Sometimes it’s hard to keep it together when life is falling apart.
Twelve years ago I was holding my 8-week-old infant tightly to my chest as I watched flames licking the outside of my home. The soggy April ground seeped through my socks as I stood in the backyard watching my house burn from the top down. My 2-year-old thought it was fun to run outside in his socks, without his coat, oblivious that his toys were melting. His two older siblings were playing safely at their grandparents’ home, unaware that they would never see their home again. Wordlessly, my husband and I stood together, exchanging the look of a deep knowing that life would never be the same.
In the weeks and months to come, seemingly mundane and daily activities tested my merit. How could I take on the challenge of dealing with insurance, living in a rental home with rented furniture, homeschooling my older children, volunteering in ministry, and carry on “normal” life?
The fact was, I couldn’t. I was a mess.
Shortly after the fire I was asked to sing at a funeral. Normally, this would have been an easy answer, but with all the things I was juggling, my answer had to be no. I received flak from the person who asked me, but I stood my ground chose to concentrate my energy toward getting my family through the fiery trial, rather than expending precious time on trivial matters.
It’s funny how we’ll extend grace to someone in crisis, but we won’t extend grace to ourselves. Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to be very hard on myself and “force” myself to keep all the balls in the air and convince myself that I can keep juggling if I just focus my efforts. But inevitably, they begin to drop and I have to re-prioritize. Here are some things I’ve learned through the years to extend grace to myself.
1. If it’s not working, something has to shift.
When my four kids were under the age of 6, I was on the merry-go-round of sleep deprivation and fatigue. I loved all the extracurricular activities I was involved in, but I was burning the candle on both ends and knew something needed to change. But what?
I took stock in all the things I was doing each week. I wrote down how much time I was homeschooling my children, volunteering at church, doing laundry, cooking, self-care (which was depressingly low), and everything else in between. When I stood back and took a hard look at my life, I was working 70-80 hours each week. No wonder I was exhausted. So I prayed and asked God to show me what needed to stay, and what needed to go. I began cutting things out of my life and I refused to allow my boundaries to be violated with guilt, manipulation, or shame from other parties who didn’t understand my cutting back. My sanity and well-being were worth the boundary setting.
2. Treat yourself the way you would treat a friend.
Self-compassion is not something I’m naturally good at. I often serve others before I take care of myself. Yet, when I’m helping others in the midst of their crisis I often encourage them to give themselves a little slack or extend some grace and say no, or give them “permission” to ignore the laundry and take a nap.
When I’m going through a troubled time, I give myself permission to be a mess. I allow others to see that I’m not fine right now, but I will be. I keep soul-healing at the top of my priority so that I don’t lose hope in the midst of the fight. I give myself permission to be compassionate to myself.
3. Receive help from others.
This is the hardest for me. After our house burned down, we received checks in the mail for two straight weeks. Some donations were from good friends, some were from complete strangers. It was very humbling to receive their gifts, but with a little perspective, I believed I would have sent money to someone in a similar situation. When we receive help, we’re actually allowing others into our space to share our pain, and building connection.
The wisest man to walk the planet (other than Jesus) said there are seasons for everything. A time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up (Ecclesiastes 3:3).
If things are falling apart around you, and you need a time to heal, take time to heal. If life is breaking down around you, take time to build it back up. Reprioritize your life and keep God’s healing at the center of your focus.
I give you permission.