17 March, 2017

Parenting and overdoing it

I'm sitting around at 5pm on a Friday, trying to figure out what to put here on this blank page. All I can think about is how much time parenting still takes, even though my boys are 17, 14, and 11. 
Grocery shopping is one part of my life influenced by how
many kids I have in my family and how much they eat. 

This afternoon, with two boys gone on school trips (and my husband too), it is all too quiet around here. It makes me think about how much time I usually spend in my day doing things that I only do because I have children (or, perhaps more of what I would normally do, such as grocery shopping or food preparation which takes longer because there are five of us). 

I guess I should start getting used to it. It won't be too long before we are one boy less, with our eldest son graduating in June and heading back to Australia next February and from then on things just gradually decrease, with my youngest, Lord willing, graduating in just six more years.

Because, as a mum, children take up so much of your time over so many years, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling that that it is your purpose, your main reason for being on this earth, and that there is nothing else worth doing. Yet, it is not so. I had a life before I had kids. (They're always surprised to hear that.) It's going to take some rediscovering, but I'll have it again—a life without kids in it on a daily basis. After 24 years of parenting it will take some getting used to, but I'm already dreaming about the possibilities.

Now the challenge: can I transition from that train of thought into what I really want to post today?

Here's my transitioning thought: because parenting takes up more time than you think, it's easy to take on too much outside the family. 

This is especially true for cross-cultural workers. I had lunch with four other mums from our mission today. We've got kids across a range of ages: from  twenty-two down to four years old. We talked about this and generally agreed that parenting as a cross-cultural mum takes more time and emotional energy that it would if we were in our home countries. This is especially around times of major transition.

Earlier this week I saw this post that talks about the need for caution when it comes to taking care of ourselves, especially as those in cross-cultural ministry.

I was shocked a few years ago when I read that someone was calling for more accountability of cross-cultural workers, that the writer's experience included many who were lazy, who weren't wise in how they spent their time, and that the churches supporting them needed to call them to account. That is not my experience at all. 

Most cross-cultural workers I see tend to have trouble stopping. At least that is the case in Japan. They need to be urged to take holidays and retreat times. They need articles like the one I've linked to above to remind themselves to take care of themselves.

Here's quote from the article:
I must choose each moment to live above the guilt and rest in the certainty that God loves me more than he needs me. If I disable myself by recklessly overdoing, I do a disservice to Him and to those who love me.
It makes me think of parenting again. If I get into the mode of thinking my purpose is to be a mum, if being needed by them is my main reason for living, that leads to a bad place. And it isn't helpful for the phase of life that I'm standing on the precipice of: when my boys won't "need" me as intensely and daily as they used to.

Someone else who has written about slowing down recently is our Japan Field Director. He's been battling two types of blood cancer for about a year now. He's currently recuperating at home after a particularly rigorous round of chemo and a stem-cell transplant. He's a high achieving fellow, who, by his own words, used to "whizz...around like a hare". These days life for him is more like the famous tortoise. Here are some of the words from a Facebook post of his earlier in the month:
All of this has got me thinking about what it means to slow down. And it has got me thinking about what the Bible has to say about the pace of life. Certainly when you ponder the Bible generally, there are many examples of ‘waiting’ and ‘perseverance’, topics I've explored in earlier musings. The word ‘patience’ or ‘patiently’ comes up not a few times. But when I thought of the word ‘slow’ I couldn't think of many specific examples apart from a few well-known verses. So, the Lord is slow to anger. In the same way, we should be slow to anger and slow to speak (but quick to listen!) Peter speaks about slowness towards the end of his second letter in the context of time - with the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. 
As I considered this more, I came across this translation of Jeremiah 2:25. It's from The Message, so a paraphrase but nonetheless it makes the point very graphically - “Slow down. Take a deep breath. What's the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? But you say, 'I can't help it. I'm addicted to alien gods. I can't quit.'” We may not be addicted to ‘alien gods’ but could we simply be addicted to activity and busyness? And all of that could just be a ‘chasing after the wind’ as one of the Bible’s wisdom books puts it. Or as one of the Psalms says - ‘in vain you rise early and stay up late’. There are quite a few ‘ouch’ passages in the Bible when we measure them against what our daily lives are actually like.
Many of us these days seem to live life simply moving from one thing to the next with little time in between to catch our breath, far less having time to reflect, meditate or even spend some unrushed time with God. And that can creep into family life, church life, corporate life, organisational life. There is so much to keep up with. But that begs some questions. Why do we need to keep up with the things we feel we need to keep up with? And are the things that we strive to keep up with the things we really need to be keeping up with at all? One valuable lesson that can be learned in the slow lane is simply to be able to take stock, reassess and consider what the priorities in life really ought to be. 
None of this is to say we should be lazy or live a life of constant leisure. There is plenty the Bible can teach us about that. But for a follower of Jesus, what should mark us out as different, what are the things that day by day should be core to our lives? Certainly we would want to serve him wholeheartedly and live our lives in a way that brings glory to his name. But while we might desire to be ‘about the Lord’s work’ to use an older phrase, that does not seem to me to mean that we should simply be dashing around in a constant blur of activity. As I have this time in the slow lane, I sometimes wonder whether as Christians, as churches, as mission organisations, we can easily get off track because we are so busy and active that we can actually no longer see the wood for the trees. And I know that as I say that, I am gradually needing to remove the plank from my own eye (if a tortoise can have a plank in its eye). Being forced to slow down is teaching me many things. I just hope I can apply these lessons well if I ever reach the point once again when I am healthy, energy-filled and able to be active. Help me God even then to be still and know that you are God.
Hmm, good words to ponder. I've got a quiet weekend coming up. I am not good at being still, I get bored easily, though I am quite tired right now. I'm praying that God will help me to be still a bit this weekend, and not too restless.

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