I had a great post planned for today.
A couple of friends asked me to write on navigating life with young children as an introvert, and I’m only too happy to oblige.
I’ve been thinking on it for a couple of weeks now, anxious to share all these things I’ve been learning. I have some new systems in place. A tighter, more effective daily schedule! Fewer commitments! Less time on social media! But the more I tried to get my thoughts out of my head and wrestle this blog post into submission, the more I seemed to notice my real life, hitting me over the head like a 2×4. In short, the more miserable I became.
So today I’m going to write about something different: my sin.
You know, I have this growing resentment in my heart as I struggle to reconcile the Julie in my head with the Julie in real life. But I’m doing everything right! I’m making better choices. I do have a better daily schedule so that I get one-on-one time with each kid. I read a book during afternoon rest time instead of browsing Pinterest and Instagram. I get weekly time out by myself. I hardly ever even watch TV!
And yet. I’m so tired. And miserable. I work and work and work, and still, deep down have this gnawing, ever-present knowledge that I’m not a good mom.
It is hard parenting four small children as an introvert. You know what? It’s hard parenting small children period, whether you have one or six, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. The mundane-ness of life, day after day, with the laundry and making dinner and sibling quarrels is enough to make me crazy.
I’m making some good choices, but I’m still failing. Every single day I beg God, “Make me a better mom. A better wife. Make me less selfish. Please, I beg You.”
And yet, here I am.
I snap at my kids every.single.day. Multiple times a day. I correct them for stupid, meaningless things, like chewing food with their mouth open and spilling water and wiggling too much at the dinner table.
I’m so negative. I have a real problem controlling my tongue. I criticize David and the kids way too much. I have impossible expectations of Gabe and Noah, who are very little boys who make a lot of messes and noise and are doing their best to learn to obey.
I want my house to be unrealistically clean.
I want “please” and “thank you” every time I do something for someone. I want gratitude, darnit.
I want my kids to dress nice and have good manners so that I look like a good mom.
Also, I want to be left alone. I want space to sit and breathe and read a book without little hands pushing and pulling and stroking my hair and endless questions. Oh, the questions.
I want my husband to come home from an exhausting day at work and I want to dump the kids on him and say, “I’m done. Here. You do something with them.”
I see my kids faces when they look at me, the way they sit up a little straighter and also brace themselves, just a little, for whatever word of correction I have to dole out in that moment. The way they try so hard to please me.
Do you know how it makes me feel to look back and read everything I just wrote?
Like crap. I hate it.
This week our family was invited for dinner at someone’s house, a family who were total strangers to us. It went really well! Especially for all the anxiety I’ve had this year. I made it through the whole evening and felt happy. We all talked and laughed and my kids were polite and actually ate the dinner they served and played great with their kids and we exchanged numbers when we left. They really liked us!
We left and my heart swelled with happiness and satisfaction over a job well done.
And then the very next afternoon I’m standing in my kitchen, yelling at Gabe for something he said.
I laid on the couch and said to God, “I can’t do this. It’s too hard. It’s impossible for me to live for my family the way I live for other people. I can’t keep up the performance for them. They see the real me. ”
So I guess that’s at the heart of all this.
In truth, I know that I’m impressive to other people. I know that I’m friendly and easy to talk to and can be called upon to give good advice from time to time. I speak sweetly to my children in public and have taught them nice manners. I stay home full-time and I homeschool but I’m also a pastor’s wife! I like to make people feel welcome!
Do you know what God up and did this year?
He took all of that impressive-ness away from me.
He said, “No.”
He took away the ministry and the girl nights and all the affirmation highs I live off of like an addict, and allowed me to start disappointing people by saying, “No” a whole lot. And you know what He left me with?
My house and my family.
Here, people are not so impressed with me. Here I don’t get quite so many compliments.
Why should I?
My family knows what friends and acquaintances do not: that I’m a very average person, with some strengths, yes, but with many, many weaknesses. It seems I cannot go one full day without yelling at my kids or choosing myself over my husband or puffing up with pride because of how good I can pull it together in public.
It seems I can’t do one nice thing without expecting a “thank you.”
It seems I can’t sit and focus all of my attention on one child without the distractions of my phone or that mess on the couch or the school list.
Is that real ministry? Is that serving “with a happy heart” like I try to teach my children?
I think not.
To me, serving has always been something I do outside of my home.
Well, God has taken much of that away from me. I’ve been shocked by the feelings of anger and worthlessness it’s dredged up. And after I got over those feelings, I get to face the cold, hard truth: that it’s way easier to spend time with and serve people I know just a little than those I know a lot — those who know me inside and out.
And my pride is such that I’d way rather confess my sin and ask for prayer from my small group friends than from my family.
Our Advent catechism this week says,
“What is it to repent?”
“To be sorry for sin, and to hate and forsake it because it is displeasing to God.”
Each morning around the dining table, Advent candles lit, the kids and I have recited this catechism together. We’ve broken down the phrases and defined the words. But this morning I said to my kids, “Do you know what sin displeases God today?” They asked, “What?” And I said, “My sin.”
I proceeded to tell them a little about my sin. I told them how wrong it is, that I do not have a happy heart, that I am often unkind to them, and very selfish with my time, and care more about how I look on the outside than how my heart is on the inside. I listed some of the ways I disobey God.
I told them that I want to hate and forsake my sin. I asked them to forgive me. I prayed then and there, that God will forgive me and help me.
Then, gulp, I told them I want them to tell me when I’m using unkind words or an unkind tone of voice — if I speak to them that way, if I speak to their siblings that way. After all, don’t I get to do that for them?
I said, “I’m your Mommy and God still wants you to obey, but I’m displeasing Him if I tell you what to do in a mean way or when I’m too harsh and critical with you guys. That’s wrong.” This gives you an insight into the real me — Judah’s first question was, “But what if telling you that makes you even more mad?” And I said, “I really, really hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, then tell me that too. I trust that the Holy Spirit is living inside me and will show me my sin.”
Do you know what happened there at the table?
It was like a huge load rolled off my shoulders.
The despair, the oppression of this week seemed to melt away as my precious, noisy children each looked me in the eye and said, “I forgive you, Mommy.”
They are, after all, kids, so we almost immediately moved on to other things, to reading aloud and coloring and getting ready to go to the park, and no one’s mentioned it since (oh, the humbling ability of children to forgive and forget in mere seconds).
I realize that nothing is solved, exactly.
I still don’t know how to live in my house as an introvert. Clearly you now realize I’m probably not the best person to ask.
I know I will sin against God and against everyone in my family before this day is up.
But I’m not feeling resentful any more. I’m feeling more than a little humbled, more than a little chastened. I go to the park and look at the people around me and know that I’m no better than any of them, even with a dinner plan for tonight and well-behaved children and cute shoes. I don’t have to endlessly prove to God what a good Mom and good wife I am, because I’m not.
And I’m feeling like maybe all of this — all of it — is a good thing. Maybe there are even more lessons to be learned right here, in this house, with these people.
I’m closing my computer now, to go see them.