These may be the needs of your children, husband, extended family, bills that need to be paid or even Jesus-follower needs? These are the things you feel like you should do to be more spiritual, please Jesus – or merely be a good Christian. I don’t know about you, but it is all-too-easy for me to feel guilty that I am not doing enough, that I, somehow in some way, need to do more.
After a wild summer filled with moving, sickness and travel, I am grateful to start the process of settling into the Fall routine. My sons started school after Labor Day, and I am pleased to say our crew is beginning to find a working rhythm after the chaos of a long summer.
I am what you call a “work-from-home” mom. For me, this means I work when my sons are at school. When they return home, I press the pause button to interact with them. At this point, my attention turns to family needs, such as dinner, laundry, homework, and play. It was challenging this past summer to find the ideal balance between times to work and times to play and care for my family. Because my husband and I moved away from our wonderful network of babysitters, it was additionally challenging to find time to work once we moved to a new community. On top of the stress with packing, moving and unpacking, the summer pretty much felt like a bust.
As we were leading up to the start of the new school year, I began to feel conflicted. On the one hand, I felt excited and relieved the boys were going back to school. I would soon gain protected time to work and, well, be productive! (1) I would achieve a routine I could count on. Yet, I felt sad the summer was coming to a close. I am one of those strange parents who enjoy having my sons home each day. They were about to be away from the house for long periods of time, and this left me feeling some sadness. The guilt crept in: “You didn’t have enough joy-building time with your sons!” Like a flickering light that’s about to fade, I felt my peace begin to waver.
When I start to feel guilty about my parenting, I have learned it is best to take action. Many things can help when I start to feel this way. First, I begin to quiet myself and practice appreciation. Second, after rest and appreciation, I feel prepared to find some perspective and peace by interacting with Immanuel. It is simple yet so profound how a little bit of Jesus-joy and peace can change my brain when I am swimming in guilt. Third, talking with a parent friend I respect and listening to some much-needed encouragement is often just what I need.
It was this hodge-podge of emotions, particularly the guilt, that helped me realize what I needed most was to sit with Jesus and discover His perspective on my summer.
With this in mind I started out by taking a few minutes of appreciation to reflect on the times I felt Jesus’ Presence in the past. As I felt the peace from previous interactions begin to seep into the present, I asked Jesus what He wanted me to know. I soon sensed His peace and calm reassurance saying, “It’s ok.” I felt a clear impression that He was smiling at me. This image made me feel seen and special. While “It’s ok” is not exactly the most profound statement in the world, at this moment it was to me. This was what I truly needed. I felt great comfort knowing I was where I needed to be. After all, if the King of Kings, the God of the universe accepts me and says things are ok, who am I to argue? I sensed I was doing what I needed to be doing, which helped me feel valued, validated, understood and connected. This was a good sign to me that my brain’s emotional control center was working together. (2)
While the feelings of guilt still occasionally pop up, I take some time to quiet, focus on appreciation, talk with a friend or talk with Jesus. Sometimes, I follow all of the steps! You see, guilt is not a productive feeling. Guilt is our logical brain’s attempt to fix the fear our emotional mind is feeling. When I bring my guilt before Jesus, I receive His peace, and sometimes I walk away with an action step. This can be a creative idea on something I can change to better interact with the kids and sometimes it’s an area where I need to better care for myself to gain more capacity and joy. Jesus is good at helping me sort through feelings of guilt to find peace and figure out what I need next.
Initially, some of the steps in the sequence I suggest can feel a bit clunky. Over time and with practice, it soon begins to feel more natural. Finding friends who can pray with you is a practical way to train your brain to notice when peace is missing then do something about it.
Do you have an area in your life where you need to trade your guilt for Jesus’ peace? Is there an action step Immanuel wants you to take today? I pray your guilt diminishes and you discover the peace that surpasses all understanding.
1. This describes my feelings when fear is present. In reality, I believe that raising children and building joyful brains is some of the best work I could ever do in my life!