This morning I sat down on the porch to do a little spiritual reading while the three youngest kids played in the yard (read: laying on her playmat kicking the air silently like an angel; falling repeatedly off the concrete step and injuring every part of his body; hitting her brother, a tree, the mailbox, and, occasionally, a ball, with a tennis racquet #thetemperamentsgodgavethem).
It was nice, and it was unusual, because usually I’m “too busy” for any kind of prayer until nap time rolls around and then, wouldn’t you know it, I’d rather fall into an internet coma or go on a cleaning or painting binge for those 90 precious minutes of silence. Priorities, I got ‘em.
I peeled a yellow sticky note from my Bible and saw a handwritten penance from … some time ago. One of the priests at our parish frequently assigns Scripture reading in the confessional as penances, and I am wont to misplace his little scraps of notations. Which is terrible! But I did finally read the assigned verses today, so, better late than never?
The thing is, it was exactly what I needed to read today, and it went hand in glove with the reflection I’d read from the random Evangelical devotional I picked up on my last pass through the thrift shop. The moral of this story is that God rewards laziness and the Holy Spirit can speak through second hand retail. But I digress!
Here was the crux of the message: Stop with the negative thoughts. Stop with the interior – and inevitably bleeding into the exterior – negativity.
This was the assigned reading from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil. May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.
And from Philippians 4:4-8:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (emphasis mine)
My takeaway? God has this. And also, that. The biggest worry on your heart and the heaviest burden on your back and the situation you are the most despondently hopeless over. Not only does He see it, but according to Saint Paul, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, as Christians, we are actually resting in the center of His will.
I have been mightily resisting this season of life because it looks different than I envisioned it would. I have this slightly hysterical version of reality worked up in my mind about what postpartum “should” look like, even though I’ve done it 5 blessed times and know full well (emphasis on full) what it actually entails. I do not “bounce back,” unless we’re talking bouncing wadded up balls of laundry down the unfinished basement stairs. And while we’re on the subject of laundry, ohhhhhhh how the mighty hath fallen. Remember my genius “constant laundry” lifehack that had me humming along as a beacon of efficiency and clean gym shorts? Well, let’s just say standards have slipped in the second quarter and the outlook for summer is grim unless we institute a mandatory swimsuits-only policy for daily wear.
I was still pondering these verses as I leaned down to pull fistfulls of dandelions out of the flower bed that lines our front porch. Thanks to the selfless perennial planting of the former owners, I have tulips and gladiolus and roses and irises and columbines and all manner of flora popping up unbidden from the finally-warm earth. I winced as I tore away handfuls of pansies and columbine leaves in my efforts to uproot the dandelions.
Frankly, I was surprised there were so many weeds mingled in there to begin with. The bed looks pretty nice from the street and even from a few feet away. Up close though? Weeds everywhere, seemingly all of a sudden, all mixed in with the flowers and dropping their weedy seeds all over the place.
Kinda like your mind, I thought to myself, having not had quite enough coffee this morning.
My self proclaimed stance as a follower of Christ is beautiful from a distance, and probably looks pretty good even to the casual observer, but my mind is often full of garbage (negative thoughts, criticism, sarcasm, envy) that must make the Gardener wince.
It’s true. There are a lot of weeds. They are especially pernicious in the self image department.
In fact, when it comes to my inner monologue, you could almost invert that section from Thessalonians to read: “whatever is false, whatever is embarrassing, whatever is unfair, whatever is tattered, whatever is ugly, whatever is rude, if there is any failure and if there is anything worthy of complaining about, think about these things.”
Doesn’t flow quite the same, does it? And the worst thing about weeds is the effect they have on the beauty around them, vying for space and consuming what rightfully belongs to the flowers.
So all this negativity and this darkness not only gobbles up my resources, but it limits my capacity for kindness and generosity towards everyone around me. It’s awfully hard to be nice to your kids when you’re telling yourself a lie (consciously or unconsciously) about how they’ve “wrecked” your body.
It’s easy to slip into a vicious spiral of envy over a friend’s seemingly outward “togetherness” that makes you blind to her hidden interior struggles.
So I’ve got some gardening to do. And I have a pretty black thumb. I used a pen to write “true, honorable, just, lovely, pure, gracious…” on the palm of my hand this morning to remind myself to flip off that negative track when it starts playing, and it is hard. I can’t believe how much energy I must expend each day criticizing myself. And it really does pollute everything else. It’s impossible to be a cheerful, engaged mom and friend when I’m constantly berating myself for how much weight I haven’t lost or how few clothing options I have heading into summer.
I really want to keep this foremost in my mind as I continue to navigate the challenges that come with the postpartum territory. And to believe that what the Lord says is true. That he wants all of me, body and soul, and that He has a plan He is bringing to fulfillment.
“…may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.