Three years ago my husband and I moved abroad. He had been called to serve as a missionary and pastor a small European church.
The day before our boxes were sent off I was surprised to learn that our third child was on the way. Our daughters were just 2 1/2 and 8 months old!
I was plunged into an unfamiliar medical system and the complexities of an international move. Over the following months, we moved house a second time, our baby was born and one of our daughters had an operation. I was anaemic and seemed to catch every new virus out there.
At one point I wrote the following email to my mum, who still lives in the UK. Her wise reply was such a blessing. I hope you will find it helpful too:
Just want to ask for some advice. I’m so tired. No matter how hard I work, I feel like I’m never on top of it all. There are piles of things that need attention: paperwork; people I ought to thank or write to, or put on a prayer letter list, or who expect a visit or a call; stuff that needs sorting out or getting rid of; things that need to be bought.
The garden is a mess, dust is gathering, stained clothes are soaking in tubs. I feel like I’m turning into a machine some days, just automatically changing nappies, clothes and beds, sorting squabbles, arranging activities, cooking for unexpected visitors, putting washing in and dashing to appointments or the shops.
I was charging up the street to my appointment with the midwife the other day and realised that no one else seemed to be in such a hurry. I walked back passed people relaxing in cafes and felt so detached from their world.
I do read the Bible most days, but I feel empty inside; not sad or depressed, just a sort of blankness, except sometimes overwhelmed.
Sunday morning is the only service I can get to and I’m always in the crèche. I don’t find it easy to concentrate on the sermon in a foreign language when I’m feeding the baby and keeping the girls in order at the same time.
Some days I would like to climb up a mountain by myself and sit there all day listening to the breeze in the grass. Is this normal? I’d like to feel like I’m living, not just enduring; and to make the most of my precious little ones.
Any advice, since you’ve possibly been there?
I’m so glad you poured all this out, just as you were feeling it, as I know from experience that just expressing it all can help. I’m sure your feelings about coping are up and down and that maybe even today you have recovered a little.
My heart aches to be with you sometimes and do what I believe grandmas should do; starting with making you sit down and feeding you, and then taking all the children off your hands for a bit.
Let me start with some encouragement
Firstly, we all have days like this. Your desire to be alone on top of a mountain equates to my dream (when I had little ones) of going to a place where there was silence, a bed, regular meals, followed by more darkness and uninterrupted sleep. No demands; no one else to look after or even talk to!
Secondly, your life is such a blessing to others. The family God has given you, the gifted and loving husband, the extraordinary talents you personally bring to your home-making and ministry, are very rare.
People admire you and want to be like you, but more than that, they love you. To provoke others to love is an outstanding quality. People find blessing in your home, because the love of Christ is there in everything you do.
Thirdly, you have high standards in all you do and that’s the way God has made you, but that makes you vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy and failure, as the tasks are too numerous and demanding for us.
I heard your husband pray that your home should be a taste of ‘heaven on earth’, and that’s a wonderful thing to aim for. However, we must remember that we are still very much on earth.
Jesus and his disciples were sometimes exhausted and in need of respite. It was always an uphill struggle for him. He suffered all those years in ways we cannot imagine: poverty, danger, temptation, misunderstanding, injustice, rejection, the constant clamour and demands of needy people, family tensions, physical and emotional and spiritual pain; ‘a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering’ (Isaiah 53:3).
Daily life is a grind, because we live in a fallen world with fallen bodies corrupted by sin and years of inherited genetic deterioration. We find it so frustrating when we can glimpse perfection but cannot achieve it, because there are not enough hours in the day or because our hands are tied up doing other vital things.
Our bodies have limitations and we must recognise those limitations and accept imperfection here on earth. That may mean a less than clean house, a backlog of letters, a growing pile of washing and ironing, a scruffy garden.
Few of these things will exist in 100 years time. They will all be dust and rubble. ‘For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come’ (Hebrews 13:14).
Fourthly, you may sometimes feel you are sinking, going under. But in fact you are persevering and putting up a fight. You may feel totally empty, drained, useless, but you are still persevering.
Perseverance is an integral part of Christian character and is only developed through testing experiences which sometimes appear beyond our ability to bear (James 1:2-4).
Now for some questions…
Are you looking after your body? Are you eating enough calories? When was your last iron test? You are feeding a baby, have had three babies in close succession, and you need to replenish your own reserves. Can I suggest you start taking iron and multivitamins on a daily basis, if you’re not doing so already?
Have you told your husband how you feel just now? Are you trying to do too much? He will want to take care of you and protect you from having to cope with even more on your plate.
How do you really feel about opening your home to others so often? Do you feel you can say ‘no’ to things people expect of you? You are very busy with three little ones to care for and they are more than a full time job!
You are such a kind Mummy, always thinking of ways to amuse the little ones. Are you putting up with behaviour you do not want? If you can’t cope with something, put a stop to it.
If you need to do something but the children are demanding attention unnecessarily, explain to them what is going to happen today and what you need to do. Then expect them to let you do it!
Now for some advice!
Make a list of all the jobs which are weighing you down. That really clears the brain! Pray that God will help you to do the things which are eternally significant and help you not to fret about the jobs which are not.
Tune in online to the regular ministry of a pastor in the UK. Fix a night each week when you do this. Secure and ring-fence that time. Is there a simpler way to deal with ‘Thank you’ notes etc.? Buy stamps. Print cards which you can just add a sentence to in order to make them personal.
Can you buy more ready-prepared food rather than cooking? Tinned peaches and ice cream instead of a homemade dessert; spaghetti sauce from a jar; pitta bread with chicken and veg inside; slow-cooked casseroles, all in one pot and put in the oven in the morning.
Think of meals which only require you to cook one item. Could you show hospitality more simply?
I have to go now, as your sister wants to use the computer. Please ignore any advice that isn’t helpful. I am often the one who learns from you!
All my love,
(Name and address supplied)