I stood, the house at my back, sun peeking at my cheek, and lumpy green lawn rolling ahead of my feet. I peered above the weathered wooden fencing into the maple branches etched in blue. The swollen red buds threatening to render its sleek outline into a riot of frenzied lime flower mimicked my insides. I, too, felt threatened by the exuberant life growing inside that would dazzle the world and empty me.
The previous two years had taxed my energy to destitution. My spirit was crippled and desperate—largely because I hadn’t valued my introversion. Not trusting how God made me, I didn’t esteem it enough to make the tough choices that would have filled me with life to overflow into my precious children. I connect with God primarily alone, whether it’s privately meditating or studying or being in nature. My soul was starved because it couldn’t get to the well of solitude consistently or often enough.
To an unprepared introvert, the ever-presence of children can feel like an attack, a suffocating infiltration like forest fire smoke infusing the air. Too often, this led me to a melancholy resentment of these gifts of God. I got by, figuring this was simply the necessary sacrifice of motherhood.
With the spring breeze tossing the maple promises and my hair with playfulness, my haggard spirit could not respond. My two toddling daughters required my steady attention still. Watching the affront of the burgeoning maple and feeling the swell inside, I wondered painfully to God, how will I survive another one?
I credit two people and two practices with my survival. First was the loving companionship of my husband who saw my pain and, though tired himself, invested in our little ones and me. His attentiveness released me to do soul-enlivening things like going for walks alone, reading a book at a coffee shop, or taking a sketchbook to the nature preserve.
Once, he joined me in the backyard while I wrestled with the water hose to ask what I wanted for Mother’s Day. As I undid the twist in the hose, I felt a tightened twist in my heart. Should I tell him the unvarnished truth? Or should I just give my second and third choices, distant as they were to my desire? Honestly, I wanted an entire day alone. I paused my yanking on the hose to glance up at him, gauging his receptivity. I nearly didn’t tell him because I knew what it would cost him and that he could misunderstand my request as rejection. With a rush of breath, followed by a nervous resumption of hose-straightening, I told him, then qualified it quickly with a “But I don’t have to have that—I’d totally understand.” I couldn’t even brave a look. But he understood, and though it wasn’t what he wanted, he blessed it and gave me a simple, solitary day to tend my soul.
I returned with such lightness and joy from this introverted investment that he frequently commented on it and increasingly offered it. This became his gift to me, greater than anything he could have purchased.
The second person who made it possible for me to endure those years was our adopted grandma. My women’s group leader at the time of my pregnancy announced she would babysit once a month so that my husband and I could have a date night—for free! I didn’t even know to ask for such a thing. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have dared to presume. She knew me, and she knew the reality of mothering since she had raised four of her own, on her own! While this did not relieve my need for solitude, it did relieve the pressure on our marriage.
My husband could not be the only one investing in us; I needed to as well. However, I was so run dry that I often neglected him. If we had not had these date nights every month for years, the cycle of my desperation and his provision would have driven us to a one-sided marriage. It was as if my neglect of my introversion created a vacuum. It could have sucked all the sweetness from not just me, but from him, too. Our wise “grandma” knew this and made it her priority to safeguard our marriage.
As for the practices, the lumpy grass I pondered upon on that pregnant spring day birthed the first: I tore into it and made a jungly garden. It was a place for both release and reception. Active frustration and hope of beauty churned the dense clay into loamy humus year after year. Sunflowers towered, overcompensating for my grumble, tweaking a smile from me. The leaves received my pent up sighs and turned them into oxygen for my soul. Just breathing in the sweltering twang of tomato vines, the pungent lavender or ambrosial strawberries filtered toxins from my overtaxed cells. In so many ways, gardening was good for my soul. This refuge was a quiet, accessible welcome, a place to empty myself in healthy ways and create something good. In its hushed, embracing space, my soul felt safely welcomed to come out of hiding. My garden became my sanctuary in which I met God; its rhythms aiding my soul to find God’s harmonies.
My children instinctively understood this beautiful place as a sanctuary. They could enter it too, participate and delight in it, but similar to entering a cathedral in which a solitary person prays on bended knee, they sometimes joined in the holiness without disturbing me.
My spiritual practices were very physical during my kids’ early years. Anonymously, I joined the back row of classes at a nearby gym where I discovered joy in the awkwardness. I silently worked through millions of steps, lunges, twists, and balances. With no pressure to interact or care for another, I paid attention to myself. Here, in the classroom surrounded by others, I clumsily loved myself and gained energy that spilled over lovingly into my kids’ lives. Certainly some of my energetic overflow came from the physical process of creating endorphins that all exercise provides, but additionally, the underlying message I lived as I exercised was that I matter—all of me, body and soul, introverted and connected, child of God and mother. God loves us, body and soul, now and forever, and caring for our bodies is a spiritual practice. Joining the gym had seemed like a selfish choice initially, but it turned out to be God’s investment in my soul!
These two people and two practices were vital to surviving those early years as a mother. At the time, my introversion was something to be overcome and not indulged; a defect rather than a gift. In hindsight, if I had crafted my life to honor my need for solitude as a regular and necessary part of it, I could have parted with my quiet spaces when I needed to with much more grace. Then maybe when an opportunity for solitude arose, I wouldn’t have felt like a convict escaping her jail cell before the chance disappeared. Because I yearned for these occasions so much, when I did get them, I guarded them with a self-righteous attitude of entitlement, snarling with vindictiveness when I had to give them up. A regular babysitter a few times a week would have released the pressure valve immensely.
When I entered motherhood, I thought giving up “my” space was a necessary sacrifice, but it only calloused my heart to my children and God. Underneath, a blister of resentment rose at the daily friction between the denial of who I am and who I thought I had to be. Periodically, it would burst, and all the ugliness of a life lived under this false cover oozed out in exhaustion, low-grade depression, and anger.
By God’s grace, I had my husband, adopted grandma, and the two spiritually physical practices to teach me to cherish and honor the truth of how God made me. The blister burst less often as the friction within lessened. I have done a lot of healing and integrating spurred by these first lessons. Now what comes out of me is the overflow of love born of a full and well-connected soul, anchored in habits of living truthfully into my introversion.
Featured image by Hill Smiley Photography
Having been a burnt-out leader in the church, Kimberley Mulder discovered her pace with grace, and now writes to sustain your soul as you serve at her blog She loves to tend souls with a listening ear and a reflective heart and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Ministry at Portland Seminary with the goal of becoming a Spiritual Director. The outdoors is always calling her name, so when not tethered to a computer, you can find her exploring, gardening, and taking pictures anywhere outside of four walls (some of which make their way on to Instagram ). Her husband and three kids journey with her, adding purpose, delight, and depth to her life. You can also connect with Kimberley on Facebook.
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