I was 38. My husband and I had been in the ministry for 16 years and had pastored small congregations in which help was limited. We did almost everything ourselves. It was my 12th year of coaching our youth group's cheerleading squad, I planned and organized most of the youth group activities, directed our women's club and attended all church functions. I was also busy caring for our home and being a wife and a mother to two teenage daughters.
At that point I realized I had experienced fevers and flu-type symptoms every month for more than a year. I was sick one week and recuperating the next two weeks. Then it would start all over again.
I also began to notice that my emotions were upside down. One time when I arrived home exhausted from a cheerleading clinic with a vanload of girls and luggage, my husband surprised me with a dozen long-stemmed red roses. How sweet, right?
But my only thought was, "What a waste of money."
I signed up to play on the women's softball team. When it came time to get up to go to practice, I cried because I was so tired. Still I went.
Then we took our youth group on a camping trip. The kids griped and complained the whole week. As we were preparing to leave, one of the girls made a negative remark about cheerleading. That was the last straw! I quickly walked away and started crying.
I couldn't seem to stop crying. But everybody was waiting for me so we could head home. I finally got myself together and climbed into the van. I wore sunglasses so no one would know I had been crying.
At home, when all the kids were finally picked up, my husband sat me down. He said if no one else would take the job as cheerleading coach, he would cancel cheerleading rather than have me burn out.
He wanted me to take a year off from all these activities. So I took a year off. I didn't go to youth activities, I didn't go to fundraisers, I didn't coach, I didn't entertain. I rested. I also went to a medical doctor who specialized in nutrition.
After that year, I was like a new person. My immune system and emotions functioned properly again. I was even able to go back to coaching and gradually work into other projects.
There is a time to serve and there is a time to pull back and heal. Our families need us to be healthy and happy. If we keep pushing ourselves out of guilt or misguided zeal until we collapse, we aren't serving ourselves or others. We must learn to pace ourselves.
I once asked a group of women, "Are there times in your life when you feel like you are going down for the third time?" One woman said, "When do I not feel like it!" We all live in this fast-paced society. What can we do to get off the fast track? To make that determination, we have to figure out how we got on the fast track to begin with.
There are some things in life over which we have little or no control, but for the most part life is a series of choices. The choices we make determine what direction and at what pace our lives will flow.
In my case I made the choice to try to be superwoman. This is a choice many of us make without even realizing it. The job has to be done, and who else is going to do it? I had not learned to delegate and share the load.
Many of us inadvertently train those around us, including our husbands and children, not to share the load with us. By our actions, we teach them that they should leave all the work to us.
For example, a friend once told me that she was totally worn out. She couldn't get her family to help her with chores around the house. Shortly after that I witnessed this scenario. We were at a church dinner. The wife had finished eating and was on the other side of the room engaged in conversation. The husband was still at the table with the baby, who was covered head to toe with the remains of her meal. The husband rose from the table, picked up the child and was headed for the kitchen sink to repair the damages. The wife caught this action out of the corner of her eye and went tearing down the hallway after her husband. Why? She believed she could do it better. She probably had visions of the child being soaking wet, clothing and all, if the job was left to her husband. But what did she teach her husband? His help wasn't appreciated. He couldn't do it properly. So what would happen the next time the baby needed cleaning?
The woman did it to herself! What earthshaking problem would have arisen if she had let her husband take care of the baby? Probably none, but the wife could have gained a helpful husband. We need to learn to share the load, and not be control freaks!
I had another problem. I did not know how to say, "No." If I was asked to do something, the answer always had to be "yes." Why? Because I was needed and if I didn't respond positively, I felt guilty. Are we really the only one who can do that job? If we are overburdened, it is the honest thing to do to say, "No, I can't this time." This will give someone else the opportunity to serve. The world will not come to an end if we say "no."
I was so busy saying "yes" that I was not taking care of myself. I was destroying my health and in the process I drove myself to the point I couldn't say "yes" for a year. We have to learn to give ourselves a break. You can't draw water from a dry well. We have to take care of ourselves, if we are going to have anything to give to others.
I now make time to exercise every day. I like to walk. It is a big stress reliever, it gives me time to meditate and talk to God, it gets me outside in the fresh air and it is good for my back. I also take a nice long bubble bath every Friday night. It is so relaxing. I also like to watch "Walton's" reruns. What things do you enjoy doing to give yourself a break? Many of us are so busy, we can't even begin to think of a way to give ourselves a break. Following are a few suggestions that might stimulate thought.
Sit and listen to comforting music as you drink a cup of hot tea. Keep a journal. Buy yourself a rose. Go to a movie. Call a friend and chat. Watch a sunset. Realize the world is not going to end if you relax for 20 minutes. Stop and listen to the rain falling. Make a "done list" at the end of the day, rather than just another "to do" list. Subscribe to your favorite magazine and when it arrives, allow yourself an hour to sit down and enjoy it. Write a letter to a friend or loved one. Ask for a hug. Make time to communicate with your mate. Take a day off, no clocks or schedules. Check out a shop you always wanted to go to. Take yourself out to lunch. Take a nap. Don't answer the phone. Return to nature, head for the woods, the beach, the mountains, a rose garden, the top of the mesa.
Different things work for different people. The point is, give yourself a break. No need to feel guilty. It will make you a better, healthier mate, parent, friend...person!
Another common choice situation which can lead to drowning I will call "Following a Dream." The following story will help to illustrate the point.
Stacy had always dreamed of owning her own dress shop. Before she could pursue her dream, however, she married and had three children in quick succession. While she was pregnant with the third child, a dress shop in her town went on the market.
Money was tight, but she just knew if she worked hard she could make a success of it. So, even though her husband was skeptical, they mortgaged their home and bought the shop.
At first, Stacy was ecstatic. She was up early every morning, getting the kids dressed and breakfast fixed. Then off to daycare and the shop they would go.
To make a long story short, as is usually the case with new businesses, success did not come right away. Stacy was exhausted, but she couldn't afford to hire help. The children were feeling neglected and were picking up bad habits and illnesses from the other day care children. The budget was stretched to the limit, they were deep in debt and this was creating a strain on the marriage. Life was a constant struggle and Stacy's dream had become a nightmare.
Following a dream is not wrong. But it is important to count the cost. Stacy should have considered the timing and the finances more closely. Perhaps if Stacy had waited until her children were grown and they were more financially stable, her dream would have been a dream come true. We should learn to look before we leap!
We have to ask ourselves, "Are there choices I have made which are causing me to feel like I am drowning in life?" Sometimes, we're in so deep, we can 't see for ourselves. That's when it's time to seek help. Talk to your mate. Mine helped me. Talk to an honest and trusted friend. Seek professional advice from your minister, physician or therapist. But remember, the only way advice works is if we are willing to listen.
We have to be ready to make some changes. Change is our life preserver. Ask yourself, "Is this the way God wants me to live my life, always treading water and never getting anywhere?" Change is hard, but so is drowning!
It's our life--we're the ones who have to decide to sink or swim. We can reach for the life preserver, or we can go down. I chose life!