How exactly do I get rest?! How do parents with lots of children manage rest? What about parents who are chronically or terminally ill? Or, the underlying question seems to be: What do we do when we encounter our limitations?
Now, I know some people who push through the pain no matter what. They scoff at the likes of bronchitis: "So you have a little cold: suck it up and deal with it." I presume they think it makes you stronger to just keep going, or maybe that resting is lazy and/or weak. In all fairness, there is probably a measure of truth to their line of thinking, and I'll be the first to admit that I could use less self-pity and more out-right gumption in my life. But, what about legitimate limitations? When is it okay to say, "I am really not in a good place right now and I need to ask for your help"? When is it okay to say no to a potentially good thing because it would mean stretching yourself too thin? What about embracing the limitations with which we were created?
Every one of us was designed with a need for a pretty hefty amount of sleep each night: 8 out of every 24 hours. That is one-third of our lives! What does that tell you about the fragility of our nature? If you think about all of the things we need to do regularly: sleep, eat, breathe, use the bathroom, bathe, be with others...these are all reminders of our limitations. Maybe God was trying to tell us something when he made our bodies with needs for such constant and continual maintenance. Maybe my body was trying to tell me something this past week when it slammed my lungs full of junk and forced me to S T O P.
A big part of my story is my evil sidekick, Superwoman, that sits on my shoulder every single day. She tells me that my house should always be clean and ready for visitors, my meals should be homemade and hot, and my body should look like Megan Fox. She and I do battle numerous times. Every. Single. Day. Call it perfectionism, idealism, peer pressure, people pleasing, or whatever you wish. She is the enemy in my battle to embrace my limitations. She tells me there is absolutely no excuse to slow down, to stop, or to say no.
Superwoman tells me things like I am a failure as a homeowner and decorator because the shepherd's hook in my front yard (and it's surrounding...um...garden, if you can call it that) has been empty for at least a year now. She whispers, "You should at least have some pretty seasonal flowers hanging so it looks like someone lives there. Geez...how much time does it take to buy a few hanging plants and throw them up there?"
Superwoman tells me that I am lazy because I only cooked a hot meal for my family one night last week - especially for an Italian!
She tells me that it's understandable for there to be a few toys scattered around, but shames me for how long it's been since I scrubbed the shower in the master bathroom.
Superwoman tells me that I'm a terrible mother because I need some time away from my baby once in a while.
But, in the rare moments when I stop to think about it logically, these things make sense in light of embracing natural limitations. Maybe my shepherd's hook is bare because I am trying to focus on the people inside of my house instead of the people outside. Maybe I've bought dinner so often because I know I only have a small window of time during week nights with my family together and I'd like to sit and enjoy them instead of stressing out over another burnt pot of rice. And maybe, just maybe...putting my child in Parent's Day Out once a week is okay. Maybe it is me learning to create some space for keeping myself mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally healthy. (Although even as I write this Superwoman is telling me that these are all excuses and that these are not my true motivations for what I've done/not done.)
These are our natural limitations: we want to do it all, but we can't. I can't. Accepting what's left after I've embraced these limitations is the tricky part. That pile of dishes is hard to look at, the pile of laundry will haunt me tomorrow when there are no clean clothes to wear, or most painfully, the pile of GUILT will plague me even more. (Guilt is another enormous issue for me that I will deal with in a future post.)
A few years ago I read a book by Rob Bell called Velvet Elvis. In it he talks about his struggle with his own "superpastor" in these words:
"I had this false sense of guilt and subsequent shame because I believed deep down that I wasn't working hard enough. And I believed the not-working-hard-enough lie because I didn't function like superpastor, who isn't real anyway. So I had one choice - I had to kill superpastor. I had to take him out back and end his pathetic existence.
I meet so many people who have superwhatever rattling around in their head. They have this person they are convinced they are supposed to be, and their superwhatever is killing them. They have this image they picked up over the years of how they are supposed to look and act and work and play and talk, and it's like a voice that never stops shouting in their ear.
And the only way to not be killed by it is to shoot first. Yes, that is what I meant to write. You have to kill your superwhatever. And you have to do it right now. Because your superwhatever will rob you of today and tomorrow and the next day until you take it out back and end its life. Go do it. The book will be here when you get back."
So at the end of the day, it seems the best thing I can do to Superwoman is to put a pair of cement boots on her and throw her in the river. I had to do that this week. I had to lay in the bed and ask people for help so I could allow my body to heal. And you know what? I’m getting better. The world hasn't stopped spinning and my family and friends haven't stopped loving me. My husband and friends have actually shown me their love all the more in how they've taken care of me. I hope that I can help them embrace their limitations and serve them next time they need it.
So let me be as clear as possible to myself and everyone else: Superwoman, I am not.
(For further reading, check out The Gospel Coalition's, Limitations: Our Gift from God)