Everyone is tucked into their beds and the only sound I hear is the gentle hum of my ceiling fan spinning. Around and around. The clock blinks 9:42 pm and I think back on my day and wonder to myself quietly, “What exactly did I accomplish in the last 24 hours?” My performance review could potentially be grim. The house is a wreck and the kitchen trash needs to go outside. The dinner I prepared was rejected by three of the five people sitting around the table. Somehow, the to-do list is actually longer than it was when I got out of bed this morning. There’s a prescription I forgot to refill and I never made it to the gym to exercise. I lost my temper with my kids more times than I’d like to remember and I’m sure I could have engaged my spouse more intentionally once the kids were asleep.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with what took place today. I can always push errands to tomorrow and re-engage better in my role of parent, wife and friend. And honestly, if I’d spent hours cleaning the house, it would just get messed up again tomorrow.
But was I productive? Did I add any value to the world? Was I meaningful? Was I any good at anything?
And it comes to me.
The best thing that I did today.
The thing I did that could have eternal impact on the people around me. The thing that goes directly against the grain of our “consumer-driven, right now, world-revolves-around-me” culture.
I literally poured myself out for my people. I advocated for them. I protected them above myself. I taught them. And I laid down my own need to be right and said I was sorry. I engaged on their level and made myself second. I cared for their needs. I bandaged up skinned knees and gave one thousand hugs, some that were not reciprocated. I prepared toothbrushes and gave baths and prepared snacks and drove to soccer fields. I searched for answers to questions on google when I didn’t know the answer because inquiring minds are not satisfied with “I don’t know” as the answer. I brought excitement to a walk to the mailbox and played music in the car that I wouldn’t have chosen myself. I scooped up a crying toddler, I sang one extra song at bedtime. I folded up towels. And I did it for the love and joy of my people.
And while I truly think pouring myself out was the best thing that I did today, and any day, I think there are two things that threaten our willingness to lead this life of sacrifice and do it with joyful hearts…
Exhaustion and Identity
Putting someone else’s needs first, above my own…it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting and unnatural. And we don’t like to be exhausted. But exhaustion is inevitable. It happens to us all.
Remember how exhausting it was in college? And then, wasn’t it exhausting to work your first job right out of school? To be pregnant for the first time? To be pregnant again? To return to work? To stay home? To manage a family schedule? To….literally fill in the blank. We are on a gerbil wheel of exhaustion in this life.
So this inevitable thing…exhaustion, we can approach it as something in our way, something holding us back and preventing us from good things. Or we can see it as the calling we’ve been assigned to. The purpose for our strength. The reason we’re breathing.
Don’t let exhaustion be the reason preventing you from pouring yourself out and sacrificing yourself for the people you love. And don’t let it cause you to resent your life.
At the same time, don’t let your identity stop you either.
Some say we lose our identity in motherhood. We become a version of ourselves that our previous selves wouldn’t recognize. But I can think back on that version of myself and see a lot of selfishness and impulsiveness, insecurity and wrong-thinking. There was no wisdom there. So why sit here now and dream about accomplishing the tired and self-centered dreams of my former self before sacrifice turned me into a new person?
Friends, the best thing I did today was embrace exhaustion and a new identity while sacrificing my former dreams. It was putting myself on hold. It was putting the needs of someone else before myself and squashing the belief just a little bit more that I am the center of the universe. It was reinforcement of the truth that I’m not entitled to my every whim and fancy.
And THAT is a good thing. No…that is a necessary thing.
It’s not the common message. The common message is to go after what I want. To chase MY dreams. To take the bull by the horns and pull up my bootstraps and take life by the wheel. But if we’re ALL doing that, we’re missing it.
Full disclosure: today I also did things that weren’t the best. I was impatient with strangers driving in cars nearby. I responded in frustration when circumstances were inconvenient to my preferences. I demanded my own way and put myself first. I felt entitled to things. I considered only my opinion. I asked “But what about what I think!?” I became aggravated when my own personal ease and comfort were threatened.
But no, the best thing I did was when I poured myself out. When I was teaching and advocating and protecting someone other than myself and my own agenda. When I changed that smelly diaper and folded the mountain of laundry and shared my dessert and watched Paw Patrol for the five thousandth time. When I gave up my own personal space and answered that question about rocket ships that I could have cared less about and when I wiped off the sticky fingerprints from the bathroom mirror, even though I know it will be smudged again in the next 24 hours. None of it was in vain. None of it was a waste. A burden. An enslavement. It was refining growth and unnoticeable change. And it was exactly what we all need from each other. It was the best thing I could possibly do with myself.