Knowing When to Quit

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Photo Credit: “Exhausted,” posted on Thayer Memorial Library’s Website

I can talk a good game about living proactively, being productive, and striving for new heights; however, I’ve also found there’s a time to back off. The time is when you’ve made commitments that are not needful, helpful, or healthy for you to keep.

For a few weeks I’d been feeling stressed because I wasn’t finding enough time in my day to work on my memoir. I entered the fall planning to work on my book at least twenty-five hours per week. As I looked at my records for the past month, I saw that I was logging closer to ten. And because my baby’s due date was approaching, this was making me nervous. Could I still get my manuscript done by the time Baby Sam came?

My hubby has often said I tend to keep my plate full to the brim; he’s always known me to be stressed over what I’m not getting done. But since my unexpected breakdown, I had been trying to pare down the helpings on my plate. What had gone wrong?

As I’ve been learning to do when I get in a pickle, I prayed. But this time as I started to pray, my brain felt too scattered to even stay on track (this is a good sign you’ve got too much on your plate, or you’re pregnant, or both). So in my prayer journal, I began with a list of my current commitments, hoping to see a pattern or pick out something I was unnecessarily stressing over.

 

Let me fill in the background for you about the housecleaning item. In the past two months, thinking I needed to become a better homemaker for the baby, I picked up two books on housecleaning (three, if you count The Happiness Project), and started to try to drastically change my habits, per the books’ suggestions. I had started to feel positively weighted down by the thought of keeping my kitchen sink clean, de-cluttering a little bit every day, and deep-cleaning my kitchen.

When I made the list in my prayer journal and saw the housecleaning item mixed in with everything else, though, I realized something: Cleaning/organizaing my home doesn’t have to be a top priority right now. Especially since I’m not a dangerously messy person (i.e., my dust bunnies are not causing us physical health problems or my clutter creating safety hazards, like some people referenced in my cleaning books).

I asked the Lord to help me set some goals for what I actually needed to do for the time being. He told me, “You can stop reading the housecleaning books right now. If you want to focus on your own book [and I do], read stuff that inspires you to write [books on writing, or memoirs].

“Continue the habits of keeping your sink clean and purging your clutter when you can. But you don’t need to add anything else.”

This was making me feel lighter already. I was next able to list out some new, more manageable goals for my writing each week; although I had to admit it wouldn’t amount to twenty-five hours. This was because my unexpected teaching job had come up at the last minute, and it takes time to create curriculum when you’re teaching a brand new class. This was an item that was not negotiable.

The baby registry and choir cantata were pretty easy to resolve: I’d let them become overwhelming when I saw I couldn’t get the registry done in three sittings (but one more should do it), and the cantata piano music learned in two weeks (hopefully four more will do it—but if not, I have the out of purchasing the performance CD).

While my hubby had told me I shouldn’t feel bad about cutting back on my memoir work, I did feel bad, because this was the single most important thing I’d identified to get done before the baby came. I knew I wouldn’t cut back anymore than I had to, but God did help me see that I was worrying too much about getting the book done in my projected time frame. He helped me resolve this by reminding me that if I got the first section revised and a proposal written, I could start shopping the manuscript to agents/editors even if it was unfinished. This is how non-fiction publishing works, anyway.

Then, God gave me this list of do’s for my guilt:

  • Lighten up
  • Lessen your expectations
  • Give yourself a break. Unpredictable things (like the class and the puppies) have happened lately.

Finally, I realized that God would accomplish his work in his time. I didn’t need to worry about what wasn’t getting done, because he was seeing to it that everything that needed to get done was getting done.

When we are walking in God’s will, or doing our very best according to the light we have (based on reading his word and listening to his voice), we can “quit” certain good things with a clear conscience—and sometimes, to continue walking in his will, we must.

I May Be Childless—At Least my House is Messy

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Please don’t think my house always looks this bad! This is just what it looks like when I reorganize my office.

Last weekend I again felt like a failure as a woman. How did this happen, you ask?

Scene: I’m standing in a pasture talking to two girlfriends. The first one is twenty-eight like me, and married, but unlike me, has a kid. Same with friend number two, only add a couple years and a couple kids.

Can you guess what we are talking about?

The pasture belongs to number-two. Number-one and I have come for a visit and are walking number-two’s property. Inevitably, the talk turns to houses and the jobs we work to afford them and the bodies we are housing with those jobs.

