How to Let Pain Make you Stronger

I hunched over my kitchen table with tears streaming from my eyes, feeling defeated and hopeless. I was pregnant with our fourth child and our oldest was only five. At the time, our almost-two-year old was—in the kindest terms—completely insufferable. How was I possibly going to bring another baby into this chaos? Not only was the house a perpetual disaster, I was physically exhausted and mentally tapped out. I hadn’t slept through the night in five years (no exaggeration) and wondered how I’d survive another day; and another; and another with even less sleep and more demands.

My husband was travelling a lot at the time and was booked for 26 business trips that year. That meant he was gone every other week, leaving me home alone to carry what felt like an unimaginable load. I had a supportive extended family nearby, but I didn’t know how to ask for help or how to articulate what I needed in that season. Rage boiled under the surface of my unmet and unexpressed needs and I felt like a failure at everything that mattered to me. Shame was my constant companion and self-condemnation always had a critique for me.

I can feel the overwhelming weight of anxiety and helplessness as I recall those days five years ago. Our youngest is now a delightful four-year-old and that tantrum-throwing two-year-old is now a compassionate, vibrant and deeply enjoyable first grader. Not only did I survive those days in the trenches of early motherhood, I miss them. “The days are long but the years are short,” they say—and they’re right. Those years flew by in a flash but the invaluable life lessons they’ve taught me are imprinted on my heart forever.

Me and my Brinley Grace. She has taught me so much about love, growth and faith. I didn’t know how I’d survive her toddler years, now I don’t know how I ever survived without her.

This day I described sticks out like a vivid colored portrait in a sea of black and white polaroids. It was a day where God spoke to me in my mess. Recently, I’ve found myself pushed to the edge of hopelessness again by those same overwhelming feelings, which bullied their way into a new set of circumstances. In the last two months, I became a business owner and a facilitator of a new program helping young virtual learners navigate their remote schooling. My now school-aged children were given the option to return to traditional school full-time with masks and social distancing or choose to learn virtually. With a desire for an option somewhere in the middle, I came up with a virtual learning assistance program to give kids (mine and others) who chose the remote learning option a chance to socialize in smaller groups while accomplishing their work online.

Our kids on the first day of the Sunshine Haven, our virtual learning assistance program.

At the risk of sounding extremely ungrateful and negative, I’ll boil it down like this for the sake of articulating my point: I basically became a working mom who doesn’t get a break from her kids. I get the added pressure of more responsibility without the benefit of riding in the car alone, listening to early 2000s hip hop and drinking my coffee while it’s hot. This new role has stirred up some insecurities I didn’t realize were there. As I was processing through those, I remembered this day five years ago when shame had me in a stranglehold and my loving Father broke it’s grip. I remembered how God spoke to me and the implications His sweet intervention has on my here and now. Maybe you’ll find hope and perspective in the vision He gave me and maybe together we can sort through shame and insecurity and find a healthy place to land when life sends us over the edge.

As tears streamed down my face on that day in early 2015, I tried to engage with God. I tried to read my bible but was constantly sidetracked by something the kids needed and the mountain of dirty dishes in my peripheral. I was too tired and too frazzled to string two thoughts together uninterrupted, so my outlet of journal writing didn’t seem like a viable option. If I’m being totally honest, spending time with God just felt like “another thing I had to do” and my to-do list was maxed the frick out. Deflated and in desperate need of something life-giving, I turned on one of my favorite worship music channels on the pandora app. As I listened, I didn’t even have the energy to lift my forehead off the table. Ironically, it was in that position where I heard my now-all-time favorite song for the very first time. Steffany Gretzinger’s haunting voice rang out through my iPhone speaker:

“So rock-a-bye baby
Come and rest
You’ve been tired lately
Lay your head down
Don’t you think, baby
I know best
I’ve been a Father for a long time”

WRECKED. Snot-flowing, shoulder-heaving-sobs, wrecked. (If you haven’t heard the song before, you really need to. It’s called Cecie’s Lullaby and it’s the message every person buried by their daily demands in life needs to internalize.)

As I let the lyrics wash over my parched soul, I got a vision. I saw myself bringing each of our kids into the world. It wasn’t a gory labor vision, it was just like they were manifesting in the earth. As each child was born, a new color burst out of my heart. It was like a ribbon flowing and moving from my heart, attaching to them. Their existence in the earth caused something new to emerge from me— something that matched who they were. It was a promise that as they became, I would evolve. I was their mother, chosen by God. He would use their life to impact me and cause growth in ways I would have never chosen.

