Are you looking forward to the New Year with anticipation . . . or a little bit of dread? Author and blogger Vanessa Hunt reflects on the pressure we put on ourselves to make the most of, well, everything.
When I became a mom of two I entered into a season of what I found to be a new kind of crazy. I had gotten one child all potty-trained and sleeping through the night and drinking out of a cup without a lid and giving me a chance to take a shower and go to the bathroom by myself most of the time. And then, there I was, starting the process all over again. Didn’t we just do this?
It was in that particular season that I vividly remember how I felt when I would somehow, magically, find that I had an hour or two all to myself without the munchkins around. I’m pretty sure that the build-up moms feel as they wait for those kid-free moments is exactly like the build-up the astronauts feel as they prepare for the space shuttle to launch. Watching the clock as the minutes, then seconds, count down. Hearts pumping with eager anticipation. Doing all of the last-minute checks to make certain that things will go off without a hitch. And then, it’s time. A dramatic pause, maybe a few tears, sparks flying and then it’s all-systems ‘GO’! There was always this glorious moment when I finally found myself alone where I would just simply pause and soak in the silence. I would close my eyes and just feel it enveloping me, wrapping me up and reminding me that I was, in fact, an actual person and not just a pacifier finding, train track building, baby food making, diaper changing robot.
But then, sometimes, that same wonderful silence would become almost overwhelming. I would feel like it was mocking me with all of its possibilities. I’ve been craving this alone time and now, all of a sudden I felt a sense of panic beginning to rise up in me.
Should I take a nap? Should I sit down and read a book which will inevitably lead to taking a nap? Should I clean the kitchen? Should I take a nap? Should I catch up on the shows I haven’t watched in 2 years? Should I take a nap? Should I call that friend who I never get to talk to without being interrupted a million times? Should I take a nap?
The thoughts would swirl and twirl all around in my mind until I felt like I was developing a temporary case of schizophrenia. I would find myself wandering around the house, never actually determining how I was going to spend the time. Here I had longed for, intensely craved a few minutes to myself and now that I had it, I didn’t know what to do with it. What felt like a gift had suddenly become an overwhelming burden because I was so afraid of not making the absolute, positive MOST out of every single minute.
Think about the pressure I was putting on those 2 hours. They were expected to live up to this fantasy I had created in my mind and somehow magically fulfill every longing.
And, inevitably, I would be left feeling let down. The kids would come back home and my life as ‘mom/pacifier finder/train track builder/diaper changer/robot’ would resume and I would look back on that free time with regret.
Somewhere deep in the recesses of my heart I knew that I had wasted it. I felt as though I had failed at yet one more thing. As a mom of young children, that sense of failure was already something I was very familiar with. It seemed like at every corner I was coming up short and now I realized that I was even a failure at what should be a guarantee. I should know how to relax, right? I should know how to make the most of two hours without running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I should feel refreshed afterwards, not sad and confused. Shouldn’t I?
I’ve recently realized that I tend to approach the start of a new year in the same way that I used to approach those kid-free moments years ago. I see the months and weeks and days (and minutes and seconds!) of this fresh year stretching in front of me with all of its possibilities. At first, it all seems so exciting and ripe with opportunities and I have no doubt as to how I will fill each moment. I’m going to give the dining room a makeover! I’m going to get up extra early in the morning! I’m going to organize the attic! I’m going to spend more time studying the Bible!
I’m going to find another way to volunteer! And then, just like in those days of early motherhood, I find myself completely overwhelmed by all of the options and stressed out thinking about how critical it is that I make the absolute most out of every day. Oswald Chambers said, “Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life—gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises.”
You see, I think I’ve had it all backwards. I’ve spent way too much time trying to be certain of myself and of ‘all of my ways’. And this striving for certainty in my life has led me to that place where the thought of what ‘tomorrow may bring’ doesn’t just fill me with ‘a sigh of sadness’. It fills me with fear and doubt. The more I’ve reached for certainty all on my own, the more uncertain and untrusting I’ve become of God.
Frankly, the thought of abandoning myself to Him seems completely and utterly terrifying. The unknown has never been something I’ve been particularly fond of.
When I was given the glorious gift of kid-free moments all of those years ago, it was my inability to abandon myself which ultimately led to it feeling like more a punishment than a blessing. And it always ended with a ‘sigh of sadness’. Not because it was over, but because it never lived up to what I had imagined in my head. But, what if I did it differently this year? What if, instead of running around trying to figure out what is going to happen in the months, weeks, days, minutes and seconds of the New Year, I embraced the uncertainty of it all? In fact, what if I not only embraced the uncertainty of it but I replaced that uncertainty about what tomorrow will bring, with certainty about God. About who He is. About His character. About His love for me.
Being certain about God doesn’t mean I can’t have dreams or make plans or wonder about what is to come. But it does mean that my trust in Him trumps my need for certainty. And I’m ready. I’m ready to abandon myself to Him and to the task He has placed closest to me. I’m ready for my life to be filled with surprises. Which is saying a lot for a girl who absolutely hates surprises! But, I know that His surprises will far surpass anything that I could have ever imagined. They always have!