So this is something I have been thinking about a lot recently and have started to write about a few times but have ended up distracted or not feeling like it sounded quiet right.
In the last 24 hours I have spoken to 2 of my closest friends who were both exhausted, where life right now just feels too much – they are trying to juggle kids, careers/work, run a home, be a great wife, have deep and meaningful friendships, and throw in bereavement and illness and unsurprisingly it feels like their heads may explode.
I have been there myself – this time last year I was at breaking point and to some degree I did break a little. I had a job that was incredibly full on and stressful, the inheritance of a father and grandfather of unresolved issues and problems, and at the same time was trying to be the perfect mum, daughter, sister and friend. I got to the point where I couldn’t sleep, where I had no peace, felt constantly sick and I wasn’t being a good anything to anyone and in fact spent a large part of each day in tears as I felt totally overwhelmed – I usually have a high capacity and can cope but I had reached a point where it was all too much. I knew as I reached the end of 2014 that I wasn’t enjoying the things that really mattered, the people in my life – I wasn’t properly engaging with my child because in my head I was totally tied into work and worry about my clients, or the outcome of a case, or meeting a target. I knew I had to make changes before I made myself really ill.
God in his mercy stepped in and pulled me out and put me in a much more restful place with time and space but I am still working through that 8 months and the impact it has left.
Recently there has been a video on social media which shows older ladies reflecting on what they see of the younger generation of women who are following after them. This video is incredibly powerful in its simplicity – what these women reflect on is that with all the opportunities and technology we have available to us it should lead to pleasure but what they see is that the younger generations are bowed down by pressure, pressure to be the perfect wife, mother and friend, to be successful, a boss, a leader. They see burn out. That instead of having a “to do list” we should have a “don’t do list” – that if they had their time over again they would extend those bedtime kisses, that they would cuddle their babies more before they are too old for those cuddles, and that they would spend more time on the dance floor whilst their legs were still strong enough to allow them to keep dancing. These gorgeous ladies with all their wisdom and experience were saying to the generations behind them, my generation, learn to be and to let go!
Tied into this issue is comparison and the pressures we put on ourselves – I have this conversation over and over again with friends. We need to have children who are always perfectly turned out, who are impeccably mannered, thriving at school and socially capable. We need to have a house that looks like it should be in “Homes & Gardens” and always immaculately clean. We need to be producing gourmet meals and an amazing social life. To always look perfect. To be creating picture perfect happy memories with friends and family – again the curse of social media. We measure our work success by the size of our wage packets, by our promotions and our achievements in the workplace.
I think we hear a lie that we should always be busy and productive because in some warped way that is a measure of success. I know I listened to that lie for a long time.
For me personally what I have learnt this year is that I have a choice – that it is about being intentional in pursuing the things that matter, even if that is hard. Sometimes, like for my 2 friends, there will be stages in life when everything does come crashing down at once, and there doesn’t feel like there is any choice in it and often there isn’t and during those times we need to survive and get through – for me it was about crying out to God and asking him for a way out, asking him to help me. I made some hard choices this year and I do not regret them one bit but I often still wrestle with them – did I commit career suicide? How will I be able to pay for Lucy’s wedding (my brother pointed out that in all likelihood that was at least 20 years away and I needed to chill out)? Am I not as worthy or successful because of the choices I made? Maybe not in the society’s eyes but I am happier. I am more content. I am enjoying my people more, my child more, and have met amazing new people this year. I have had more space and rest to work stuff through and meet with God. I may not be as financially comfortable and secure but I feel freer and more hopeful.
What can stay? What needs to go? What decisions are being made out of a financial motivation or what other people think? Where is fear holding us back?
Where do we need to ask for help? Asking for help is hard – my mum spent a week in intensive care this summer with severe pneumonia. My mum does so much for me – my childcare, cooks me meals, does my ironing – she makes my life easier and suddenly she was out of action and once the panic over whether she would survive or not had passed I started to panic about how I would cope, as the doctors anticipated her being out of action for 6 months. Who would take Lucy to school? How would I juggle it all with full time work? Within an hour of that panic setting in friends and mums from school were offering help. It felt hard to show weakness and accept that help but I knew that if the shoe was on the other foot I would happily help and so I had to suck up my pride and get on with it.
We need to be helping each other, we need to get over our pride and accept help – because without doubt as much as we may need help at certain points we will have many, many opportunities to give that help back. As we open up to our safe people, and say this is all too much can you help me, we will be blessing them with the chance to help, building deeper relationships – we all get there at some point and we will all get there again and we need each other to get through. Vulnerability.
And last but not least we need to be encouraging each other. I am passionate about loving people – I want people to know how special they are and I try to tell them that whenever I can. I have been accused of being a little intense at times but I don’t care. We need to be kind to each other, to pick each other up, to be hope when people feel hopeless, to believe in people’s futures when they can’t see the way out. To pray. To listen. To push each other forward when there is no strength left. It was my friends who spoke truth into my situation last year, who pushed me to make changes and who loved me through it.
As those wise old ladies said it so perfectly we need to learn to be, to let go and to dance more!