pity parties and answered prayers

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” ~Flannery O’Connor

I felt small, and not the good kind of small. Not the kind that meant the black you wore was flattering and the muffin top was less visible. This was purely the less visible kind. The kind where you are feeling less than. This was the kind that makes your cheeks burn hot. As I walked fast and furious I recounted the slight. It made me walk faster and push back tears.

What was really a simple miscommunication made me feel left out and alone. I tried to fight the feeling and be positive. My response was “I can walk on my own, listen to some music along the way.” When I couldn’t find my earbuds, I erupted.

Not finding them wasn’t simply frustration over an item misplaced. It also signaled something deeper. I had many sets of nice earbuds, hardly used. My ensuing irrational train of thought began there. They were rarely used because I was rarely alone. There was always a child nearby in need and to luxuriously block out what was going on with music was close to unheard of. Yet this one moment (that I was trying to make the most of) I couldn’t even do that because I couldn’t find any earbuds. I couldn’t find any earbuds because one of the kids that always needed something had invariably taken them because they’d damaged or lost their own. Flustered and moving faster, I paced and let angry thoughts run wild.

No one cares that I don’t have a way to listen to my music, they don’t even care that I was left out to begin with. I’m not on the radar at all. Where have I gone wrong that I give up all I have for my kids and this is what I get?

Now that kids are in school, I am looking for a job. Employers see a resume with holes gaping of years spent not in the paying world’s work force but in that one that goes without paycheck and little other notice. I tell myself that is my calling and I did what I was supposed to do.

I recall a recent impromptu phone interview that had awkward pauses as I tried to make myself sound valuable, sound knowledgeable, sound big. I floundered. The memory recent is humiliating as my value in those eyes is directly tied to my hours in, pay earned, contacts made.

My thoughts go further to years back accepting a job as a magazine editor. I took the position with three kids at home, one school age and two others not yet. Two days into the job, I found myself explaining to the publisher I’d made a giant mistake. Those kids were my primary responsibility no matter how much I wanted to be an editor, to design pages, direct photo shoots, write stories. I needed to be there for them first.

As I walked and cried and sweated with no music to soothe. I only grew angrier.

I prayed.

God. Help. Please.

This is an ugly cycle. This is going nowhere. This is a pity party.

Please help me see You move, You answer prayers.

Before my emotions could be allayed, I was angrier even. I put aside so many things to be this mom. I can’t even say it’s a job I have done well. I have sat in dentists’ offices with the nurse explaining half a dozen cavities and died a little thinking I was too tired to help floss so many nights . I have sat across the table from a teacher telling me again that this child will not sit still and listen and there are others who deserve this spot in this class. I have had teachers send notes home that they made my child buy a lunch because what was packed did not look like enough. That’s what happens when you are all to happy to let a fourth grader pack his own lunch when time is short. It’s not like I’m a stellar mom with star students and athletes and no discipline issues. This job wasn’t done well and now all of these years of “experience” count for nothing when you want a job so someone somewhere will notice you, will deem you worthy.

God, please help me.

I think of scripture. I know the answers. I’ve known them all my life. How now does that get me out of this hideous pit? I know that I should not live by my emotions. You act on truth and let the emotions follow.

When the emotions grab hold it is so hard to shake them.

I am ready for the meat. The meat to be the gospel truth healing my heart. I am ready to see the power of God’s word remaking me. How do I break free?

I tell myself the truth. I am a child of God. He is sovereign. He sees me. These years are important, not wasted. The eyes of the world may not see success but there is so much it will never see.

I don’t want to be like this, worried about what others think. Worrying about be considered valuable and not small. I have prayed often to be more than this selfish me, to have more of Him and less of me.

I am trying to hold fast to truth. In that angry, emotional moment, I struggle so hard to hold on to it.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

My night ends with a loving husband, listening, patiently. I tell him I KNOW the answers. It just seems like a great time to feel that they are true. When does faith become sight? How do I get to the reality of the words?

I cried. A lot.

The following day I found what I always find after that kind of night, swollen puffy eyelids and under eyes, a terrific addition to my smallness.

The next day, for some unknown reason, my husband asked me to take a short business road trip with him while kids were in school. As we drove, my mind again wandered to my future, this next step with kids in school. Previously I saw it wide open, fat with optimism. I could go and be anything. Now a few weeks in and job prospects thin at best, it’s a different landscape.

I think again about feeling small. Why do I feel so small? I am putting my identity into what I do. Suddenly, gently, the Holy Spirit nudges and I recognize a prayer is being answered. How I couldn’t recognize it is instantly astounding. I have prayed time and time and time again. “More of you and less of me.”

Rarely do we like to think of answered prayer as such a painful process, or at least I don’t. In my small mind, there is a magnificent thought of only happy people in happy places with no job losses, or illnesses, or suffering. Answered prayer is healing and peace and smiles and rainbows.

I thank God as I realize yet again when I always seem to forget: This is not about me.
I am praying for Him to increase, for me to decrease AND HE IS ANSWERING MY PRAYER.

Words of CS Lewis immediately come to mind: “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

It hurts to feel small. It hurts because I am wanting it to be all about me. When I focus on me, me, and then me some more, perspective skews wild.

Donald Miller said it beautifully: “The biggest lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.”

The anger melts. Frustrations fade as I once again find my great God faithful.

“For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” Psalm 33:4

My anger, my sadness shows a distinctive lack of trust, of gratitude. I spent years enjoying the people, the gifts He has so graciously given. Then like a spoiled child, I stomped around saying I’ve gotten no credit for this. I could have had a job where people pat me on the back, say nice things, pay me money, take notice. I deserve credit! Give me Yours!

