"You look tired."
If I had one penny for every time I heard these three words strung together in secession, dripping in pity and sympathy, I would surely have enough money to feed every hungry child on the planet, or better yet, broker world peace. Surely.
It happened again this morning during drop-off at my son's school. One of the ladies on staff was kind enough to ask how I was doing. I nodded, saying nothing because to be honest, today was a pretty decent morning. I actually showered and managed to iron our clothes the night before. I woke up early and put effort into my appearance, a luxury time generally does not afford me. My hair was styled (and I use this term loosely). I was even wearing makeup that I didn't put on in the car, which is pretty much miraculous. I stood there reflecting on how I was winning at life, my pregnant belly at least six inches extended from my waist, holding Lincoln's hand. We were the picture perfect pair standing stoically on the freshly buffed tile like monuments. Then out of the blue, she said those dreaded words. Matter-of-factly. Decidedly. Nonchalantly.
"You look tired."
I raised my eyes to meet hers in silence, the thoughts flooding my head all at once.
I, a lover of words who prides myself on knowing the most politically appropriate thing to say in any given moment, was speechless. I immediately questioned her motives. She relayed this information as though it were some sort of revelation, then stood waiting for some sort of response. I searched her face carefully for clues. Finding none, I studied her petite frame, the perfectly curled bob, the carefully applied eyeshadow, liner and mascara, and finally her outfit that screamed, "I have time in the morning!" I could feel myself growing hot, resentment building, my conscience holding onto my tongue for dear life.
You see, I tried for the world today. I willed my body into submission and carefully planned every detail of this morning, and you know what? It actually paid off. My world was rotating perfectly on its axis before this moment. Before this woman looked past the makeup and the hair and saw me. Worse still, she had dared to say so. And I despised her for it.
The truth is that I was tired. Am tired. I live in a perpetual state of functioning fatigue as do most mothers. I do not mention this for sympathy. I mention it because it is a fact.
Somewhere along the way, every parent learns what it means to keep going in the tired. You shoulder new responsibilities because whether you feel like it or not, your kid needs dinner and a bath and clean clothes. You become more disciplined. You exchange routines for spontaneity. It's easy to get lost in the hum of your new life. It's easy to forget about your own needs ... your own self. It's easy to wake up one morning, look in the mirror and find someone you don't recognize staring back at you. Someone who is aging. Or less fun, or sleep deprived.
Then one day, you wake up with a sudden burst of energy and decide to truly "try." All you need is a good pick-me-up to get out of this slump, you tell yourself. So you lug out the makeup reserved for special occasions. Paint your nails. Give yourself a face mask. Take an extra long shower. Shave. Whatever your thing is. And you will feel good - much better actually. More like your pre-tired, pre-parent self.
You step out of the house on to a day full of errands, or work, or life with an extra pep in your step because today, even if only for today, you feel like you. Not mommy, not daddy. Just you and the hours in this day. Anything is possible.
Inevitably though, your weakness will show. Sooner or later, you will come face-to-face with your snarky woman in the hallway - the one who can see. right. through. you. She takes many forms: a sudden crisis at work, something important you forgot to do that has major implications, car trouble, an over drafted bank account, a sick kid, or in my case, the straight-up truth. She is life, friend, and she always finds you out. Somehow she always pulls you back, sucks you in, reminds you that you're a faker, and it was only yourself you were fooling all along.
I must have said something in reply. I'm quite sure I did, actually. Something polite and benign and forgiving. Pride would not let me concede that her words felt like an undefended jab to the gut. I gathered my dignity there in the hall, then awkwardly escaped, shuffling my son into his classroom and hurrying out of the building.
Once safe in the car, I quickly pulled the top flap mirror down, just to make sure I wasn't crazy. My mouth dropped in horror. The person I thought I was when I left the house was not the person staring back at me. My makeup? Yeah I don't know what happened. You could see the circles under my eyes from a mile away. My hair, my previously perfect and glorious hair, looked like one big, messy frizz. And my eyes, as usual, were the dead giveaway.
Sigh. I thought I was doing OK today.
