It is George Bernard Shaw that said what is the true joy in life,
“the being used for a purpose
recognized by yourself as a mighty one;
the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap;
the being a force of nature
instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances
complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
I am starting to feel a such a sense of self-loathing because I need more to do with myself. Do I have an utterly solipsistic life? Not to be overly dramatic, but the care and well-being of my children is simply not enough. I have wrestled with the demon and shame of that for nine years, since I quit working at InterVarsity and began to take care of my kids full-time. Even at the beginning, when I was trying to decide I never believed it would be enough for me. And tho there have been wonderful moments, it has not been satisfying, not really. How do you live with the knowledge that you should not have made the decision that you did? I could hardly admit that after walking away from a really amazing job. But my situation at work had grown intolerable and seemed impossible to fix. So after nearly a year of soul-searching — I quit . I chose to become an at-home mom. Even while I was changing diapers and wiping noses, singing songs and cuddling, wiping away tears and reading stories — all thoroughly wonderful things, mind you — I struggled. Though I know many, many women (and some men) do find it to be full of purpose, I was confused, very lonely, sad and missing my work.
Of course I questioned myself! For all those years, thirteen at InterVarsity and nine years of being at home, I was searching internally for a sense of my purpose. At IV I was constantly pushing people and myself to try new things more out of a sense of my need for change and overworking as well. I was frantic and dissatisfied most of the time. So I don’t want to give the impression that WORK was a panacea or mecca. I have searched for ultimate purpose my whole life and I still am looking.
On one level, have a father who was so dynamic and incredible made me expect more — of myself, of my work, of my life.
I think this blog was in part trying to sort that out. Talk about things that are important to me. Wrestle with ideas, doubt, passions and self-absorption, say something important or at least interesting. It was a venue for my poetry and a way to get feedback on it.
I once was a human dynamo, even while learning the hard way how to treat others with the dignity and with the care they deserved. I had failures which I feel deep sorrow. I could name the people whose lives I hurt as a leader or manager and I have such regret. But at the time I was so full of my accomplishments that it didn’t slow me down. While I was making mistakes I was also accomplishing a lot (some of it good, a few things I consider great) and people were affirming and promoting me. As I have mentioned at other times, I had altercations with another leader and that conflict became too much for me . It wasn’t worth it after a while. I had reached a place of resistance and no-where to go in the organization without running into this person. I guess you could say they ‘won’ if it was a competition (which it felt like) and I lost by walking away.
When I left work to be at home full-time, I was at first almost giddy with how simple it was. Uncomplicated. The sameness of the days was a relief after all that unpredictable infighting and conflict! And then it wasn’t so great. More like Ground Hod Day, if you have seen the movie. The same day over and over, the alarm ringing and waking to realize it is THAT DAY again and again and again.
“Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
What being at home did, with one day indistinguishable from the next, was to strip it all away — shattering the persona I had created and forcing me to look hard at my internal grid work. I had to face and try to understand my family of origin. While caring for my kids, the successful person that I had been was unimportant, even irrelevant. And I had no choice but to face myself — look in the mirror and frankly I wasn’t very happy with what I saw.
Through it, I was overcome by a deep, deep depression. It hit most powerfully over two months and because I didn’t know what was happening to me I thought I was going mad. Crazy. Cuckoo. Insane. And I was utterly helpless to help myself. I couldn’t make decisions. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t DO anything. I had no energy, my mind was sludge, my heart felt like it might stop.
I remember talking to my dad on the phone, sitting on my backporch in the beautiful warn summer sunshine, saying “Dad, I just want to be happy.” That was June. He mailed me a plaque that said “You are the one Jesus loves” and at the time my skin crawled at the thought! I had absolutely lost any idea of God’s grace in my life or belief in His individual love for me. I was in the pit of despair and I did not believe it. If I were the only one that existed, I would be loved by Jesus. Little did I know this was to become a theme over the next years as I began to fight with God over his approval and affirmation.
In October my parents came to visit and I had manage to get myself functional. My dad acted wierd and kind of mean, but he has always been slightly mean so I thought nothing of it. Then in November he was diagnosed with brain tumors and we discovered his tumors had made him behave oddly for some time.
By May of the next year he was dead, but he was “gone” long before that. After surgery, chemo and radiation he was gone. He never said my name after his December surgery but he did call me Linda, once. My mother went into treatment that April and was sober to see my dad die. We’re all grateful for that. Her alcoholism, his illness and death, my depression, my own alcoholism which I couldn’t accept, continuing to care for three young children… You can imagine it was an ugly few years. I am most grateful for Tom hanging in there with me and even more than just hanging, he helped fight for me and got me back into a place of genuine health.
Through those years, I struggled to do the hard work of therapy and if anyone has never done therapy you really have no idea how much work it is. Weekly and sometimes twice a week at first, which turned into years of work. I won’t go into all the detail here (too much was happening) but I have had episodes off and on with the depression for these many years. With medication, several doctor’s care, a hospitalization after a suicide attempt, the care and long-suffering of Tom, much prayer and internal work which became eternal work,
I faced that I had become an alcoholic,
I faced that I needed to learn to love myself,
I faced that all of this around me (stuff & things) mattered not a whit,
I faced my loneliness,
I faced my insecurities developed from a lifetime of feeling my parents didn’t approve,
I faced a pathological need to be perfect,
I faced that I start and quit many things – I’m good at starting things and have more trouble with maintaining them;
I faced that I was tired of being at home, …
Jeez, that makes me one crazy messed up woman that no-one will want to hire. yes, that’s what the voices in my head began to say.
For everything there is a season,
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.
I have carried many stones. Lost so much. Wept an ocean inside. Seen death and mourning.
I am ready to dance, to seek and listen. I am eager to know what it is that I am here to do. My advent lament was to cry out for God to speak.
James Thurber said:
All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.
Stay tuned as I learn to dance, seek and listen!