In case there’s anyone left who has the impression that I’m floating through life with four kids, let me assure you this is not the case. I have witnesses.
It occurred to me lately that I have probably prayed for patience every single day I’ve been a mother. I keep hoping patience is the kind of thing that arrives in a package. Each day I get a fresh supply to replenish yesterday’s empty jar. But patience doesn’t work like that. Patience develops, a muscle that grows beneath the skin every time we use it. Patience only increases through repetition and endurance.
I stopped praying for patience today. I realized I was thinking about patience all wrong. I was hoping patience was like a water stand at a marathon. It would be a perfectly timed refreshment that would help me grind out a few more miles. And because I was thinking of patience that way, I was treating motherhood like a grim challenge to be endured. I don’t need patience, I already have it. I just need to use it. When I pray for more, I’m asking for a heavier weight to curl or a harder hill to climb. That’s how I develop more patience.
When things get tough, I have a tendency to set my jaw and get to work. I survey the scene and tackle the work I can see. Let me tell you, I can get stuff done. I find a lot of satisfaction in getting tangible things done. But I begin to see all the little mess-makers in my life as obstacles. Anyone who isn’t helping me is against me.
Today I realized that I was getting things done, but I wasn’t having any fun. I thought of all the people I know with real heartaches, longing for people they’ve lost or people they haven’t found yet, who would look in the window of my home and forgive the mess but wouldn’t understand my bleak determination just to survive the day. How could I miss the point? The point is to enjoy.
I stopped praying for patience and started praying for joy. When I get overwhelmed, I don’t need to work harder, I need to throw my hands in the air and laugh. I need to practice that particular form of boredom that is playing with a toddler. I need a lot more than patience. I need joy.
My thoughts circle back, as they always do, to Ecclesiastes and the futility of everything but joy:
“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.”
I look at the work I have to do and wish I had more leisure time. But endless leisure time becomes a burden as much as endless work does. I always think there will be time to relax after the work is done, but when you’re a mom the work never really ends.
So I’m glad for Christmas this year and the way it interrupts. I can’t say it will last very long, but tomorrow is the day I allow the interruptions to be gifts, reminders that call me away from my work even before the task is done.
Interruptions that remind me joy isn’t at the end of the race. It was waiting for me all along.