This weekend my family and I enjoyed the children's Fall Break from school. Third grade has been off to hectic start, so this particular break was well-timed. My husband was able to take a couple of days off from work and we truly 'retreated' to the mountains of North Carolina.
The time away also led to a humbling and painful realization. While sitting at lunch Friday (in a crowded booth, my pet peave) I semi-lost it. My excited, hyperactive, full-of-life children simply could not/would not sit still. As they wiggled and squirmed and kicked their feet something in me was boiling.
I should have been giddy. I had the people I loved, on vacation in a gorgeous setting, waiting for a delicious meal that I wasn't responsible for cooking or cleaning up after...and yet, I was so zoned in on bad table manners I couldn't see it. After the second table kick that sent full glasses wobbling and silverware clinking I grit my teeth and angrily said the entire name of my energetic daughter. I might as well have breathed each of those syllables with fire. If the wilted look on her face wasn't enough, the look of surprise and disappointment on my husband's was a clear barometer. My reaction was totally out of proportion to the situation.
This wasn't an isolated event for me...it was simply the icing on the cake of a weird snippiness, annoyance and anger that has been brewing inside me.
It wasn't an appropriate time to hash through it all, but the rest of the day I pondered and asked God to search my heart. That night, as the children were getting ready for bed my husband and I had a chat. He spoke truth in love that I needed to hear: What is really going on with you? Why are you so upset these days? Things have changed.
As we talked I was able to confess what I believe is at the heart of it all. My unrealistic expectations. As my children get older and I feel time slipping through my hands, there is a self-induced pressure to start getting some things right. I want every moment to count and all of our times to be sweet and smooth. Basically, I want a fairy tale--behavior and circumstances that are completely unrealistic. The irony is my desire for such peace is being used to rob it.
While I know I have very little control over the 'big things' in life, I have slipped into an unfortunate pattern of thinking I can at least control the little ones...so I get flipped out over things that shouldn't matter nearly as much--like table manners, being on time, my schedule, grooming.
I realized that as much as I WISH it were not true...and even though I KNOW better...my flesh is in an all out war. I have a prideful need to feel like I am "doing this well." In the absence of a true, measurable, short term scorecard I have made one up--and (again, unfortunately) it has to do with performance, behavior and appearance.
In quiet, rational moments I know this is NOT what I value most. I am far more concerned with the heart development of my people than the outward parts. Messy hair and untucked shirts matter not if the heart inside is growing. I really do believe this...and yet...
When I allow fear and insecurity to have a voice to my heart--man, oh man--it wreaks havoc:
"Look at you, Mother of the year, that toddler across the room can sit still longer than your nine year olds."
"Look how rumpled your children are--like little vagabonds. You'd think a stay at home Mom could have them a little more together. What exactly do you do all day?"
"They still aren't looking adults in the eye. Look at their posture. Jen, they are almost tweens. Get on this stuff."
Words I would never dream of speaking to others, I use to lecture and condemn myself. And with all of this mental wrangling going on...self condemnation over things that aren't 'the main things...' it's no wonder that I breathe a little fire. It has been the soundtrack in my head to myself!
God has given me great kids. Not because of their appearances, their manners or their 'performance' but because HE is active in their little hearts and minds.
They are NINE. And I am going to stop apologizing for them or expecting them to be 39, 29, 19 or even 12.
But for now, I am going to breathe deep and pray the Lord will help me wrangle this thought life back under control.