Category Archives: joy

compassion faith joy

Choosing Gratitude Over Guilt

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that my default emotion for most of my life has been guilt. I feel guilty for not keeping my house clean enough. I feel guilty for being stressed out and grouchy on the days when I decide keeping the house clean is the most important thing. I feel guilty if my husband comes in after his work day and starts picking up toys because that means I didn’t do “my job.” I feel guilty for being able to go on regular dates with my husband because I know other couples who aren’t able to have that luxury. I still sometimes struggle with guilt for the way that I felt while dealing with mild postpartum depression after the birth of my first child — feelings I had no control over. I feel guilty that so many have experienced tragedy and loss, and that I have honestly led a privileged life. The list of things that I’ve allowed myself to feel guilty about could go on and on. But I am starting to see how unhealthy and fruitless this response is.

It feels strange to say I was convicted about feeling guilty, but three years ago I experienced a particular and needed grace that opened my eyes.

When I was pregnant with my third child, I was not excited. We had wanted more children, but the timing was difficult. My husband and I had just decided that he would quit his job to pursue music full time, we moved and put our house on the market, and as part of his pursuit of music my husband was gone on tour for two months of my pregnancy. My oldest was not yet three when my third was born, and my daughter was only eighteen months old. I was short-tempered and tired, and feeling like I couldn’t handle the two children I already had. I knew that I would love my baby, but I was not excited about him. Of course, I felt a lot of guilt for these thoughts and feelings. No mother wants to admit that she isn’t feeling positively about her baby’s arrival. But when he was born all of that blew away. I had the instant, overwhelming love for this little boy that I had been so anxious about bringing into the world. I couldn’t wait to get to know him and see who this unexpected gift would turn out to be. Normally, I would have felt guilty for the way I had felt during his pregnancy, and I would have allowed that to color his newborn stage. I could also very easily have gotten trapped in regret about my first two children’s newborn stages — one clouded by postpartum depression, the other by a very fussy baby dealing with an undiagnosed dairy sensitivity. I could have let those regrets steal the joy I was experiencing with my sweet, squishy, easy third baby. But somehow I was able to escape the guilt and just feel grateful. I can’t explain this freedom from guilt except to say that it was a special grace from the God who knew what I needed to feel and what I needed to learn.

Guilt feels productive, but it is actually paralyzing. When I sit in my guilt I somehow believe that I am being virtuous. I know I’m not doing things right. I know that others have much, much more difficult lives than I have. Aren’t I so aware and in tune? Beating myself up can be cathartic, but it is never fruitful. Guilt keeps the focus on ourselves, which is where most of us like our focus to be. When I am looking in at myself — at all the things I think I’m not doing well enough or think I shouldn’t have — I can’t see the God who is blessing me, or the people I could be serving. Feeling guilty about not experiencing the pain or loss that someone else is dealing with doesn’t usually translate into any active compassion. Guilt says, “I shouldn’t have what I have” instead of saying, “what can I give to those in need?”

Gratitude is not self-focused. I cannot say “thank you” without looking outside of myself. Gratitude puts the focus on God, and gives the freedom to look to the needs of others. If I respond with gratitude when someone helps me, I am saying, “You are a blessing to me. You have given something of value.” If I see that a friend is struggling in an area in which I have abundance, I can thank God for blessing me so that I can be free to be a blessing to others. I can also enter into my friend’s grief in a way that would be hindered if I was stuck feeling bad for not grieving. We cannot “weep with those who weep” if we are constantly saying, “I’m sorry for not experiencing what you are.” Gratitude lifts our eyes up to the One who gives, and out to those who need. It inspires action. It bears fruit.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t feel conviction over actual sin in our lives. We ought to be listening to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to reveal to us sinful and destructive behaviors, attitudes, and habits. Of course. What I am talking about is this general, vague sense of “feeling bad” about things that are either completely outside of our control, or are actually blessings. And I’m certainly not saying that if you’re finding yourself in a constant stage of discouragement and depression that includes overwhelming feelings of guilt that you should just “get over it” and be grateful. Please know that I fully acknowledge the reality of depression and other forms of mental illness, and I never want to give flippant advice about a medical condition. I’m talking to myself here, and people like me. People who have gotten into a habit of looking into ourselves with negative thoughts instead of looking up and out with gratitude.

