I've rushed headlong into life for most of my 43 years, doing whatever seemed the right and good thing to do at the moment. I haven't always stopped to think about whether it was the right thing. It never occurred to me that doing a good thing could be the wrong thing. I don't think anyone would argue that each of us is born with a distinct personality, traits, talents, bents, etc. For me, one of the things I was born with, or which God put into me, however you choose to think of it, was an intense love of people. Since I've been a young child, I have always wanted to do the right thing, often that involved helping people. It's easy to become prideful when you are like that. Whether consciously or unconsciously, you start feeling like you've got it all figured out pretty much. I honestly don't remember a lot about my younger childhood. I have snippets of memories. I remember neatly ordering my clothes on hangers when I was pretty young. Somewhere along the way, I became what we all know as a "people pleaser." I not only wanted to please people, but I wanted to please God. When I was in my twenties, someone shared with me the idea that we can't "earn" God's approval. If we never did another thing for Him, He would still love us. He loves us if we can never do anything for Him. His gift of His Son was just that, a gift, nothing we need to or can earn. In the Christian community and in the Bible, there is a lot of discussion about what is called "works", or what we do for God. The Bible very clearly says that we are saved by our faith in God, not by our works. It also says that faith without works is dead. This tends to cause quite the conundrum for us people pleasers, or perfectionists which I guess would be another word for it. So, I had the faith. I believed God was real. I accepted His gift of salvation. But in my heart, I always felt like if I didn't do the "right" thing, then, well, something awful would happen. I still struggle with this.
I am coming to realize that all of this really isn't just a spiritual issue. In my life, since I am a very spiritual person, it plays out in that arena; however, it's more of an issue of humanity, an issue of fearing failure, fearing letting others down. I'm not sure where this started or where it starts for any of us. The development of a child and how they view life is a complex thing.
As in most families, my family had their struggles in my early years of childhood. By God's grace, a family that was heading for destruction was put back together. With any difficult situation like that, however, it left scars on the children involved. I don't remember much of those years. Maybe it's a way of protecting me, but I believe in those years, my desire to do the right thing turned into a deep need to not make anyone unhappy. That desire has turned into a reflex that wants to solve any problem I see, to prevent unhappiness. One of the things I struggle the most with is crying children. When my teenage daughter is really emotional and upset, I have a tendency to react in anger. I'm really not mad at her. I'm mad that I can't "fix" it. My dad used to be the same way. Now that I think of it, my dad had some traumatic things happen to him as a young child as well.
As a mother, trying to keep everyone happy hasn't served me very well. I have run myself ragged trying to make everyone happy, to the detriment of myself and others. Just as they say the butterfly needs to struggle as it emerges to have the strength to fly, I fear I have stunted my children with my constant need and desire to keep them happy. I need to be able to handle their dissatisfaction when I tell them to do something they don't want to. For far too long, I have done what "feels" right but it wasn't necessarily the right thing. Just because something in front of me is a "good" thing to do, doesn't mean it is the "right" thing to do. A friend of mine may need a ride to the airport. In my desire to "fix" all problems I would have a tendency to say, "sure, I can do that!", but can I? Do I have family responsibilities that need to be taken care of that will prevent me being able to do that? I need to weigh the cost, the facts, and make a "wise" decision. The other day I started reading a book called "The Best Question Ever." On the particular day I was reading it, I was tired, worn down, run ragged. After a couple of chapters, I came to the question...."What is the wise thing for me to do?" Every fiber in my being was screaming, "I DON'T WANT TO DO THE WISE THING! I WANT TO DO WHAT I WANT TO DO!" Sometimes what I want to do is not the best thing....it's doing what I "feel" like doing rather than what I "need" to do. It's much easier to sit at the computer connecting with friends than it is to clean dishes alone in the kitchen. Sometimes what I want to do is a GREAT thing....helping someone who really needs it. But even that GREAT thing can be the WRONG thing for me at that moment.
As a young bride, one of the things I wish I had understood that would have saved me much pain and grief was the concept of the right time. Timing is everything. When we're cooking it matters. When we teach our children it matters. When we approach a husband with a problem, it matters. And now I'm learning that when we do good things it matters. Helping others seems like such a NOBLE thing to do....but sometimes with my children, my friends, strangers, helping them can be hurting them. At times, the wise thing is not to help. Maybe they do need the help, but it needs to come from someone else. "WHAT IS THE WISE THING FOR ME TO DO?" This morning I'm coming to understand more deeply that doing the wise thing takes planning, contemplation, thought, prayer. It requires slowing down, something which is hard for me to do personally. It's something that is like a foreign language to the world.
I want to help "fix" my kids problems. What I need to do, however, is teach them how to approach them on their own, to teach them how to slow down as well and assess the situation and make a plan. For most of my married life, I have almost gloried in the fact that I "flew by the seat of my pants." I could handle a lot. I juggle a lot. It was like a badge of accomplishment that I could "do it all." But the truth is, I can't do it all. The truth is, I'm not better than anyone else. I'm just as broken, trying to make the world happy with me by doing what seems good, but not what is best. I'm going to need to learn to say no more. I need to say no to myself....a very hard thing to do. As I talked about in A Paradigm Shift Regarding Self-Discipline, self-discipline is not easy for me. I need to say no to my kids. Yes, is not always the best answer. I need to say no to others when my resources really are stretched too thin. I hate saying no.....but it's essential. I also need to realize, however, that by saying no, I am learning to say yes. In saying no to others, I am saying yes to being a prepared, peaceful and calm mother to my children and a helpful wife to my husband. By saying no to some of the "good" things, I am saying yes to a healthier, calmer, more peaceful me. I've spent my whole life taking care of everyone else. I've neglected me. It works for awhile, but in the end, I'm not the EverReady Bunny. I have limitations and that's okay. I need to make peace with that.
This post hasn't gone in the direction I originally thought it would. It's been a lot more personal, but the lessons I'm learning are important for us all to learn. We all need to slow down to examine whether what we are doing is the wise thing. Something "good" is not always "best." We need to do it for ourselves, for our sanity, for our health. We need to do it for our kids. What we model before them, they most likely will emulate. Is the harried life we are choosing what we want for them? Let's slow down now and spend more time contemplating what we are doing and where we are going. Let's teach our children to do the same. They will be the better for it. We will be the better for it. The world will be the better for it.
Thoughts from Tracey Best