I recently heard a pastor say that “frustration is interrupted striving.” This has stayed with me now for several weeks and is ringing true in every area of my life.
“Frustrated” might be one of my most frequently used words if I am honest about my vocabulary. (Also, the word “just”– which is probably another representation of frustration– is a word I’m trying to use less!) After all, I have three young children. And although they are increasingly independent, I still deal with an awful lot of poop, for instance, as well as other unglamorous realities of motherhood on a daily basis. But more than the mundane, more than the disgusting things, I frequently find myself simply JUST FRUSTRATED. In ALL CAPS. I get frustrated at them, at myself, at the shortness of the nights, at the length of fussy days, at the overwhelming weight of it all. But Why? Why am I so frustrated all the time when my life is so, so sweet?
Frustration represents a difference between what I had hoped would happen and what actually transpired. I had hoped for a full and long night’s sleep; I was actually awakened early by little excited voiced and wasn’t able to get back to sleep. I had hoped to sit down and drink coffee; my children needed food and milk and help with buttons and “WHERE IS MY TRUCK?” I had hoped to complete several of my to-do items while the toddler nap; he decided not to nap today because that’s lame, apparently. (PS, if anyone required me to nap daily I would thank them and hug them and cry happy tears while baking them cookies). Frustration is a part of life- mom life and otherwise- and some of the issues are truly unavoidable. Bodies fail us. Jobs get lost. Cars, appliances, and furnaces break. Circumstances change. Life is frustrating, but ever since that sermon, I have been pondering if perhaps there are some areas in my life that warrant a change. If frustration is interrupted striving, perhaps I need to find some areas in which I can focus on striving less. Perhaps my expectations are off. Maybe my to-do list is too long!
Let me make a distinction here. I am NOT talking about abdicating responsibility. I am not talking about breaking promises or failing to follow through when you commit to completing a task. I am a firm believer in being a person of your word. Among other things, I am a believer, a wife, a mom, a daughter, an involved school parent, a friend, a preschool board member, a soccer mom, and someone who likes to dabble in the arts. These various roles yield an assortment of commitments during any given season, and I do my best to complete the commitments to the best of my abilities. And like everyone, my plate stays pretty full. Life is like that. And I’m not claiming to have answers for the looming deadlines, for the commitments that cannot be cast aside. Still, scripture often speaks to the idea of waiting, resting, and being still, such as in Isaiah 30:15:
“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
And perhaps even more pointedly, I love how Psalm 46:10 reads in the NASB:
“Cease striving and know that I am God…“
So surely there are some areas in which God is calling me to strive less furiously. Because the truth of the matter is that I actually can trust God with the details of my days and weeks and months and years. It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to trust. In fact, that is the call of childlike faith: less striving, more trusting. When I think of practicalities of this call, I believe will look different for other people, but for me, it means that I have been home more often lately. It means that I am intentionally slowing my pace a little bit. It means that sometimes I take a long walk with a toddler just to meander and to play hide-and-seek and to dawdle. It means I’m saying no to extra commitments more frequently. Most of all it means that I am trying (very imperfectly) to embrace the messiness of life’s interruptions as the blessing which they can be, instead of allowing them to be a constant source of frustration in my life.
As I working on this blog post yesterday, I had a glaring opportunity to practice these “less striving” and “less frustration” ideals of which I speak. I was striving to complete this post. The toddler, on the other hand, was not having any of my computer shenanigans. He demanded that I build his train track, and he then demanded that I actually sit down on the floor and play trains with him. I say he demanded it because let’s be honest about the tact of toddlers: they don’t have any. He was screaming that horrendous high pitched scream that is often in the soundtrack of my days now, and I heard myself telling him that I felt like his fussing was killing me (I’m a good mom that way). But! I paused and tried, ever so imperfectly, to embrace this interruption. The little guy just wanted his mama to sit down on the floor and be with him. And while I might have found it frustrating that my task was being thwarted, he wasn’t asking the world. So I decided to lay down my striving and just sit. Did the blog post have to be finished right then? Of course not. So I stopped. I ceased striving. I rested a little bit with him. And surprisingly I felt strengthened by the interaction; our relationship was strengthened, and the frustration started to dissipate.
Fast forward to the end of the night as I waited for hubby to finish his work so that we could hang out before bedtime. Just as I sat down with the intention of pounding out some more lofty thoughts on frustration and interruptions, he apparently finished his work and we started talking. I think under normal circumstances, I would have immediately felt frustrated that my one task had been thwarted… again. But since I had already encountered this interruption before, I felt just a little prepared for it. And you know what I felt? Happy. I felt ready to lay down my striving. I felt excited to be with my hunk of a husband, and I felt thankful that he still likes me so much that he wanted to hang out with me, too. Because you know what didn’t need to be finished last night? This blog post.
This is where I am as I seek to ratchet down the frustration level in my daily life by simply striving less. And hey, I realize that these aren’t super spiritual examples, but lately I’m finding that the lines between the secular and the sacred are kind of blurry. It makes sense to me that if Jesus was God’s son who became a humble man (a lowly carpenter type of man!) to save us, then a lot of my faith activities will actually be quite humble, earthly, and simple. Faith moments in my life these days often involve laundry (a great time to pray), snuggles (rest), a good book from a fellow traveler (encouragement and grace), or train tracks (fun. and rest. and togetherness). Less striving. More resting. And in the process, I think I am finding a path with more gratitude and less frustration. So here’s to today’s interruptions! Whenever it is possible, may we reject the striving and frustration, and may we instead welcome the gorgeous little blessings that can come so unexpectedly through our interruptions!