So this is a challenge to myself, and anyone else who needs it, to choose gratitude when we might usually feel guilty. I often have to decide whether I’m going to say “I’m sorry” or “thank you.” I want to say “thank you” more.

compassion contentment faith joy marriage

Living the Dream

Shortly after my oldest child was born, I sat on the couch with my husband, Andy, after a particularly rough day, and said, “I just need you to acknowledge that my life is harder than yours.” He graciously conceded that it probably was. But in the years since that conversation, I began to feel that my assertion was a bit self-absorbed. As I watched my husband struggle every day to go to a job that he hated — spending so much of his life doing work that he couldn’t talk to me about and didn’t enjoy, surrounded by people who couldn’t understand why he wasn’t just thankful to be working, and feeling conflicted at home between spending time with his family and pursuing his true passion of music — I saw a heavy, dark cloud grow larger and larger over him. I realized that though my life as a stay-at-home mom of then 2 children was sometimes legitimately hard, my husband’s daily life was just as challenging. My days were filled with constantly tending to the needs of little people who whined and made messes and poked and hit each other, and pooped and spit up and screamed and asked the same questions over and over, and didn’t want to be put down for long enough for me to cook the food they were demanding. But at least they were little people I loved and enjoyed. I had little time to write or dance or socialize with other adults. But at least I knew that, however mundane my day to day tasks were, they were for an important purpose. Andy carried the heavy burden of trying to stifle his feelings of despair in the interest of providing for his family. He carried the guilt of feeling pulled toward spending time on his music, and feeling that he really should be spending time with his family.

So when I was with other women and we would talk, as we often do, about how hard it is to stay at home with our children, and how jealous we are of our husbands who get to go to work all day and be with grown-ups and have real conversations, and do jobs that they enjoy, I admit that I felt the tiniest bit of pride and self-importance that I had figured it out. That I was the one who really understood my husband and the struggles of his life.

But now that my husband has been a full-time musician for over a year, the resentment has begun to creep back in. I resent his days spent creating. I resent the time he gets to spend with friends and bandmates in practice and meetings and concerts. I am jealous of all the time he gets to spend alone. And even though I am so happy and thankful that the dark cloud is gone, I do sometimes resent that he is able to spend his days doing what he always dreamed of doing.vivpedals

But when I let myself wallow in this self-pitying attitude, I forget something. I forget that I, too, am living my dream. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a mommy. I’ve wanted to have lots of babies, and play with them and cook for them and teach them to read and write, and… find someone else to teach them math. I have found myself getting annoyed that my husband still sometimes gets discouraged or anxious or worn out because, after all, isn’t this what he chose? But the truth is, we are both living the lives we chose. It’s just that both of our dreams are more difficult and daily than we ever thought they would be.

When I sit in front of a blank page to write, I remember how hard it can be to force creativity, and Andy is doing that every day. In order to support us, he is having to work in a lot of different areas, some of which take a lot of time away from the music part of being a full-time musician. And then there is the added stress of having a significantly lower income. In coveting the apparent cushiness of my husband’s day to day life, and magnifying my own struggles, I failed to make room for his humanity.

Before I get to real point, I want to tell you what this blog is not about. It is not about wives and mothers and women in general stifling our feelings of frustration and loneliness. It is not about greeting our husbands in heels, with plastered-on smiles and cold beers and perfectly clean houses and gourmet dinners on the table no matter how emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausting our days were. And it is not about putting all other aspects of our personalities and passions aside just because we are women and our “place” is in the home. I believe that the place of a woman is wherever God has placed her and her passion, and this could be several different places over a lifetime. This is not about not pouring out your heart to God, and your husband, in the interest of feigning contentment.

Now that we have that out of the way, here’s what I really want to say. Stop keeping score with your husband. The fact is, you are playing different games, so the score will never be even. You will each have different stages of your life with varying degrees of challenge. The point is to love each other, see each other, and allow each other to be human.

Maybe having children wasn’t your dream. Maybe it was a surprise and something you never saw yourself doing. Maybe you are a stay at home mom, and you have a passion to have a career. Maybe you are a working mom who longs to stay home with her kids. Still, it is a gift. And maybe you are not even married, or married and are struggling to begin your family. I’m not saying that we should just get over whatever situation we are in and be happy. We are called to both “cast all our cares on Christ” and “bear one another’s burdens.” What I am saying is that we must open our eyes and choose to see the ways we are privileged — see the ways in which God is already handing us our dreams — and respond in gratitude. We must open our eyes and choose to see the ways in which others may be struggling and respond with grace. Because what we all really need is to be allowed to be human and broken sometimes. So let’s not let our perception of the “easy” lives of others, especially our husbands and those closest to us, stop us from making room for their humanity.