What are our livelihoods? How are we getting by day to day and affording these homes in which we live and raise our families?

Basic questions. They deal with basic necessities that we all have.

Yet when I find myself in these conversations, I see an un-level playing field.

Number-one has started cleaning houses to supplement income. Number-two has started selling Mary Kay. Number-one makes her own cleaning products from baking soda. Number-two plants and cans an impressive garden. Both plan to homeschool, and number-two is positively beaming just talking about what fun it will be to write lesson plans again (she was once a teacher).

Then there’s me. They don’t turn the conversation my way, but I take care of that in my head.

“So, what are you doing to supplement income? What financial struggles have you had? What sacrifices have you made for your family?”

“Uh, well, currently my life is pretty easy,” I’m embarrassed to say (in my head). “Financially easy, anyway. My hubby is making good money at the moment. And we don’t have kids. Yet.”

“Wow. That must be nice. So what do you do all day?”

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“Uh…” here I panic a little. My mind wants to go blank. What is it that I do again? It’s not gardening. It’s not concocting creative cleaning supplies, chasing rug rats, or drawing up lesson plans. When I did write lesson plans two years ago, I don’t remember relishing the act.

Truth is, I’m struggling just to keep my house clean at the moment. And I don’t even have kids, mind you.

Wow.

What a loser I must be.

Standing with these two very industrious ladies, I am suddenly struck with the weight of my failure as a woman.

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Yet another view of my office under construction. Note the headless bookshelf in the corner; my hubby made that for me, and I am waiting for him to finish it off before I put it back to use.

 Am I a Woman, or a Worm? (Perhaps a Writer…?)

A few days removed from my moments out to pasture, the Holy Spirit has helped me realize something I was missing while feeling so guilty for my perceived failings: There’s a good reason why I’m not out cleaning houses or selling Mary Kay or planning a garden or writing lesson plans, and it’s not because I’m a failure. It’s because that’s not who I am.

If you want to get financially pragmatic about it, sure—I’m also not doing those things because we don’t need the money (I might be if we did)—but there’s this point as well: We planned not to be put in that situation. All my waffling about motherhood aside, we also always wanted to be financially stable before we brought kids into the world.

As I prayed about my feelings of failure and my worthlessness as a woman, the Lord brought these words, like balm, to my soul: Don’t compare yourself to others. Just compare yourself to Jesus.

Sometimes when I pray I hear whole paragraphs and Bible verses rising out of the slime of my soul to comfort and guide me. Note that my slime wouldn’t do any good had I not already  planted God’s word in it (Psalm 119:10). Yet this message was annoyingly concise. So I thought about those words some more. How could I compare myself to Jesus in my struggle about womanly duties?

Then it came to me: Jesus had a mission and He followed it. He let others plant the gardens and tend the kids—let them do their missions. But as for Him, He wandered from place to place with “nowhere to lay his head.” He obviously had no house to clean.

Again, I was reminded, it’s not a gender issue.

Not to say I’m going to abandon cleaning altogether. Since I do have a place to lay my head, I will try to keep it reasonably clean. And if we have kids, I’m sure my mothering instincts will kick in. But the truth is, I’m just not by default a homemaker.

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Okay, I’ll admit it: I’d rather my table be full of literary rather than culinary masterpieces!

Like a blessed dew this memory came to me: As a girl, I hated gardening. When my mom tried to get us to help her, I tried anything I could to get out of it–unlike my girlfriends who have always enjoyed the activity.

I love and appreciate my girlfriends and their stellar skills at motherhood, gardening, cleaning, and other things I dislike doing. And I am thankful that they feel called to do them—for without women like these, I really think society would fall apart.

But as for me, well, I just didn’t come into the world wanting to work with my hands as much as dabbling in words and ideas.

So what is it that I do all day?

Well, until we really hit the jackpot and can afford a maid, regrettably, I clean when I have to. I cook a bit, too. But on the perfect days—on the days when Satan is not winning and I’m not worrying what the world thinks—I write.

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Just a few of my journals.

Hi there! If you liked this post, you might enjoy some of my other posts about women’s issues and family-related topics, such as:

Role Confusion and the Modern Woman

Celebrating 8 Years: Roots of a Love Story

A Career is Not Enough

The Question Every Young Couple Must Answer

Role Confusion and the Modern Woman

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My friend looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face.

