I am hemorrhaging sanity.
And it’s not just that I can’t remember to do things, or recall basic facts. Or that I can’t think a coherent thought or accomplish anything requiring adult mental capacities.
I’m talking complete psychosis. A full mental breakdown. Like I’m one horrible day away from pulling a stunt like Vivi Abbott Walker did in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: just up and leaving one day, telling no one where I’m going, or for how long. Except I’d probably escape to Canada instead of Mexico, simply due to proximity.
Motherhood is relentless. And truth be told, it’s full of a lot things that are just plain boring, and other things that are actually odious. Stay-at-home moms like myself work all day doing things that immediately get undone. There is no actual task that is ever completed once and for all. My job is to simply keep the chaos at bay. If my house looks exactly the same at the end of the day as it did at the beginning, I have been productive.
In my finer moments, I actually don’t mind doing dishes or laundry. I don’t mind grocery shopping or meal planning. (I do hate cleaning, and it shows.) But after a while, doing the same thing over and over to simply maintain the status quo starts to wear on you.
And that doesn’t even touch the tip of the parenting iceberg. Take the never-ending loop of household chores, add in a screaming toddler and whiny preschooler, subtract any time for yourself—that’s the recipe for total mental meltdown.
I can’t help but compare myself to the women out there who seem to be unruffled by anything, who seem completely confident and competent in their parenting decisions, who have tuned their family routines to be a finely humming orchestra, and who still have time to get ready each day, make elaborate and fun meals, blog, write books, pursue hobbies, exercise, and take amazing Instagram pictures of it all. I mean, who are these women?!?!
That’s not me. I’m just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. My life is a total crapshoot. I don’t have the confidence or insight to know what routine or rhythm would work well for our family, and even when I do have the slightest hint, I lack the discipline to carry it out.
It’s right about here that the voices in my head start piping up. One says that I should just extend grace to myself because I have two young kids, one of which has not slept well for the past 9 months of her life, and the other is a very high-energy, high-need child. The other voice says that making changes to our family routine isn’t about increasing productivity or trying to run a business on the side. It’s about survival. Because I am literally losing my mind, and that is not working for me.
I haven’t even figured out how to accomplish the basics on a regular basis. I frequently find myself completely over grocery shopping and meal planning, so I just don’t do it. Travis asks what’s for dinner, and I shrug. What I want to say is “I don’t effing care, you figure it out.” Instead, I stumble to the kitchen on the fumes of willpower and hodge-podge something together using frozen vegetables and a box of pasta.
I clean bathrooms about once a month. I change sheets about every two. I can’t remember the last time I vacuumed downstairs and we have never washed windowsills in our current house (even though they are disgustingly filthy). The girls can sense whenever I’m mustering up motivation to accomplish something out of the ordinary because without fail, that’s when they unleash their most unruly tantrums.
All my fantasies lately are about relaxation. It’s me, a good book, and a bed. I check out of my life by reading some brain candy. Reading transitions into naptime. After naptime comes leisure time. Remember leisure time, time to do the things you enjoy? Does that still exist somewhere in the world?
Instead, I find myself trapped in a life that requires me to spend all of my time and energy on things I don’t want to do, like change poopy diapers, fix 10 snacks a day, clean up messes and spills every five minutes, schlep four armloads of stuff to and from the beach for an hour of play, and my favorite, deal with two screaming, tantrum-y kids simultaneously while my husband is out fishing.
The cherry on top of the crap sundae is the nitpicky bickering in marriage over NOTHING and EVERYTHING caused by both spouses being overextended and stressed out. Somedays I’m *this close* from going to bed for the rest of the year.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful husband and my marriage is actually in a pretty good place. Even so, it often echoes the theme of my life right now: EVERYTHING IS A BATTLE. It’s a battle to be a loving spouse. To let things go in the name of unity and love instead of demanding that things be done or said how I want them to. To find time and mental energy for doing thoughtful, kind things for my husband. To view him as more than just the replacement babysitter or the impediment to doing what I want.
It’s a battle to parent. To control my own emotions and use wisdom instead of anger and heavy-handedness. To balance spending time with the girls and getting things done. To just get enough freakin’ sleep.