I would have never chosen to learn patience through my daughter’s insane tantrums. I would have never chosen to learn unmatched perseverance through waking up 3,487 times a night for seven years straight. I would have never experienced the freedom and self-acceptance acknowledging and communicating my needs has brought me if I wasn’t brought to the end of myself. This was His plan and if I exchanged my shame and the ways I felt I didn’t measure up for His love, He was going to grow me internally in indescribable ways.

He has proven that to be true.

So today, as I face new challenges of growth and I’m tempted to dig my heals in and resist, I’m reminded to release control and let God bring something new and beautiful out of my heart. No matter how fluffy that sounds, it’s not sunshine and rainbows. Birth is gory and painful—there’s no way around that. Growth happens when we embrace the pain our purpose is trying to produce in us. Secondary pain is caused by the ways we try and avoid pain to begin with, but that’s another topic altogether.

For now, let me leave you with a few practical ways I’m pressing into growth rather than resisting the pain that produces it:

Focus on the good
If you’re looking for the bad, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for the good, you’ll find it. I really miss my slower days, less demanding schedule and time to myself. But you know what? I get more time with my kids and as a quality time person, that is important to me. Not only do I get more time with my kids, I have the opportunity to impact other kids. I get to use my time and our assets to help families navigate the changes that have occurred because of this pandemic. I love helping people and I especially love supporting families. I can focus on what I’ve lost in this time, or I can stir up gratitude for the amazing gifts I have been given instead.

Acknowledge hard feelings but don’t be defined by them
One thing I can’t stand about the positivity movement is the fact hard things we face in life aren’t validated. Hard shit is a part of the human experience and denial is an unhealthy way to cope with said shit. Those days as a young mom were both exceedingly amazing and crushingly difficult. Acknowledging that I was exhausted didn’t make me negative. Being exasperated by my toddler’s meltdowns didn’t mean I was ungrateful. It means that I’m human and the sucky stuff and the magical moments have the freedom to coexist in this imperfect planet. Acknowledging the sucky makes it possible to engage in the magical more fully.

Express your needs and meet them consistently
I used to despise the fact that I had needs. Whether we like it or not, having needs is a fundamental part of what it means to be human and we don’t do ourselves or anyone around us any favors with our commitment to self-reliance. Relationships are built through the expressing and meeting of needs. Vulnerability breeds true connection and in order to be vulnerable, we have to admit we have needs. One of my needs is time to myself and given my stage of life, this can be hard to come by. I’m starting to be intentional about getting babysitters, asking my husband to rearrange his schedule to allow for me to get some time alone, and skipping out on the kids’ activities if my mental health is in jeopardy. We have to prioritize our own needs or nobody will.

Pray like you mean it
Have you ever read the Psalms? It’s my favorite book of the bible because David processes through his poetry all of his real, human and erratic emotions. He doesn’t offer up to God a prettily packaged, acceptable and respectable litany. He comes to Him with the REAL stuff—the ugly, the juicy and the super messy. Before he’s cleaned up his act, he pours out his heart. He says of his enemies “Break their teeth in their heads!” and “Split open their pregnant women!” (Legit! Look it up) God is where he brings his rage, his confusion and his despair, and God calls him a man after his own heart. Did you get that? David pours out his heart and in turn is honored as a man after God’s. I’ve been challenged to lean deeply into the Lord as my life feels overwhelming. I can strategize, plan and prepare but nothing will match the peace that comes from an honest prayer sent up from the trenches of a messy life.

Today, I’m not hunched over there table crying because of physical exhaustion and sheer exasperation. My challenges now look a little different, but God’s promise remains: As I partner with Him in His purposes for my life, He has deposited everything I need to evolve accordingly. I can trust Him in His process of bringing growth out of tough times.

Can you relate to anything I’ve shared here? Do you feel like any of these tips would help you break free from shame in an overwhelming time? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below!

3 thoughts on “How to Let Pain Make you Stronger

  1. Such beautiful truths💗 God has been showing me a lot of these same truths over the last several years as I seem to constantly be in a state of “defeat and hopelessness.” LOL, Life has become quite a balancing act for me at times with all of these little ones under foot. As soon as I get a good rhythm and pace in this crazy life of ours, BAM! A new little one is added to our fold. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but as you said- that stage of life with little kids is both excruciating and wonderful❤️ Eli and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this together. You have such a God given talent for writing and articulating what many of us can’t. I could relate on SO many levels! I love you, thanks for sharing your heart!

    Like

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