I was gone for four days last week. Four days of beautiful fellowship with like-minded women, four days of quiet, four days of encouragement, four days of being served, four days of godly people pouring into me so I could go home and pour into others.
I came home so refreshed and excited I was bubbling over.
That lasted approximately three days.
Monday morning found my kids arguing, my toddler whining, my laundry overflowing, my dishes stacked up in the sink, my to-be-graded stack reaching the ceiling, my I-need-to-call-today list longer than usual, and my cup that was running over a few days earlier had run out.
I finally managed to make a run for my bedroom out of the chaos, close the door, and the words, “I need a break! Where’s Calgon?!?” were right on the tip of my tongue when I stopped short.
I had just had a break!
How could I need a break again so quickly??
Then it hit me.
I didn’t need a break at all. I just needed Jesus.
In that moment I realized how long I’ve been worshipping at the idol of “A Break.”
You see, as a homeschooling mom of six and wife of a man working two jobs who lives four hours from the grandparents, I don’t really get a ton of breaks. Time in the morning to spend with Jesus if I get up while it’s still dark, and the occasional hour here or there waiting on someone to get done with chorus or gymnastics. But true breaks–where I have time to just relax and choose what I want to do without being on call–are somewhat rare and I cherish them when they come.
We’ve actually had several conversations lately about the pressures on my shoulders as I have the bulk of the load of day-to-day parenting and educating our children plus managing and running the house, not counting any ministry outside the home, and how I will crack soon if we don’t figure out a way for me to get away for a couple hours more regularly than I have in the past few years.
But without me realizing it, the realistic and valid need for time away every so often had somehow grown and transformed in my mind to become the only answer that could possibly help me function, the solution to all my problems.
If I felt overwhelmed, stressed out, frustrated, or even just tired, it must be because I needed a break. I needed to escape. If there was no opportunity that day or the next or the next week or month for me to have a meaningful break, then my grumpiness and impatience and despair were just going to rise and rise, making me and everyone else in my house miserable as they tried to step gingerly around Mom, the ticking time bomb.
The world around me hasn’t helped matters. It probably wouldn’t take any of us more than a few seconds to name a product that has used our cravings for “a break” as their advertising slogan. Kit-Kat. McDonalds. And yes, Calgon.
“Me-time” has become something that we see not just as beneficial every so often to get some rest and recharge, but as imperative in our regular schedules to pursue what WE want to do, to do something for OURSELVES for a change, to invest in ME–something that keeps sneaking higher and higher on the priority list, taking up bigger and bigger blocks of time and often money, and displacing time spent in service to others.
God had started showing me, even before this moment, the joy of spending myself for others. It has involved a slow, painful painful process of dying to myself.
You see, my first inclinations are for myself, not for others. I have not often been the first to volunteer when a need has been presented. When I have served for a little while, it just makes sense in my mind that now I should get a break. If I’ve been home with the kids all day, then it’s only fair that Clay put them to bed. And do the dishes.
Spending myself is inherent in being a mom. Having six kids at home all day every day naturally means giving and giving of myself every day from dawn til dark. I have known this and understood it. But I haven’t looked at it as my joy.
I have found joy in my children. I have found deep, immeasurable joy in carrying them before they were born, in nursing them, in being their mother. But the nitty-gritty messy work of life as a mom–cleaning up spills, being interrupted seven times while I’m trying to eat a bowl of Cheerios, refereeing the fourteenth argument of the morning–is just something I have looked at as the necessary evil that accompanies the joy.
And when I am looking at a break as my salvation, then the work and sacrifice becomes what I need rescued from.
But the other morning, as I stopped myself from actually saying, “I need a break,” God removed the scales from my eyes and showed me that the work itself–the pouring myself out, spending every bit of myself on the people around me–that is the joy!
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is reminding the Corinthians that when he comes to them, he works hard to support himself so he won’t be a burden to them. He says, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” (v 15) Even if he’s referring to spending finances here, I think the principle can be applied to what the Lord has been showing me regarding spending my energy. He is excited to spend himself for them, because he knows how much it will benefit their souls. The benefit outweighs the cost. When I spend myself for my husband, my children, someone to whom I am ministering, yes, it costs me much. But the benefits for their souls–and mine!–far outweigh the cost. And that is how I can cheerfully give of myself.
I had been operating as if joy comes only after I have spent all of myself, seen the results–a clean house, a clean, cute kid in matching clothes, a child who finally obeys without arguing, grading an algebra test and seeing an “A” at long last–and then finally get released for a break, which was subconsciously my goal all along.
But now I’m seeing that surviving until my next break is not a joyful, abundant life at all!
Joy and abundance are found in the very acts of sacrifice and giving from which I thought I needed rescuing.
If I can put to death my selfish desires for peace and quiet in a house full of kids, for extended time to myself to the neglect of those who depend on me, for the right to not have to serve for awhile, then I will find the joy of pouring myself out without regard for the break that I surely deserve. Through the grace of Christ, I can give until I’m exhausted, and then cheerfully give some more.
I can get through days on end without a break, because Jesus is enough.
Jesus is enough.
He is my rest.
He is my strength in my many, many, many moments of weakness.
I would have said I believed that. But really, I thought only a break was enough.
I thought only a break would give me rest, supply the strength to go back and give some more.
But here’s the truth:
In the Psalms:
And in many other places throughout Scripture.
But here’s where Jesus really makes the point:
“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'” Luke 9:23
When I take up a cross, die to my selfish desires, deny myself, and follow Jesus who was the ultimate Giver of Himself, then I realize that I don’t have to have the break I desperately thought I needed.
Jesus is enough for me.