It’s a battle to manage my household. To maintain the necessary energy and level of giving a crap to keep up on all the monotonous chores. To not compare my house organization and decorating style to other women’s, or to at least not feel like mine’s a bag of lumpy cheese compared to theirs.
It’s a battle to be a Christian. To find time for Bible study, prayer, evangelism, serving, and all the things I think I “should” be doing.
It’s a battle to have personal time. Actually, let’s be honest, the battle is to be ok with not having personal time, with having a long list of things I’d like to do but don’t have the time or energy to do after having spent all of my time and energy herding toddlers, completing the basic tasks of survival, and preventing our house from being condemned.
But in the midst of all this “NESS” (as my old boss Carol Ann Kelly used to say), you want to know what’s awesome?
Jesus came for messes like me.
We Christians often say to unbelievers that you don’t have to clean yourself up in order to come to Jesus. In fact, “if you tarry until you’re better, you will never come at all.”
What we don’t often say is that this is a message for us too. Because even when you put your faith and trust in Jesus, you don’t stop being a mess. You don’t stop being a sinner in need of a Savior. In fact, sanctification–the process of becoming more like Jesus in your character and spirit—almost always involves seeing more of your sin, admitting your mess, and humbling yourself through repentance and apologies. Sanctification is sacred work, yes, but it is borne of blood, sweat, and tears. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
I usually think of discipline as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience,” but it can also be defined as “the practice of training oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.” Learning to repent and apologize for my own sin is discipline, but so is spending my days doing things I don’t want to do. It is painful in the moment to persevere in the cycle of clean, wash, organize, tidy—especially when my flesh is screaming “I don’t want to!”—but this verse in Hebrews reassures me that IT IS ALL WORTH IT. In my unbelief cloaked by twilight, all I can see is despair, discouragement, and the lie that It Will Always Be Like This. But at the faintest hint of dawn, when tendrils of sunlight touch dewy grass, my languid soul is revived and I am reminded that God is using even this to accomplish His purposes, “…that he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
So then, the truth of God’s love and redemption remains the same. It is just as true on the days when the refrigerator is bare, I’ve lost my temper three times before noon, and I never change out of my pajamas, as it is on the days when I sneak in a run and Bible study before breakfast, the girls are getting along, and I am caught up on chores.
And that’s the challenge—are we willing to come to Jesus at all times, in our competence or in our mess? Are we willing to surrender our life, whether it’s going well or it’s hitting the fan, to God and His purposes? Or will we stand far off, demanding control and wishing life were different, unwilling to let ourselves rest or be healed because of our pride and stubbornness?
The messiness of motherhood reminds me of a beloved quote from Joel Warne’s book Soul Craving:
There are times, though, when transformation simply doesn’t come, times when our hunger for a new way to be remains unfed. At those times… simply rest with God in your problem. Simply be with him in your sin, your emptiness, your failure. Rest quietly with him in your confusion, your paralysis. Sit next to him in the wound that won’t heal, the pain that won’t subside, the desert that never ends… Here the still center of your love affair with Jesus Christ rests steady, unmoved, unquenched, unconquered by your unresolved messes. Here your love for God really does take precedence. It is no longer a means to an end, a kind of convenient tool to work your own liberation…
Sometimes, our very desire to be transformed into the new creation God wants us to be must be considered rubbish in comparison with simply knowing Christ. Is it enough for you to simply love him? To draw close to him, to offer him your affection? If intimately abiding with Jesus produced no change at all within you, could you be satisfied to simply remain with him in all your painful, unresolved stuff? (199-201).
Even in the messiness of motherhood, we must come to Jesus. We must keep our eyes fixed on Him, and Him alone. Not on Pinterest or Facebook. Not on “other moms” or “other bloggers.” Not on what we “should be able to handle” or what life was like before kids. ON CHRIST ALONE. On His provision of mercy and grace for this moment, right now. He wants us to live in continual dependence on Him and His Spirit, and He will use the circumstances of our lives to get us down on our knees in humble submission.
How does one reclaim sanity amid the never-ending demand and crisis that is parenting?
I don’t know.
But I do know that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and “the LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever” (Psalm 138:8).
And with promises like that, who needs sanity?