies prepackaged treats that have a label built into the wrapper. Keeping some blank pages of printable address labels handy might work as a quick way to stick a quick message onto a granola bar.

We also have an “inbox” (a hanging wall file) for each person in our family.  These are organizationally functional spots for important school papers and artwork but I hope to also claim them as a little in-house mail system.  I can also leave a Post-It note on the back of their bedroom doors, on the bathroom mirror, or on their headboards for them to see first thing in the morning.

2. Physical Touch:  Snuggle Therapy
Physical contact is so important.  I wrote about the importance of Snuggle Therapy in a previous post and firmly believe in its power to dissipate tension and work through particularly emotional days.  But snuggles can come in many forms:

  • sharing a story
  • praying together wrapped in a prayer shawl
  • holding tight when tears are inevitable (theirs or mine)
  • slow-dancing to a quiet song
  • alternating foot rubs
  • bedtime cuddles

Basically, I’m consciously choosing to linger in those opportunities for physical touch because even a few moments in a warm embrace goes a long way, doesn’t it?

3. Quality Time:  Sunday Morning Breakfast Dates

With four children and both parents working full-time, it is hard to get that one-on-one connection as often as you (or your middle child) might like.  My husband and I both decided that we had to reclaim a time in our schedule that was rarely disrupted and make a commitment to create a rotation to go on mini-dates with each of our children.

Sunday morning seemed to offer the golden opportunity; while both parents were around to trade-off babysitting we could also go out inexpensively for some quality time with each child.  We often add a little walk to a coffee and muffin date to extend the opportunity for conversation (and to add a little activity into our weeks).  Each kid gets a date with Mommy or Daddy every four weeks.
4. Acts of Service:  Chore-Free Gestures

Every so often, I’m going to try to take something off their to-do lists.  We have very specific age-appropriate daily and weekly chores for all members of our family – it’s the only way we survive in our busy household!

Because this is my primary love language, I understand the impact of someone taking something off of my endless list so I’m going to try to do the same for them.  I’m going to target times when it would be particularly helpful like after a tough or tiring day at school or when they have extra homework or an extracurricular commitment.

I also want to surprise them, on occasion, with a clean room (although, admittedly, this may be motivated more by impatience than any feelings of love).

I may write out a little “get out of a chore free” coupon to give them a choice once in a while about how and when they want to cash it in.
5.Receiving Gifts:  A Token Trunk

I already have a “gift cupboard” where I house lots of little gifts for a variety of occasions (hostess gifts, kids birthday party gifts, encouragement tokens and the like).  I’ve decided that I need a separate bin of little treats, toys, craft supplies, and wrapping to pull out just because.

I’m generally quite skeptical about the dollar-store-loot-bag kind of treats that break before the end of the first day but I don’t want to spend a fortune so I’ll have to get in the habit of grabbing some bargains when I see them and tucking them away. I’ll look for sets of things that I can split up like 4-packs of PlayDoh or Crayola Stampers Markers.

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I’ll look for ways to surprise them with a little token.  Maybe I’ll leave one in a coat pocket. I could hide something under a pillow. (Who says the Tooth Fairy gets to monopolize that location?) I can place a little gift in a backpack to be found later. I could get a few and set them our on their breakfast or dinner plates.

Of course, free or homemade gifts (like home-baked cookies, a new playlist, a craft or a photo) can be wonderful and personal options as well.

Another part of the experiment is to carefully observe how my kids react to each of the love gestures.  I have my suspicions about their primary love languages but this should help me to examine my hypotheses.

I am curious, though; do you have any plans or practices for showing love to your kids in the everyday busyness of life?  If so, would you share them with me?