Here's the thing I'm learning: there's a lot in life that you can fake, but when it comes to rest? Rest cannot and will not be faked. It refuses to be manufactured or engineered. There are no substitutes. Either you stop and make the time to care for yourself or you suffer the consequences. Sure, you can get by on coffee and sheer willpower for a while, but sooner or later, it will start to show in one area or another: your face, your health, your mental and emotional stability. Fatigue will not hide silently in the background. Like a toddler in the grocery store, it will throw a temper tantrum until you have no choice but to pay attention.
I hate that it works like that. I'd rather convince myself and the world that I can do it all. I enjoy being the force that keeps our home, our little world spinning. It gives me immeasurable satisfaction when the house is immaculate, and the laundry is done, and dinner is waiting on the stove when my husband walks in the door. The sheer accomplishment of being that consistently reliable wife, that ever-prepared mom, is addictive.
But alas, life has a way of reminding you that you can't do it all. My resolve to do and be everything to everybody is just as strong as ever, but my body handed in an "effective immediately" resignation the moment I saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test for the second time. My capacity to take on more and do more has decreased dramatically - seemingly overnight. I am forced to the hard truth that I am not. I can not.
I need rest. I need help. And I hate being so needy.
Like most things in life, rest is a discipline. I, for one, the perpetual achiever, am not wired to rest. I don't wake up in the morning and wholeheartedly pursue the things that recharge my soul. In fact, I often run in the opposite direction in wholehearted pursuit of what needs to get done. All the while, my conscience tugs on me throughout the day. It begs me to slow down, be quiet, find time for prayer, sit with my thoughts, be still. It is no match, however, for my yelling, screaming to-do list. And if I'm honest, I'd rather spend my energy doing. Accomplishing. Achieving.
But if there's anyone who can get through to stubborn Christina, it's God. This pregnancy, this fatigue that refuses to be covered up or ignored, is actually a blessing. It is forcing me to stop and see what was true all along: that I am not self-sufficient and that I need to discipline myself to truly rest every single day. I need to create moments and times where I can just be still.
It's tricky, though, because when I say rest, I don't necessarily mean sleep. More often than not, I get more rest from writing than taking a nap. I find rest too in audio books and prayer and long walks. To find out what gives you rest, you only need to ask, what recharges your soul? What gives you a true sense of peace and calm and God's ever-near presence? Do more of that. Invest more time in that. Consistently say no to the things that make you anxious, worried, tense and stressed so you can make time to stop and just be.
These days, I'm letting go of unrealistic expectations that my life will always be perfectly ordered. I find myself saying no (or at least wait) more and more to household chores. Anyone who knows me knows that this is significant growth because I have major OCD. But I am slowly learning to sit in the mess and be OK. Instead of feeling the need to constantly control my environment, I am trying my best to practice controlling my thoughts and my spirit.
It is nerve-wrecking at first. Many times, I feel like I'm dropping the ball. There are days when I call my husband and plead: "Tell me I don't have to cook tonight. I don't want to cook tonight." There are evenings when I have to reassure myself over and over that it's okay if the sink isn't clear, or there's a ring in the tub, because right now, what's most important is that I take this time to be fully present and fully reliant. There will be time to clean and vacuum, but first, Christina.
Wanna know the ironic thing? You would think that putting rest first would make me less productive. It only makes logical sense. I have a limited number of hours in the day. If I stop to take time for myself, or to spend with God, that's time I'm not doing something else. But it's just the opposite. I find that when I say no, or wait to my to-do list, I create opportunities for others to help me that didn't exist before.
Those dishes I left in the sink so I could spend time reading in bed? My husband washed them, unasked. My sister invites us over for Sunday dinner. My mother washes and folds every stitch of clothing in my house. These are the blessings I miss out on when my pride won't let me be anything other than superwoman; when I'm killing myself to be all and do all; when I'm wearing the lie that I don't need rest. I'm fine.
Underneath it all, I have this irrational fear that if I stop for a moment - stop working, stop going - everything will fall apart. The world as I know it will cease to function. This is not the case of course because thankfully, it's not my job to run the world, and when I try, it only leaves me burnt out and resentful. It feeds the lie that I don't need others, when what I'm craving more than anything is to truly be seen and loved, despite how messed up I am.
I still get it wrong. I still have the annoying tendency to choose less important, more dutiful things over rest and prayer and the life-giving words of Scripture far too often. But I hold fast to the promise that every time I end up here - weak, heavy laden and yes, tired - every single time, He will give me rest.