My life is a story of seasons; of traveling in and out of times of want and of plenty. Having been pregnant five times over the last decade it could be argued that–physically-speaking–the emphasis has been on want. Five pregnancies, five births, five early postpartum periods. Five seasons of self-denial and of self-preservation.
And it’s been glorious in its own mysterious way. Not just because of the sweet babies but because through these seasons of want my soul has been purified in ways I never could have imagined. I’ve practiced intense self-sacrifice as I’ve poured myself out–body and soul–for my little ones and I’m better for it. Despite what our society might assert, that is the definition of thriving.
It’s not just something that happened to me. God pushed, I resisted, he pushed some more, and I learned–little by little and very slowly–how to surrender.
To thrive we absolutely must surrender and surrendering is hard–so very, very hard.
We must be gentle with–and merciful towards–ourselves. During these consuming periods of growth I’ve learned to go easy on myself. Showers are more rare than I’d care to admit and yoga pants more common. The pursuit of endeavors outside of my little home doesn’t even cross my mind. This is not a failure on my part but a victory over selfishness. After all, this self-forgetfulness is a dying to self; this is the strength of a mother; and this is to be applauded.
I realized recently, though–as my little girl celebrated her first birthday–that my dying to self was starting to look an awful lot like indulging myself. What had once been the virtue of self-denial was becoming disfigured and starting to manifest itself as sloth.
It wasn’t laziness that caused me to stumble but fear. Fear that if I pushed myself a little harder, expected a little more, that I would crash and burn. It’s a delicate balance we mothers seek between protecting ourselves from burn-out and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone to ensure that we are achieving all that God is asking of us. It requires vigilance, careful discernment, and a whole lot of trust.
It requires us to trust that if we do push too hard that God will be there to break our fall and gently guide us back to balance.
And trust we must–for though it’s true that a rejection of the dying to self that periods of want require would be a failure to thrive, so, too, would be a refusal to fully embrace seasons of plenty. Just as the Church calls us both to seasons of feasting and fasting, not all the days of a mother’s life are meant to be spent in survival mode.
Sometimes I get so immersed in surrendering to these seasons of want that I fail to notice that they have come and gone. The baby sleeps through the night, my energy levels increase, and I’m still standing there in my dirty pajamas. Before I know it we’ve been entrusted with another precious soul and I’m left wondering why I didn’t take advantage of the reprieve.
In all but the most extraordinary of circumstances, most women are given a little break between the more intense moments of motherhood (such as pregnancy, birth, and the early postpartum period). We are given an opportunity to rebuild the temples of the Holy Spirits that were broken down in delivering new life so that they can be built up again to emerge–body and soul–more resplendent than ever.
What does thriving look like during seasons of plenty? It will look different, of course, for each woman, but I found Jennifer Fulwiler’s suggestions to be a great source of inspiration. The following are on my short list:
- Pursue physical fitness.
- Have fun with your appearance.
- Enjoy your favorite hobbies.
- Nurture your marriage.
- Feather your nest.
- Enrich your prayer life.
While caring for our families should always be our priority, God cares, too, about our needs and our passions. It took me almost ten years to learn that it is not a virtue to cast them off out of some misguided sense of martyrdom. Sometimes, it’s true, he says, “No, now is not the time.” But sometimes he says, “Yes, my daughter. Rest, relax, and seek rejuvenation.” Strange how it can be harder for me to hear that prompting than the one that calls me to self-sacrifice.
I’m a slow learner but this I now know: there is never a time, never a situation, where God shuts out the potential for you to thrive. Thriving can’t be limited to some narrow definition. We are not thriving if we neglect the physical in favor of the spiritual. Neither are we thriving if we do the opposite. A mother’s life can be full of all sorts of satisfying experiences: the joy of embracing the cross of self-denial, the blessing of cultivating passions, and the gift of pursuing physical fitness, loveliness and pleasure. The key is to surrender to the season; to surrender to whatever it is that God is asking of you at any particular moment. To push yourself outside of your comfort zone, to listen to the ever changing call of God, and to thrive wherever you are planted.