With the new baby’s arrival only two weeks away, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learned in the 18 months since our last child’s birth. It was a period that I thought was going to be soooo hard since I’d have three kids under three, so it’s been interesting to compare what it was actually like compared to what my control-freak, worrywart thoughts predicted it would be like.
I’ve learned so much through these reflections, but the biggest thing that’s hit me over the head is this: when I have moments of extreme stress, it is almost always because of fear.
Here’s what I mean by that:
As anyone could probably guess, I occasionally feel pushed to my limit by daily life. As a spoiled only child introvert who’s sensitive to noise and terrible at mentally multitasking, the work that comes with having three (soon to be four) children in five years often leaves me feeling stressed — sometimes really stressed. Yet in my recent reflections, I noticed something about all those moments where I feel like I’m hitting some kind of redline stress level: the actual difficulty I’m experiencing from the events of this moment, right now is only a partial contributor to my stress; a lot of it comes from fear that it is not going to get better any time soon.
In other words, it’s not that I am actually at my breaking point right now; it’s that I feel like I’m near it…and I don’t trust that God won’t give me more than I can handle.
Once this realization clicked for me I started to notice just what a large percentage of the stress in those “redline” moment is due to fear. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those bad moments within the hours leading up to a date night with my husband: it’s relatively easy for me to be calm in the knowledge that no matter how maxed out I feel, I won’t get overloaded because a nice rest is just around the corner. On the other hand, when I’m feeling maxed out and it’s 10:00 in the morning on a Tuesday, I am very likely to get in a mental state where I just give in to anxiety and stress and self-pity and all sorts of other negative emotions — not because I have actually been given more than I can handle, but because I because I see a long day and a longer week stretching before me, and unless something changes I’ll reach some kind breaking point and I will have more than I can handle. In other words, I’m afraid.
Not surprisingly (well, OK, it was surprising to me), when I thought back on these past 18 months, I realized: God never did give me more than I could handle.
It was amazing and delightful to realize that every single time that I felt like I was really getting close to the limit of what I could handle, God came through with an unexpected break to let me recharge my batteries. Every. Time. Sometimes my mom would unexpectedly call with an offer of help; other times the kids would just take a nice, long nap; a couple of times my husband was able to come home from work early; and yet other times my external circumstances didn’t get much better, but I’d simply be filled with the grace to handle it all happily. If I had only been willing to trust in God, to know that something like that must be coming because he would not give me more than I could handle, I could have saved myself a ton of stress.
The ridiculous thing is that I have no good excuse for being so untrusting. This is a lesson I should have learned long ago. I had actually been having thoughts along these lines early last summer when something happened that was pretty much God slapping me upside the head with the message: YES, YOU NEED TO BE MORE TRUSTING. I’ve never written about it because I figured it sounded almost impossible to believe, but I’ll share now because it’s so relevant to this topic:
I’d been feeling led to focus more on trusting God for a while (as I wrote about here back in 2007), but it was something I struggled with a lot. I had three kids in diapers and my two littlest were both teething, leaving me listening to screaming for a large portion of my days. I often felt kind of overwhelmed, but one day it reached a head. The baby had kept me up almost all night for two nights in a row, the two toddlers were constantly screaming and fighting, the house was a disaster area, and I felt powerless to do anything about it because I was just too tired.
I remember standing in my living room, right next to the fireplace, two of the kids pulling at my pantleg and crying, and thinking, “I am officially at my limit.”
My mom was out of town. My husband was in court. Good friends nearby had sick kids. There was nobody I could call for help. I was about to lose it — I didn’t even know exactly what would be involved with “losing it, ” but I just knew that whatever it was was about to happen. In an immature, angry prayer I turned to God and said, “Lord, they tell me that you don’t give people more than they can handle. I’m having a hard time believing that because I OFFICIALLY HAVE MORE THAN I CAN HANDLE. I am hereby begging you for your help. Please, please, please help me.”
As usual, there was no chorus of angels, no voice of God assuring me that it would all be OK. I just scooped up the kids and plopped on the couch and stared straight ahead, wondering what I was going to do.
About 10 minutes later, there was a knock at the door.
I opened it to see a smiling woman about my age. She introduced herself, and my jaw dropped when she went on to ask: “Do you need a babysitter?”
She went on to explain that she was new in the neighborhood and was looking for work watching kids. She’d seen us at the mailbox and thought she’d stop by to see if I happened to need any help. And since she didn’t have a car and we were within walking distance, she was willing to work for a really cheap hourly rate.
Long story short, I ended up having her come over to help me with the kids a couple days a week (she was “the babysitter” I referred to occasionally in posts this past summer). Our budget was really tight so we were only able to have her come for about eight weeks until we ran out of money for it, but that was just what I needed. By the time she left, things were much more manageable: our youngest was getting close to being a year old, our oldest was potty trained, and our middle child was finally out of the fussy teething period. Her help for a couple hours at a time a couple days a week was just what I needed to help me get over the hump of a brief but critical phase.
As I said, most of the time when God gives me the help I need, it’s something very subtle and doesn’t involve a knock at the door right after saying a prayer. But I feel like that situation was a big, glaring sign that I’m meant to keep in mind any time I’m tempted to lose trust that he won’t give me more than I can handle.
After thinking about all this, lately when I feel stressed I’ve been asking myself: “How much of this is legitimate stress from the events occurring right now, and how much of it is just fear?” I never cease to be amazed at how often it’s mostly the latter.
Anyone else have any good stories of God coming through just when you thought you were going to reach a breaking point?