As a mom of eight children, including a disabled son with profound autism who will require total care for the rest of his life, it can be extremely challenging to take care of me. Don’t get me wrong, I want to, but it’s finding the time that seems to be the issue because my to-do list never ends. The only time I’m able to prioritize myself is when I say "enough" and put the list away, which is difficult to do as a working mother (and as a first-born, type-A personality).
As my children have aged and require more in some ways (isn’t that strange how that works?) and, in particular, as my disabled 17-year-old son Lucas has gotten older, I’ve realized that it is not healthy to constantly run on adrenaline. Instead, I need to prioritize self-care before I run out of gas. I don’t need big self-care moments like a weekend away with my girlfriends or a trip to Mexico with my husband, although those are nice too. Self-care instead looks like consistent daily practices that revive my soul and give me grace and patience to move through my challenging life. I need to recognize when I am running on empty so I can care for myself and have something to give others.
Recently, my husband Ryan had to go out of town for a couple of days, right before the holidays. That trip meant I was stuck at home with six restless children on Christmas break. From the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed, every minute was jammed packed with activity--holiday prep, playing with the kids, ordering groceries, cleaning the house for visitors, feeding and caring for Lucas, trying to squeeze in a shower every few days, and on and on and on. It was a challenging season and I needed to give myself grace.
Usually, I’m really good at prioritizing self-care in the form of walking, stretching, or reading a book for a few minutes. When the kids are in school and Ryan and I get through our crazy, chaotic mornings, then I can reward myself with a two mile walk. But with my husband out of town, I realized I hadn’t prioritized this walk because I hadn’t had a moment to myself in days. I could feel that my fuse was incredibly short and grace was in limited supply. I think many mothers can relate to this after a few weeks (or days!) into school breaks with our beloved offspring. It was time to get creative in carving out time to recharge my batteries.
God places us in community and blesses us with resources to navigate life's challenges. The day before my husband arrived home, I asked my teenage daughter to keep an eye on everyone for 30 minutes because I was going on my walk. The December air was brisk but the sun was shining and that’s always a good excuse to get outside in Michigan! As I laced up my boots and put my warm winter coat on, my 12-year-old son Joshua yelled out, “Mom, wait up! I want to come with you!”
I paused. I really wanted to put my headphones in, listen to praise and worship music, commune with the Lord, and work through some of my stress, alone. But my martyr mommy mentality kicked in, and, because my son wanted to join me, I started feeling guilty. How many days would I have left where he wanted to do something with me? But if I said yes to him, the others would also want to join and then it wasn’t self-care at all!
As I mulled my options “Say yes, say no, say yes, say no…” I was conflicted and King David’s words in Psalm 23 came to mind:“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me along paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake”(Psalm 23:1-3).
I was a burnt-out mama in desperate need of some green pastures, quiet waters, and restoration with the Lord. That respite did not include visitors, not even my sweet boy.
“Honey,” I replied, “Mom needs to walk alone, ok? We can make cookies together when I return, alright?”
“Ok,” he said, slightly disappointed (and that only amplified the guilt), but I knew my Savior was calling me to a higher purpose, a calling of restoration for my soul, a calling to be a better mom by prioritizing self-care. Protecting that boundary created an opportunity for refreshment. I can care more affectively for my family when I have protected my time alone with God.
I walked alone, and it was wonderful. The quiet gave me time to reflect on the true meaning of the season and how grateful I was for my family, for the honor and privilege to raise my Luke, the holiest of work caring for the “least of these”, and my children who had been so incredibly helpful while their father was away.
The quiet stillness renewed my soul and allowed me grace to move forward in obedience to the life to which God had called me. It also reminded me of another line in Psalm 23, a line about lying down in green pastures, a line that sounded an awful lot like the Lord was suggesting a nap, which I also indulged in on that particular day, because self-care, right?
Mama, have you run on fumes for far too long? Or maybe it’s speaking to you Dad? The Lord desires that we find our rest in him and pursue this precious commodity. Think about where you might need to instill a few boundaries in order to get that walk in, or nap, or dinner out with friends and then take the steps needed to make this happen in your life.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra