I chose a word for last year, just like I’ve done many times before. I chose it based on my perceived family and mental health needs, but I had a feeling that God’s interpretation of my word would be different from mine, and I thought He might do with it what He wanted. And He did.
I had chosen Purify because I knew I was overscheduled. I needed to weed out my calendar and my commitments, and I did, and it was good.
Then along came March and April, and as the thick heat of Cambodian summer set in, I buckled under the weight of it all. I couldn’t see how I could possibly do what God had asked me to do — mother my children and educate them — because I could never do it well enough. I could never do it perfectly enough.
At one point I landed flat on the floor ready to duke it all out with God. This sounds so dramatic and Jacob-wrestles-the-angel as I write it, but it was really pretty pitiful as I lived it.
My husband was at a loss for why I was feeling such heavy burdens and setting such unrealistic expectations for myself. What was he, chopped liver? Were parenting and education really all up to me?? Wasn’t he around to father our children and educate them, too? And where did I get these crazy wild expectations for them and for me anyway?
Missionary and ministry wives, I know you will understand this. Home school moms and school moms, too. We feel we have to “prove” the system, whatever system we’re in.
Everything’s gotta be perfect, or else our life choices will be suspect. It’s all gotta fall into place, or people will assume we did something wrong. That we made the wrong decisions, or executed them poorly.
We’re so afraid. The fates of other people depend on us, and people’s positive ideas of certain lifestyles depend on us. Because it ALL depends on US, you see.
These are actually the things God needed to purify from my life. My misplaced sense of worth. Massively unrealistic expectations. Fear of judgment for my life choices. Absorbing the wrong priorities. Conflating my identity with my children’s accomplishments (or lack of). A (repeat) misunderstanding of grace and the cross and what has ALREADY been done for us.
Some of these things I had worked through before. Some of them I hadn’t, and certainly not to that extent. They touched on some sensitive spots, had me asking why I was still struggling with the same issues. Had me wondering why I couldn’t get it together enough and get over them already.
Life with God is like that, a spiral that circles around to the same issues, going deeper each time and hopefully getting stronger each time. So I revisited Galatians — those foolish Galatians who, like me, had been bewitched. And I had to relearn my priorities and where my worth comes from. I had to shed some of my expectations for myself and my children.
I had to give myself grace for not being good enough. I even had to learn to give myself grace for still struggling to understand and live out grace. Because this might happen again. I might lose my focus, might forget what life with God is all about, might get caught up in distorted thinking patterns again. In fact it’s probably not a “might.”
When I look back at my year, though there were definite low spots, I can call this year “Good.” It wasn’t “great.” It wasn’t “super.” But it was good. The year wasn’t full of mountaintop highs, though there were some definite high points. It was mostly a lot of daily living, getting up in the morning to do the same things as the day before. It was mostly making slow progress in schoolwork.
It was mostly GOOD. Which is very different from the year before, a year I called “Brutal” when I got to the end of it. That’s kind of funny now, because I think some of the reasons 2016 turned out to be so brutal were the very same reasons I ended up wrestling with God in the early part of 2017. That year might not have been so bad after all, had I had my mind and my heart in a better place.
I don’t feel like choosing a word for this year. I don’t sense that God has new or big things in store for me. I sense that He’s asking me to be content with faithfulness in the little things. In the daily things. And you know what? I mostly am.
That’s part of what this past year did for me. Settled me in all sorts of ways. I don’t dream of doing bigger and better things “for God” (or is it “for me”??) outside of the things He’s already asked me to do: parent and educate my children ALONGSIDE my husband-friend (with youth, women’s, and writing ministry very much on the margins). I have practices in place to meet God and to connect with family and friends, and I know the bad habits I have, the ones that need working on.
So here’s to more GOOD years, for all of us. Years full of the presence and refining power of God. Years full of the goodness and grace of God — yes, even when tragedies and crises occur, and even when our looming problems are chronic and never-ending instead of surprising and emergent.
May the happiness of God be our happiness, not because of our circumstances or anything we did, but because God offers Himself to us freely, and His glory and goodness, and His peace and rest, are always available to us. May we receive it.