“What do you mean, ‘work’ on your marriage?”

We were sitting over two rabbit plates at a home-style restaurant, and I was telling her about my current aspirations. They are the same ones I initially listed on my “about” page: write my memoir and become a better wife.

My friend was confused at the pledge to work on the marriage because, in her eyes, she didn’t see a point.

“I mean, I told *Bill what you said about working on your marriage, and we wondered what that meant. We’re both happy with the way things are, and putting ‘work’ into the marriage just seems like too much, well, work.”

It was my turn to be surprised. Who wouldn’t want to work on their marriage? Isn’t that a societal value?

Not necessarily. But I thought it was one of mine. Why, then, do I find myself annoyed at having to cook and clean? Perturbed when 6 a.m. comes and it’s time to make breakfast? Indignant that he should expect me to help with the garden? Angry when he says I’m too caught up in my writing, not attentive enough to him?

Why do I resent all these duties so much?

At first I was going to blame it on the role confusion that modern women have faced ever since the woman’s movement. And perhaps it does have something to do with what the feminist journalist Anne Taylor Fleming called “the two out of three rule”—where “a woman can have only two out of three big pieces of life: love, work, children” (from her book Motherhood Deferred, p. 84). (For my perfectionist personality, though, some days it seems I’m running more at a one in three rule.)

Probably due to feminist conditioning, I’ve said before that it’s just not enough for a woman to stay at home and be a housewife. She needs a career, too, doesn’t she?

But even though I’m not immune to it, this line of thought bugs me. Along with Anne Taylor Fleming, I agree with Doctor Laura (in her book Parenthood by Proxy) that much of the modern family breakdown is due to women working—who’s standing ready at the door to smooth the rough edges of everyone’s day? And let me just say that I think either man or woman could do it—the thing is, simply, someone needs to. And I think this is noble work. For other women.

So why not for myself?

 The Real Problem Isn’t Feminism

When I step back to observe my excuses to hubby about why I hate housework, here’s what I hear myself saying, over and over again.

  • I’m afraid to put time into our home, because what if something happens to us? What if you die on me? (He says I’m always trying to “kill him off”—I say I’m just being a realist.)
  • If you died, I’d be left with a big house I’d want to sell, a garden I wouldn’t want to tend—all stuff that would have amounted to nothing.
  • If you die, I need to have skills to fall back on. I need to be able to get a job to support myself. That’s why I needed to get a BA and an MA, and boy I’m glad I got some teaching experience, too.
  • I’m afraid I’ll put all this time into our home, and then it will crumble. And then I’ll have nothing to show for it.
  • The only investment I feel safe making is an investment in myself—because people die and leave and let you down, but you always have yourself. I need to have a plan if things go south.
  • I’m just afraid, okay?

Wow. Those are some deep roots. It came to me as a huge revelation the day I wrote down “trust issues” in my prayer journal. The days I connected all my over-planning and uptightness and performance to trust issues. Fear issues. Self-protection issues.

I know what it feels like to be helpless. Alone. Out of options. And I don’t want to go there again.

That’s why, after so many gains, I still find myself hoarding my time, my energy, my resources (which could otherwise be spent housecleaning), for self-improvement. Apparently I anticipate being left to fend for myself again someday.

I find it sad that after walking with the Lord for several years, I still don’t trust Him enough to give of myself fully to others. I wish I were more open and loving and warm. But honestly, most of the time, that feels too vulnerable of a position to be in.

I wonder if my girlfriend has some of these same roots, too. Is fear the reason why she resists “working” on her marriage? Fear that it will divert precious energy from building a fortress of self-sufficiency to sustain her when (she must unconsciously think) one day, she will be left out in the cold?

Stepping back for the bigger picture, I wonder, is this the reason that women in our society collectively have renounced housewifery, and largely motherhood, as their sole profession and duty in life?

Have we all been so hurt that we feel this need to gird ourselves about with skills and experience and knowledge for the impersonal workplace, where we don’t have to lay our hearts on the line, only our time—and though the workplace may not fulfill our deepest longings for companionship and family, they at least recompense our time with money—the means by which to sustain our physical necessities and our plastic smiles?

Readers, do you think I’m on to something, or is it just me I’m describing? Or, if you’re not excited to analyze this trend, what do you see yourself (or the women in your life) working toward: family, or career? Please leave me a comment and let me know!