This summer, I was sitting in a dimly-lit barn late on a Tuesday night with a circle of 19 year olds. We were at 4-H camp, and my oldest daughter was across the circle. Each person was sharing what wisdom she would tell her younger self if she could. When it was Lauren’s turn, she took a deep breath and said, “I would tell myself that it’s OK if things break.”
I completely lost it – I bowed my head and body-shaking sobs overtook me. I’m not exactly sure how awkward things were right then for the eight other people in the circle, but it got very quiet. I sat there silently sobbing for probably three solid minutes. Everyone sat quietly – reverently even – of that moment Lauren and I were having with our very big emotions.
Of course, one of the things that officially broke within the past couple years was my marriage — Lauren’s family as she had known it her whole life. And as well as everyone has adjusted — and they really have adjusted well– it is still sometimes painful for the kids. Of course it is. Our lives were turned upside-down during the last two years.
But Lauren is right — it is OK if things break. She is learning at 19 what I didn’t learn until much later in life.
Resilience. Grit. I want this for myself, and I want this for my kids.
The crazy thing is – for so many years I worked so hard to be SuperMom. I tried to do all the things for all the people. On the outside, I was on the stage of my life smiling and twirling and racing from one spinning plate to another to keep everything going. On the inside, I was a ginormous ball of anxiety, ready to snap at any moment. I felt responsible for all the tasks on the to-do list – laundry and dishes, groceries and meals, homework and teacher conferences, doctor’s appointments and insurance disputes, yard work and housework. I also felt responsible for raising decent people, for building strong relationships between myself and my kids. And I felt responsible (falsely so) for the relationships between one kid and another and between my kids and their dad. I was constantly mediating and buffering. In addition to all of that, I tried to create family traditions and memory-making moments because I wanted to give my children security and happiness.
Oh, I made plenty of mistakes. I forgot to schedule dental appointments. The house got messy and the heat pump filter didn’t get changed often enough. As my anxiety boiled up, I got snippy with the kids and yelled, blowing things out of proportion. (I still do this sometimes.) But I tried my best to make life good and positive, to protect them from the bad stuff. And even when the really, scary bad stuff happened to us — and giant, terrifying medical issues did happen to our family — I did my best to be the human shock absorber, to take the bulk of the stress and strain so everyone else would be OK.
And there isn’t anything wrong with that motivation. I guess that’s what good parents do. We put our kids first; we protect them; we try to provide a good life for them. But if we are running, panting and exhausted, to keep all the plates spinning – if we are absorbing most of the shock and stress — how do our kids learn resilience?
First of all, we probably aren’t truly absorbing as much of the shock as we think we are. The kids still feel some of it, no matter how much we’re trying to take all of it on ourselves. So then the kids have a super-stressed, anxious, beaten-down parent AND the stress of the situation on themselves. And they see us trying to hold it all together, desperate and exhausted and anxious and fearful. That probably isn’t the best message to give them – that it’s better to completely kill ourselves to hold it all together than it is to let something fall and break.
So sometimes it’s OK to let things break. I’m not saying you should all go out and get a divorce. No. I am saying whatever it is in your life that is falling apart, that thing you are straining to hold together – or maybe all the things you are trying to juggle and manage while panting and sweating and exhausting yourself —- it’s OK to stop expecting so darn much from yourself. It is OK for you to be human, a normal human with limitations and needs. And if the plates stop spinning and fall and break, it is OK.
If something breaks, it is OK.
Please notice – I am saying all of this to myself as I am typing it to you. I have to actually speak these words aloud to myself most days. “Jenn, relax. It’s OK to be Not-OK.”
It really is OK if things break. When I try to bubble-wrap my life and my children’s lives, I essentially put all my faith in myself to hold it all together. And I idolize perfection and wholeness. And this is the lesson I live in front of them – the message my actions give them.
Which is exactly the opposite of the message my mouth has been giving them their whole lives. I have been telling them that all my faith is in God and He is the only perfect One, that we are broken and that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, that God takes broken things and transforms them into beauty.
Well, it’s time to stop saying I believe one thing and living as if I believe something else. It’s time to stop saying I believe all that stuff about being broken and trusting God to make beauty from it, yet striving to hold everything together so nothing actually breaks. It’s time to stop living as if it all depends on me and start living as if I truly believe God is capable of being the good God I say He is.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” He says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He promises rest for our souls. I don’t know about you, but I sure need that. I still have such a difficult time giving up the try-hard life and resting in grace.
Sometimes we learn from our kids. I’m grateful for Lauren’s simple words in the dimly-lit barn late on that night at camp. It is OK if things break. Because we know a good God whose specialty is entering into brokenness and bringing light and life and healing.