A year for showing myself mercy

Photo: Giovanni Portelli
The start of the new school year can be a challenge for parents, so it is important they show treat themselves mercifully. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

We have a big February coming up, with three of our five children starting at new schools – including one starting kindy and our eldest starting high school.

I expect it will take a while for our family to adjust to new schedules and expectations, and while I know we are exceedingly blessed that this is the most challenging thing we expect to face this year (though only God knows what’s ahead), I did this week feel a nagging worry that had me stressing over how we’re going to fit everything in once 1 February comes around.

Just the thought of the before and after school runs, after-school activities, various appointments and the work that goes with caring for seven bodies, hearts, and minds, seemed all a bit too much for me. How was I going to get it all done, day in and day out, and with a smile on my face as well?

I’ve learnt to notice that when I feel like this it’s a reminder that I need to get back to the basics of who I am and what I’m here for, or else I risk sucking the joy out of life for myself and my family and becoming invisible to my friends because I’m too busy doing all the things to engage with anyone – including God.

The first essential I need to make sure we all have met, after proper sleep and food, is the opportunity for some quiet time of rest, reading, or prayer. For me, at least for a moment at some point in the day or at the end of Mass, if I can connect in some way with the work of gratitude and praise that we share with the angels and saints, I have a hope of talking calmly about my worries with my husband on what is really important and what we (most often, what I) can let go of to make daily life run a bit easier.

Often there are things I can let go of and cut out without inconveniencing anyone too much, and, indeed, if I don’t let go or cut out unnecessary activities or habits that are becoming a burden on our family life I will be partly responsible for damaging it.

So what can I delegate? What school parents can we team up with to manage the school run and other logistics? What’s one extra thing we can manage today; taking a child out for one-on-one time, trying a new recipe, completing some paperwork?

Can I improve the way I do things by streamlining or regrouping tasks, or buying something to make them easier?

Is it time to buy some time-saving things that I’ve prided myself on doing without for years, like a clothes dryer or second fridge. Peter and I have been living relatively frugal and environmentally-friendly lifestyles since our marriage.

But finding myself on the edge of burn-out at the start of the year might be a sign it’s time to shift our perspective a little over these things, and use them discerningly when we need to.

Ultimately, my efforts at managing this state of life I have been given and accepted from God should be a continual offering of love, not a managerial exercise in constantly improving efficiencies.

And where I fail (as I’m sure I will) I just need to get up, ask for forgiveness, and keep going, trusting that God is ‘Emmanuel’, really and truly with us.

It’s humbling to find I have to keep learning this lesson over and over again; that I cannot possibly be the self-sufficient superhuman I often demand myself to be and that our culture in many ways expects us to be; that I am unfair to expect others to meet standards that I struggle to meet myself; that I must continually rely upon God and the people around me in order to live well.

I read a beautiful piece by the writer Elisabeth Foss on New Year resolutions, in which she suggests one resolution we could make during this Jubilee Year of Mercy is to extend mercy first to ourselves:

“If inside our heads, we have a running critical dialogue with ourselves, chances are we are going to judge others just as harshly. We find ourselves lacking, we see our faults, and then we look around and we begin to identify the faults of others in order to make ourselves feel better. That paradigm keeps us stuck in last year’s muck. When we accept ourselves and when we resist the urge to try to be superior to our neighbour and instead extend grace and mercy, we are open and receptive to Him. At last, we will have the strength and grace we need to effect real change in the new year.”

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