Last week it hit at once, unexpectedly.
The wearying combination of both physical and emotional tiredness. We’ve had a busy couple months with life and ministry. I’d been schooling faithfully since our daughter was in the hospital, and that probably contributed, too.
But the thing that had given the biggest gut-punch was that one of those discouraging parenting moments hit, and we were all again front-and-center reminded that we are sinner parents raising sinner children. I’m not giving specifying details, because it’s not about the incident, but about my feeling of burnout and what I did next.
I’m just sharing so you know– that’s the context of the moment when I felt the feeling, “I can’t. I don’t want to. I’m too weary. NO MORE. Someone else do this. This is TOO HARD.” I wanted to scream, bolt, and hide.
What would we do without grace? We are all so weak.
WHAT I DID:
#1- TOOK AN EVENING ALONE
I suggested a few options for dinner to my amazing husband, grabbed my Bible and journal, a million of my favorite books, my laptop, snuggled the kids, said “goodnight,” and hit the door. I headed in the vague direction of restaurants, unsure if I could even muster up an appetite. Driving down the highway, I still didn’t know where I was headed, or what would soothe my heart (coffee? reading time? writing time? online? offline?).
As an at-home mom of 7, I try to make the most of moments alone, and there are moments where (despite knowing mom-of-17 Susanna Wesley’s advice about throwing an apron over your head) I feel a greater need for silence and solitude. When I’m feeling that familiar burn-out feeling (which maybe comes every couple/few years for me), the apron over the head trick isn’t enough. We have found that at times like these, it helps me a great deal to have a block of solid time to use purposefully. (And… full disclosure, sometimes “purposefully” means– for a nap. Or to veg out. Or to head to a coffee shop.)
#2- SORTED IT OUT IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD
Four miles down the highway, it hit me, and I could form it into words: I needed to reconnect and process it all with the Lord. For big stuff, I need to do that alone, first, to even sort out what I really think and feel, and discern what it is I need to do as His follower.
Doing so was miraculous. I poured out my heart in stumbly words as I drove. Once I sat down to dinner, He encouraged me through Scripture. He reminded me of my failures and missteps as a child/teen. He reminded me of all the things I love about this particular kid of ours. He reminded me of principles from the Bible and wisdom gleaned from godly people along the way.
I no longer felt that it was personal, that it was TheWorstThingAnyoneCouldEverDo (why do we feel that way about all sorts of parenting issues the first time we hit them?), and I had a much clearer head about suggestions to make to Doug about which sort of consequences and outcomes needed to process, going forward.
#3- ATE RED MEAT & READ.
Aa a born-and-raised Texan, nothing quite hits the spot like a good steak, are you with me? I headed for a local roadhouse. I’m probably borderline-anemic (as that often happens for me in these alternating seasons of motherhood– pregnant, postpartum, pregnant, postpartum), but let’s not kid ourselves. The reason I went for steak is because it’s just stinking good.
As I waited for my medium-rare ribeye, I copied down Scripture. I read and paused and pored over Scripture. I asked the Lord what I needed most, and let His Spirit guide me to the portions of His Word that would meet me in those most-needed places.
Elizabeth Elliot was my dinner partner. She reminded me that the lonely path is a good path… that even the worst things don’t mean life is over… that the places of desolation are places where God is at work… that He is good when it’s hard.
#4- BOUGHT A FEW NEW-TO-US BOARDGAMES.
Somehow I ended up at Goodwill in the toy section. I bought a couple that were still factory-sealed, and I found a few more that were unsealed but still (miraculously) had all their pieces and instructions.
My plan was beginning to formulate…
#5- TOOK A BREAK FROM SCHOOLING
I didn’t know it was coming, but suddenly, there in the aisle at Goodwill, like Michael Scott declaring bankruptcy, I declared Spring Break. Except he didn’t have the sole authority to make his declaration, and I do. 😉
The realization came, that we’d made it 75% of the way through our academic year and had virtually no breaks at all except for a brief couple weeks at Christmas and MeiMei’s time in the hospital. Suddenly it seemed obvious that we all needed a school breather… Last month, I even (ironically) wrote about homeschool burnout.
#6- TURN TOWARD THE PEOPLE I WANTED TO TURN AWAY FROM
That first morning, we did an intensive house clean up, then whipped out stacks of games. Beyond the natural consequences, what the child in question and I both needed were some smiles together. We needed to keep connecting and laughing and enjoying this world together… I actually even bought him a treat (chocolate Scrabble, to play and then savor).
But without having that time before the Lord, I would not have thought of this.
Selfishly, I wanted to curl up in a ball, turn inward, and turn away. I wanted to remove my presence from the one who displeased me. I wanted to punish with excessive consequences, but most of all, I wanted to punish by lack of presence– the EXACT WRONG INSTINCT… but an understandable one… self-protection is a fierce desire when we are hurting.
We started laughing together. Talked about trust and relationship and forgiveness. Learned 2 new games together. And for a few days’ time, we followed this cycle: played games, cleaned up a room intensively, then ate a snack/meal… rinse, wash, and repeat.
I would not have thought of this on my own. God is faithful to lead us not only to consequences (He led us in that too) but to love. Lavish, gracious, one-anothering LOVE.
#7- PERSONAL RESTORATION
I’ve taken hot baths, and done a Dead Sea mud mask a few times. Napped with Theo, wearing my beloved new sleep mask (good for mid-day naps and for migraines). I started exercising every single morning and taking plenty of B-12. I took time, during this school break, to do personally-restorative things that I don’t always get around to doing.
This is the sort of situation where I let the kids break out a season of I Love Lucy, or Liberty’s Kids, or binge-watch a baking competition, and I don’t feel the slightest guilt, because we’re (otherwise) cautious about screen time. The kiddos get a little (still educational/moral) treat, while I take a long bath or get a nap with the littles.
#8- CREATE, RATHER THAN CONSUME
Our culture trains us to be consumers, but because we are people made in the image of God, we are made to create and think and dream and build. So I’ve been going for walks, listening to podcasts (Pat Flynn & Sally Clarkson mostly), and thinking through projects (like a raised garden bed and making a switch of which toys are out and which are put away) that get shoved to the side when I’m in my head-down school mode. We got stones and pavers for a brick walkway we hope to put in this spring.
It’s tempting to just want to veg out and consume, but creating helps me actually look up and look out and make progress and move beyond my disappointment and exhaustion. So I redesigned the blog (I’m kind of in love with the colors; what do you think?), and began recording podcasts and my audiobook.
PLEASE SHARE IN THE COMMENTS: How do YOU get past burn out? What helps YOU, and does any of this look like what you do?