I am preparing for my annual silent retreat weekend, and I have been thinking about my past retreat experiences. Sometimes I doubt that they are doing any good. Have I really grown spiritually in the past 2, 4, 6 years? I know that discouragement can be normal in the spiritual life, which is why I’m trying not to pay too much attention to the nagging voice. Still, as I reflect back on the post I wrote for CatholicMom.com three years ago, I can still see I have some work to do, which is why I decided to repost it for today’s #WorthRevisitWednesday.
For awhile now, it has felt like I have been carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. At least the weight of my corner of the world.
As a wife, mother of six children, and homemaker, I have realized that I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to do it all. And to do it all really, really well.
Do you do this, too?
There is this unspoken, unwritten expectation that I put upon myself that is so high, that I very rarely meet it. If ever.
This expectation includes the basic duties of feeding, clothing, and sheltering my family.
Yes, even the basics can be brimming with expectations and unrealistic pressures:
What should I feed my family? Organic? Sugar free? Paleo?
Where should I shop? Should I use coupons, and if so, how much time should I spend finding the best deal?
What should we wear? Should I shop thrift stores, or is it better to buy fewer items but of a better quality?
How should I clean? What should I use to clean? What about all those pesky toxic ingredients? And is it better to do a little cleaning everyday, or save it for one big cleaning day per week?
The expectations that I place on myself as a mother can extend to other areas of life, too, such as organizing everything from recipes and receipts to our medicine cabinet and what goes under the kitchen sink. I don’t know about you, but I always want birthdays and celebrations to be nice, but what happens when a certain child’s birthday was in April and she has yet to have some type of party with friends? Then there’s the feast days I want to honor but miss every year. The doctor and dentist appointments that never seem to get scheduled. And I certainly can’t forget the sorting of seasonal clothing that is still being sorted when the next season begins.
All of this should be done well and on time, says the expectations in my head.
Does this sound familiar to you, at all?
I want what’s best for my family, and I’m sure you do, too. But at what cost? Is doing what’s best worth being anxious, overwhelmed and discouraged? The expectations that I have, that no one has put on me except for myself, end up making me feel like a failure of a mom. I focus so much on all the things I’m not doing, how long it takes me to do the things I’m trying to do, and how quickly my hard work comes undone, that I end up feeling completely hopeless that I’ll never get it right.
Why am I doing this to myself? Why are you?
Moreover, how does this affect the relationships we have with our families and with God?
I recently shared my struggles with anxiety and feeling overwhelmed in my vocation with Fr. John on my Miles Christi Spiritual Exercises retreat. I told him that life felt too heavy, that it was not what I desire my vocation to be like. I told him about being a mom to six children, the challenges, the uncertainties, the joys, the sorrows. I told him that I didn’t know what type of mom God wanted me to be, because I didn’t feel like I was really good at one thing or another.
I dumped all of my motherly woes on this good and holy priest, and do you know what he said to me? He said something so simple yet so profound. He said something that has helped me begin to ignore some of the high and unrealistic expectations that I put on myself and shed some of the burdensome weight off of my shoulders. He said,
“Don’t ask of yourself more than God does.”
And in those eight little words, the pressure began to lift.
He went on to say, and I truly believe God used him as His messenger to speak to me, that my house is not meant to look like a museum; I have six children, after all! And when the mess feels overwhelming, I should simply offer it to God. I should offer my anxiety about the mess to God—out loud.
“My house is a mess, Lord, and I offer it to you.”
Isn’t that refreshing?!
Now, of course, Fr. John was not telling me not to work hard and not to teach my children how to clean up their bedrooms. But he was telling me not to be so hard on myself.
“But really, Father, can it be that simple?” I asked.
“It must be simple, Sarah,” he responded. He went on to say that God is calling me to be a saint as a wife and mother. If I try to be a saint in any other way, God won’t give me the grace to do it. But He will give me the grace to do what He is asking of me.
Again, more pressure began to lift.
So what am I doing with this breath of fresh air? With Fr. John’s guidance, here are three practical things I am working on to make “Don’t ask of yourself more than God does” my new and permanent mantra:
1. I am slowly letting go of the high expectations and working on not getting overwhelmed by ALL that has to be done. Rather, I am striving to be in the moment and focusing on doing one thing at a time. I asked Father, “How do I know what is a pleasing amount of work to God?” And he encouraged me to make a list of priorities, and do them in priority order, until I can’t do them any more. So, whatever I don’t get done, I leave for another day. This isn’t easy, and I fail many times. It takes a great amount of surrender and trust, but working on this has been so worthwhile!
2. I am renewing my prayer/spiritual life. I am working on re-establishing a daily prayer time. But I am starting small with five minutes a day. Many days, it goes beyond that, but if I get interrupted or I simply don’t have extra time, at least I know that I have spent a few minutes with the Lord.
3. I am practicing the presence of God. Father really encouraged me to imagine Jesus throughout my day. So, when I am playing with my youngest son, I try to picture the child Jesus playing along side us. When I am cooking dinner, I imagine that I am cooking for the Holy Family. When I am folding laundry, I remember that Jesus and Mary are keeping me company.
God loves us so much! He desires us to grow in holiness and virtue through our specific vocation as wives and mothers. He also knows that we are not perfect … yet! And He is happy with us anyway!