There it is, the absolute heart of the gospel. He did.

He has given me all of His credit. There is nothing He has withheld from this spoiled child. He laid it all down and I am demanding what? Something else? His earbuds, perhaps?

There is nothing He does not notice.

He’s making a way even now. This God who made the heavens by a word, is continuing to patiently remake me. He is gently stripping away the subtle idols I have put in His rightful place. Being a mom does not overshadow being His child. Being an editor does not make me more valuable to the Creator of the universe. I don’t need a title, a bullet point on the resume, a salary to be someone. (Even now the flesh cries out, “a salary would be nice though!”) UGH.

When I was young, people would wear bracelets with PBPGINFWMY printed on them. I thought they were silly and now I think I need one. Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.

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these aren’t the little things

I didn’t plan to have a fifth child. Actually that is true of the fourth as well. Regardless, it is symptomatic of an underlying idea that I think I am actually in control of something which is pretty funny in and of itself. That fourth child, that fifth, remind me of the Ephesians 3 prayer that closes with the acknowledgement that God can and does do more than we can ever ask or imagine. They are light in a lot of dark places.

Number five came along when all the other four had survived until school age, made it past my fumblings and failings long enough to make into the educational system where someone else could be responsible for their well being for more hours in the day. From the moment I saw that second line on the pregnancy test, I immediately cried out with thanksgiving. Anyone that knows me can easily testify that is not my normal first response to anything. And yet, the grace of God overwhelmed me with this last unexpected gift.

Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of his attitude and nature as number five has had a grateful heart from so early. He thanks me for everything I do for him. Part of it is purely that childlike contentment that seems to allude us once we pass about second grade. But his gratitude is humbling, contagious. I’ve seen it affect others. In turn I am grateful.

So as I approached this school year with apprehension and as much courage as possible, I still dreaded the day this light would go into another realm to brighten others’ days the way he has every one of mine for five years.

The struggle is more than just his departure, it is what it means for me, at home, alone. I have always wanted to work, to find value in a salary and achievement. With my first kids it was such a wrestling match with God. I kept trying to find a way to do more, to be more. He kept providing a way for me to be home, with more kids. This approaching departure from that pattern did not assuage my angst. If I am honest—which I a more often not—in the recesses of my mind I always thought I would “become something” when I had the time to myself.

We live in a world that explains this is only possible outside of home or when a paycheck is involved. It is an ongoing battle for me. It includes my recently inaugurated job search. The kids will be gone, I have to “do” something more. I need to be more than, well, me. As I have not yet found any such job, there is a vague sense of defeat already.

As apprehensive as I was about this moment, my little man was that thrilled. His excitement was palpable. He was so prepared for this departure that I was and am amazed. Here I believe is the contribution of four much older siblings who talk of lives away from home. He idolizes these older brothers and sisters and desires to emulate them. The only natural progression is to go to school the way they all do: junior in college, junior in high school, sophomore in high school and fifth grader pave the path.

First day jitters were nonexistent for this one who knew his friends were waiting for him in the classroom. (Kids he’s never met are already friends in his mind, be it the playground, the classroom, or passing by on the street.)

Approaching this day made me ponder Abraham taking his promised child to that mountain top. I too, bore a child in old age. Mine was unexpected delight. I cannot fathom the strain and the foreboding as Abraham followed God’s directive to do away with this long-sought-after, long-awaited light of his life that promised so much more for future generations. Surely his knees were feeble beneath him climbing to that inevitable place. Mine were, just getting out of the car to find the kindergarten classroom.

Abraham followed through. But God followed through first. He provided a substitute to foreshadow The Substitute for us all. And there is the origin of gratitude.

My kindergartener hardly looked up from the table once he found his spot. He immediately chose a crayon and went to work. I didn’t drag it out to appease my own pitiful departure. My brave and beautiful fourth went happily to her classroom.

The older siblings have graciously been given a new venture in a Christian school. When I say given, I mean it wholeheartedly. It was another unexpected, highly unlikely happening at the hand of God. As I left them at their new school, I thanked God for delightful surprises like these–this child I didn’t expect, this school I didn’t think possible.

As soon as the quiet approached and I understood where I now find myself, I focused on being thankful, dwelling in the gratitude. Thankful to my Better Way who has provided all along the way. The One who is in control despite my illusions of such. I thanked Him and then thought of my new life without kids during the days. I still have much responsibility for them, to them, even when they are not in my presence.

I thought of the parable of the talents. Immediately I think, I am that guy who only was given one because I don’t have much responsibility, no job of significance. In attempting to stop the negative strain, I thanked Jesus for this role even while thinking I am something of failure alone. Being a mom is not the role of great value, but there is even less of me when they are away. I am not the one with the 5 talents who doubles the fortune. But as in Matthew 25, I want to be faithful, to be commended for being faithful over a little. I prayed as I drove home alone, “Help me to be faithful in the little things.”

I believe He answered immediately:

“These aren’t the little things.”

I gasped.

My precious people are not the little things. I have made them this in my hierarchy of provable success. This life I have been given is not of little significance. There is great responsibility. This is my assignment for this moment in time. Yet I have continued to make plans, believe I am in control, and think I need so much more.

The plans have been made for me and they are those of the Ephesians 3:20 and the Isaiah 29:11 kind. It’s better than I’d hoped for. It’s more than I can ask. I have a future and a hope, whatever that may be. And I am following my kindergartener’s example by clinging to gratitude in this moment.