The days turned into weeks, which turned into months, but still there was no rain. The entire landscape looked like it had been filmed through a dusty lens. Even the clouds wore an odd orange hue as if the earth had risen up to beg for the waters of heaven.
But there wasn’t any.
Slowly the river sank into the earth and the ground beneath it cracked open, choking for more. The town was forced to ration what was left of the water in the reservoir. Every day, the faucet turned on for a few precious minutes. My brother and I waited by the spigot, and when the water came on, we filled everything we could think of as quickly as we could before it shut off again.
With only a limited supply, water ruled our thoughts and controlled our actions. We were careful how much we drank, used the bare amount necessary for bathing or dishes, and even saved the dirty water for flushing toilets. Difficult decisions had to be made, like which plants to save and which plants to let die under the incessant sun.
It was unthinkable—absolutely unthinkable—to use the water for anything but necessities. Imagine if I used some of it to wash the car or water the lawn! It would not happen. If I wasted the water like that, my family might run out of water to drink. Every drop had to be reserved for the most precious purposes because when it was gone, we couldn’t get more.
Eventually, the drought ended and water became commonplace again. But I often think back to that season as a parallel to this season of my life as a mother. It is a little bit of a drought time, in the sense that I have many needs to meet and very limited resources. Every day, I have only so much time and energy, and there is no way to get more.
I forget this sometimes and try to do too much. I say yes to things without considering that there’s only so much of me to go around. That leads to stress and anxiety and negatively effects my attitude and behaviors toward my children and spouse.
It starts off innocently enough. I say yes to hosting a playgroup at my house. But then I also say yes to making three dozen triple chocolate cupcakes for a bake sale and yes to having the youth group over for a BBQ and yes to making a meal for a sick friend and yes to trimming my neighbor’s hedge. Then somewhere between scrubbing toilets and making frosting my child asks me to read a book and I snap. “Please just leave me alone so I can get this done. Don’t you see I’m busy?”
It’s like pouring a whole day’s worth of water out on the grass. Sure, a playgroup is nice. Cupcakes are tasty. Clean toilets are more than just a nicety. But none of those things deserves first place in my life. None of those things is worth being impatient, irritated, or unloving toward my children.
If you ask me, I will say my priority is to love God and then my family. I may even believe it. But if I am giving away the best parts of myself to secondary people and purposes, I am deceiving myself.
I cannot enjoy my children when I am piecing myself out to please or serve other priorities. Quite the contrary. When I am spread too thin, I find myself pushing them aside so I can put on a good show, make myself look good, or please the people who will reward me with affirmation and instant fulfillment. Because let’s be honest, “That pie looks great, Kristen!” sounds a whole lot better than, “His piece is bigger than mine!”
Often, when given the choice between things that must be done, I do not choose to serve my children first. I serve them last. I pour myself into the secondary things because it pampers my pride. People appreciate me. They affirm me. They actually say thanks. It is the same old sin we humans have struggled with since the dawn of time.
When I put the secondary things first, my family loses. It’s like watering the lawn with the little bit of water we have left to drink, and it is wrong.
One of the most essential things I can do to enjoy my children more is to realize I am limited. There is only so much of me to go around and a myriad of “good things” to entice me away from my true calling. I will never be lacking in heart-wrenching causes, fulfilling relationships, or even sacrificial ministries that compete for my affections.
That’s where the word avoidance comes in. As parents, we must avoid committing to anything that depletes us of the emotional and physical energy our priority requires. We must avoid giving ourselves away bit by bit to all the “little things”—even good things!—that slowly drain our resources.
Think of your emotional and physical resources like something tangible, like a precious bucket of water. Every day, you get one bucket and no more. You can spend it however you want, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. Any needs that come up after it’s used up simply won’t be met until new rations are given out.
Some expenditures are unavoidable. We all have to feed our children, some of us have to work, we might have elderly parents to care for, etc. But most other activities and relationships are choices that impact our quality of life and our ability to love and enjoy our children. If you pour out your energy on all those good things, you will not have enough left for your family.
It’s important, especially during this very short but intense season of our lives when our children are still at home, that we avoid this temptation. We must conserve the best of what we have for them. Our priority deserves more than just the leftovers.
That means avoiding consuming and/or depleting relationships, and putting boundaries on the relationships you have. You simply cannot text with your friends and give your attention to your children. You cannot listen to your gossipy neighbor and still have enough emotional energy to kiss one more boo-boo.
Avoid time-sucking tasks, even if it’s labeled “ministry.” You already have a ministry. Evaluate your energy gauge before saying yes to anything more. Ask yourself, “Can I complete this obligation without becoming irritated with my children or unduly depriving them of my attention?” If the answer is no, avoid it.
Avoid recreation you have trouble controlling. Maybe it’s Pinterest or Facebook, a stack of fiction novels, computer games, or hobbies—we all have recreational activities that can be addicting. If you have a tendency to stay up too late reading, avoid that activity. Avoid opening Pinterest if it means you will not get school lunches made and will be yelling at your children in the morning because of it. Do not do it. It’s like pouring water on the grass! Make the lunches first. Open Pinterest later.
Avoid serving pride in place of love. This is a tough one. We are so easily deceived into thinking we are loving our children and spouse when in fact, we’re doing things to make ourselves look better. For example, I like to bake. I love to bake crazy desserts that take three days to make. My children would be 95% just as happy with the chocolate chip cookies they can help me make. So why do I kick everyone out of the kitchen and waste myself trying to replicate something out of a magazine? Because of pride. I want the “wow, look at me!” factor. Yes, I do. And so do you.
There will be time for Caramel Machiatto cheesecakes in the years from now when the children are gone. There will be time for Facebook games and long cups of coffee with friends. The water will come back on and there will be time for extra ministries, career opportunities, and keeping your house looking like a museum.
But this is not that time. This is a season of limited resources and abundant need. Don’t pour your water out on the grass.
Please join us tomorrow for Day 10: Appearances
For further thought
1) Do your actions confirm your priority, or do they show that you actually value secondary things more?
2) Think about the ways you spend your energy. What things deplete you the most? What things can you cut out? What things can be rearranged so your priority gets the best of you?
3) Sometimes, pride masks itself as love. What things do you do to serve your own pride? Can you show love more by doing less?