In February, long before I attempted the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge (which was not entirely successful but taught me a few important things about myself as a writer and blogger) I recognized how completely overwhelmed I was. There was too much to do. Every. Single. Day. I felt as if I was accomplishing so little of what needed to be done that I jumped at the chance to sign up for Elizabeth Foss's Restore Workshop in March and April. I knew I needed to get a handle on my burn-out and learn strategies to tackle the beast of my never-ending to do list. Between that online workshop and my Lenten sacrifices, the Lord has done some serious work on me and has shown me how much work is yet to be done.
As a Catholic wife and homeschooling mother of four remarkable children, ages 11, 8, 3, and 1, owner of my own home-based business, and vice chair of our 3rd annual San Antonio Catholic Homeschooling Conference this June, I had been feeling stretched in so many, many, many ways. In fact, the identifying factor in every season of burnout for me has been the inability to decide what to do from moment to moment in my day, to the point that I waste my time puttering in the house or online without doing much of anything. I feel like a deer in headlights, frozen with fear, incapacitated by the expectations of my responsibilities.
I hope to write about many of the insights I have gained about myself and my vocation this grace-filled Lenten season over the next few months. While blogging adds one more big thing to my to-do list, I feel very called to be in this space, to share what God hands me. And, one of the most profound realizations I have had is this:
Most of what I do on a daily basis will never be finished until I die.
This is something many have shared before. Mystie wrote a book on repetitive housework. Lacy reminds us a mother's work is never done. And, of course, there are volumes written on parenting adult children. Homemaking and motherhood go on and on and on. This truth began to dawn on me, as I stumbled onto a Facebook fast for Lent. I hadn't intended to give up Facebook, but a few days before Lent started, I found a book that captivated me. My Facebook time was habitually on my phone while nursing or rocking my toddler to sleep, and so I turned to reading the book during those times instead of the Facebook.
And, after about five days, the book was finished, and I realized that I hadn't been on Facebook. I noticed that I felt less anxious about my home, my children, the world around me, and putting said toddler down for his naps. Remembering that many of my good friends choose Facebook fasts for Lent, I wondered why. What is it about Facebook that is so detrimental? Facebook wasn't a problem for me. But, then, it hit me. Facebook is never finished. I can always click more links or scroll down further through my news feed, especially since Facebook keeps changing it up, making it more challenging to keep things in chronological order. I can always share more photos or articles or status updates. And, if I do manage to get down to the bottom of the feed where I'm pretty sure I read everything, at least a dozen new updates have appeared at the top of my feed, prompting me to start all over again! There is simply no end to it.
My aha moment to connect this to the rest of my life was when someone said (this was either a podcast or a blog, but I can't remember who said it) I needed to learn to be okay with completing the tasks that are realistic in one day, trusting that God knows how much He wants me to do. God gives us the time in each day to accomplish what He wants us to accomplish, not what we want to accomplish. Right. Wow.
Example 1: My house will never be as clean as I want it to be. I have four children who are home 95% of the time. As soon as I clean a floor, the crumbs and sticky spots return with a vengeance.
Example 2: My children will never learn everything I want to teach them. I choose my own curriculum materials and create my own lesson plans. Therefore, the potential for what my children could learn is endless, and unless I change my perspective, we will never cover everything I think they should learn.
Example 3: My business will never be as big as it could be. I am in direct service and sales, which means that I could always have more customers, more showings, more appointments, etc...
I could continue with examples about laundry (they keep wearing the clothes I wash) and cooking (they keep eating the meals I cook) and volunteering (there is always more that could be done), but you get the point. Just like Facebook (and sometimes blog reading), I can't ever say I'm done.
So, how do I live with that? How do I find peace despite my personality as a Type A do-er who loves crossing things off a list? How do I find the time to do the things that are important but not urgent? I feel God has given me the answer, even if I haven't taken the time to act on it yet.
Through prayer, set realistic goals and work towards them.
For me, I feel that goals are going to be the answer to reduce my frustration and avoid burn-out. I must let go of my frustration with my never-ending to-do list and work towards goals that are reasonable. My husband suggested giving our two oldest children some freedom to work as quickly as they would like on their remaining school work and possibly finish up the year early (we usually school through the end of June), and I can see how that would give me some much-needed time to reflect on goals for each area of my life.
And, it is essential that this is done through prayer. I must seek what things God would like me to do, not necessarily what I want to do. Then, when I write down those goals and make those choices, I need to trust that He is enough to bring mercy to any of my faults and gaps, and not second guess my decisions. At some point, I need to make a realistic list for each day, week, month, year and stick to it, without worrying about the things I'd like to add but can't due to my human limitations. Let it go! (cue my daughter belting this song at the top of her lungs)
If my to do list says mop the floor, teach math, and schedule a business appointment, I could cross off those things today, but I probably need to do them again tomorrow. Instead, it's time for me to look at the bigger picture and write goals, most of which will never be crossed off. They will require constant work, daily work, and a whole lot of surrender to God.
He knows the big picture better than I do, of course. He winces at my ridiculous focus on the day to day tasks and longs for me to turn towards supernatural and lasting goals. I believe that when I have a bigger goal in mind, repeating tasks over and over to get there, will bring me more peace and allow me to access more of the mercy and grace available to me.
I will do my best to share this new stage of my mothering journey with you, as God speaks to my heart and shows me how to embrace my never-ending to do list as a pathway to His loving arms. Thanks for walking with me.
What repetitive tasks frustrate you the most? What goals do you try to keep in mind on a daily basis?
*This is my first blog post on my new tablet, and I can't get pictures to load. I'll try again tomorrow!