Grace Amid the Chaos
Some encouragement for families struggling with stress in the home
+JMJ+ Sometimes life around us becomes so chaotic or full of anxiety that we reach our breaking point and we explode. It happens to the best of us. The kids aren't listening (how come those kids in that other family always seem to listen to their parents?), the house looks like a bomb went off (why can't these kids just pick up after themselves?), dinner is waiting to be made (am I a servant?), the first grader is struggling to read a word that she's seen at least a hundred times (you should know this word by now!), and your spouse is late coming home from work (why can't I be the one getting out of the house everyday?). You've just found out that something important in the house needs a repair that's going to cost a lot of money and, seeing as you're a single income household, you're worried about how your family is going to make ends meet. As you become more and more immersed in your own private pity party, one of your children touches the toddler's playdough and, suddenly, unearthly screams erupt from the other room. It's total chaos. "Why can't these kids just play nicely and quietly?!"
The fire that's slowly been building within your chest rises to the surface and out comes the explosion. Your voice has risen to epic proportions and you let loose on the little people who have suddenly stopped everything to stare at the sight before them. And, by the way, your spouse has finally arrived home after a long, hard day just in time to witness your performance.
It only takes a split second to realize that you're turning into the Incredible Hulk and that your behavior is certainly not encouraging the atmosphere of peace that you so desperately crave. You feel like a terrible spouse and parent and, on the verge of tears (if not already sobbing), you take a deep breath, maybe take some space for a moment, and then apologize to your family. You have, once again, been thoroughly humbled. Why, oh why, you wonder, does this keep happening?
As you come down from the momentary burst of adrenaline, the realization hits you: you're tired. Actually, you are exhausted and feeling completely used up. You've got no more gas in the tank! The anxiety, resentment, and frustration builds up time and time again and you're frustrated because you don't know what to do about it. You feel like a failure as a spouse and parent and everything around you feels like it's falling to pieces. You wonder where God is in the midst of all this chaos and whether this is all really worth it. Is this really God's will for you?
The truth is, many of us are exhausted. Whether you are a husband and father working full-time to support your family or a wife and mother working at home feeling under-appreciated and grossly under-compensated, we are all prone to anxiety and doubt. Let's face it: life can get chaotic especially in a family. If you're a mom, you may be staying home with the kids. All day. If you're a dad, you may be the primary financial provider and working hard (maybe at multiple jobs) to support your family because you want your kids to have a parent raising them. We all want what's best for our kids and that might look different for every family.
In between the seemingly endless hubbub of schooling, housework, the stubborn child or the child who seems to have endless energy (why can't we have some of that?), mounds of diapers, illnesses, financial difficulties, and everything in between, it can be difficult to find grace in it all. Outside the home, there's chaos in the "real world" too. As a Catholic, I even see it in my own church and it's easy to get discouraged.
Here's what God wants you to know: your work matters and He is with you even in the chaos. God finds us wherever we are, no matter how dark things may seem. As families, we need to learn to find the calm in the storm and open our eyes to God's glimmers of grace.
How do we do that? What do we need to do? The answer may vary somewhat from family to family. Do you need to slow down? Cut out an activity or two? Make more time for prayer? Do you need to be alone with your spouse more? Our schedules and lifestyles are all unique and we get to develop routines that work to suit our family. This coronavirus is certainly throwing many of us for a loop and causing unexpected stresses on top of some of the usual stress. Many families are struggling. Some families are seeing this "downtime" as an opportunity to slow down and reconnect. Whatever situation you find yourself in, your life doesn't have to look like "the Joneses" across the street. It simply has to reflect God's calling in your life.
In between the seemingly endless to-do list, it's important to focus on why you and your spouse chose your particular lifestyle. For many of us, our focus is on keeping God at the center of our lives and on not wanting to expose our children to the evil that's in the world. We want to live in this world but not be a part of it. Everyday, it's important to take a few moments to thank God for His blessings. Even on a tough day, there's something to be thankful for even if it's the gift of life and the breath in our lungs...and the fact that the house is still standing (praise God!). The fact that you have been given life is a gift in and of itself! Having family (whether they are of blood or not) is an added gift.
We take on a lot when we follow God's promptings to lead a God-centered life, and we sometimes spend a lot of time worrying, don't we? So much time is wasted on anxious thoughts. Are we doing enough? Will our children be "smart enough?" Will our children succeed? Why isn't this child performing as well as their sibling did at this age? What's going to happen with my husband's job? How is my wife going to handle another pregnancy when she is struggling so much already? Why haven't we been blessed with a pregnancy when everyone around us seems to have children?
The struggle is real! But God's grace is greater, and He won't send us anything that His grace isn't sufficient for. At the end of the day, God is in charge. We should strive to do His will and not our own and "striving for holiness" should always be at the top of our priority list. Remember that God is not going to call us to something (such as marriage, parenthood, homeschooling, or a particular career) and then abandon us!
None of us has all the answers to life's persistent questions and we don't need to have them. What we are called to do is keep our faith and trust in God. God calls us to savor the time we have with one another, savor our faith and our daily blessings, and every so often to step away from the many gadgets and distractions that so often prevent the voice of the Holy Spirit from coming through clearly. How often do we really slow down enough to listen to what He has to say?
Life isn’t perfect but there is such beauty to see, awesome memories to be made and glimmers of God’s love and grace all around us. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes to them! Maybe it's hearing, "I love you," from the child who, after digging in his heels all day, suddenly comes around. Maybe it's a random act of kindness from your spouse. Perhaps it's a call or text from a friend just checking on you and encouraging you. "You've got this!" Whatever it may be, God speaks to us in different ways and these refreshing moments bring us peace, joy, and hope. We need to treasure these little gifts.
Our calling as Christians is not an easy one by any stretch and life isn't always smooth sailing. God never promised that our calling in life would be easy! However, despite the difficulties and even when we feel like we are losing our sanity, we keep going. Why? Because this is the life God is calling us to at this point in time, and God always gives us the grace we need even in the chaos. He sends us glimmers of hope, love, and mercy to guide us through. At the end of the day, what matters most is that we are helping each other to grow in holiness and that our ultimate goal for ourselves and our family is that they be saints.
The stresses of life (both expected and unexpected) can either tear us and our families apart or pull us together. By the grace of God we can persevere but it requires prayer, trust and surrender, the Sacraments, silence (when possible), study, simplicity, fellowship with one another, helping one another, celebrating when the time calls for it, and striving to perform even the smallest of duties for Jesus with a joyful heart.
Find small opportunities to connect as a family. Remind yourself of the reasons why you live life the way you do. Remember that there is always mercy and grace given to each of us by our Heavenly Father when we mess up. Every morning when you wake up, ask God what He is calling you to do and how you can honor God in the present moment in your role as wife, mother, husband, father, child, friend, educator, etc.
God's light always shines through the darkness! We've been given a wonderful gift called life and an awesome responsibility of being able to get closer to God and bring others closer to Him. How we do that may differ for each of us. No matter what, we are called to trust, surrender our lives over to Our Lord, and open our eyes to see His grace, especially in the midst of all the chaos.