I was a real go-getter in my younger days. Mom to a young child, worked a full-time demanding job, ministry leader on the evenings and weekends, robust social life, large extended family to be involved in. I kept an orderly home and car, and walked the dog regularly. I got haircuts when I needed them. I had enough fitness in my life to appear passably healthy. I based my worth on my accomplishments and how well I could get things done. I did enough crafts and fun activities and extracurriculars with my child to feel like a good mom, and to satisfy myself that I was one. I made enough stellar meals and grew herbs in an adorable window box outside my kitchen window and satisfied myself that I was a good wife. It all worked great as far as anyone knew. Then I started to fall asleep at stop lights on my morning commute, jerking awake when the car behind me would honk impatiently. Then came the anxiety, and the self-loathing, marching through my haze of exhaustion. I didn’t recognize those things for what they were, because I didn’t take the time to slow down and reflect on my thoughts or feelings. I simply carried a mostly vague but nagging (and sometimes insistent) feeling of dread and of not being enough, wherever I went. It drained my energy from the time I started my day. The undercurrent of self-rejection manifested itself physically, and I developed a stubbornly persistent stomach disorder that refused to be diagnosed or controlled. I lost my temper and snapped at my daughter sometimes without knowing why, or bothering to find out. Still I refused to slow down…..It all worked so well…until it didn’t.
I had been raised to push my feelings aside and do what needed to be done. To not have boundaries, to not say no. I had been raised (without realizing it) to not value myself. Other than serving others, I didn’t have personal hobbies, because who had time for that? I read whatever my book club was reading, but I never picked up a good book simply because I wanted to. I went running somewhat regularly, but I even made that about other people too—I reasoned that I needed to stay somewhat slender to keep the husband interested, or to appear attractive so that my clothes would fit right. I ran a half marathon at one point, and then did a 60-mile walk for breast cancer—because girlfriends wanted me to. I enjoyed those events and considered them to be like hobbies, but they were never about me. I wasn’t pursuing my dreams and goals, because I didn’t even know what they were. Life picked me up and carried me along. I thought I was living a good life, but other people were setting my sails and charting my course.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with an advanced, extremely aggressive eye disease. Major surgery was imminent. Each eye was operated on, one at a time. Each surgery had a two-and-a-half month long recovery period. It was excruciating. I was supposed to stay off my feet as much as possible, to aid the healing process. The hustle and bustle of normal life came to a halt. I couldn’t do much of anything. I sat in a rocking chair on the porch on summer afternoons. I wallowed in a hammock in the woods near our pond. When we traveled back and forth to my follow up appointments, I nestled down in bed in a quiet hotel room. The days ticked by. It was torture. I felt so isolated and alone. It was the most peaceful time of my entire life.
I nearly lost my vision. I found myself, at last.
Life isn’t meant to be a duty; it’s meant to be a delight. We need, as Howard Thurman writes, to stop asking what the world needs. Instead, we each must “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” What our families really need, but can’t express to us, is a mother and a wife who has truly come alive. But please don’t do it just for them. Do it for you—for the one and only precious, wild and beautiful you.
It starts with holding space for yourself. Space where God can meet with you, and you can’t tell where you stop and He begins. Start there, my friend. And then, hold space for yourself to dream, think, ponder, nap, grow, rest, stretch, create, learn, try, fail, and try again. Become a student of the beauty of the world around you, and within you. And of all the people that you will be kind to today, remember to be kind to you.
Helen Gentry is a business coach who writes and blogs from her home in the mountains of North Carolina where she lives with her husband and daughter. She loves trail running, cooking, reading, travel and fitness. She drops everything for a mountain sunset or a cup of good coffee.