A couple weeks ago I had hit a wall in my life. I’d just finished some large projects for work, my dreaded 40th birthday was about to hit, and subtle signs of burnout were beginning to set in. I felt all sorts of upside down and inside out and realized I just wasn’t enjoying life very much at the moment!
I’ve learned the hard way from past experiences that the rumbling, restless feeling inside me is a signal that I need to take a break and refocus. So I decided to hit pause for a week to retreat and dig a little deeper into why I was feeling so tied in knots lately.
During my week off, I spent a lot of moments in stillness and silence. I hid my phone, avoided email and turned off social media notifications. And without all those little distractions, I didn’t know what to do with myself sometimes (a sure sign I’d become far too attached to them!) Forced to sit alone with myself and my heart was like staring into the mirror for a long time, allowing myself to study details of my soul that I might have only glanced at, or tried to ignore, in the past.
One morning I decided to grab my Bible and journal and head to a local park, so even my own home with its chores and responsibilities wouldn’t be a distraction to me. While sitting at a picnic table at the edge of a meandering creek I felt God speak a question to my heart: “Are you enjoying your work?”
“No, I don’t think I am right now.” I sighed to myself.
“Whether you choose to continue with it or not doesn’t matter,” I felt Him whisper to my heart, “I gave it to you as a gift.”
As I listened to His still small voice and wrote down all the feelings spilling out of me, I realized how I’d been missing His gifts entirely. Not just in my work, but in my home, in the season of my life… In the places where all I could see were limits, there were countless gifts hidden for me to enjoy. Yet my fixation on my future, my “next steps”, my goals, my dreams left me completely missing the treasures I already held in my hands.
My life had become all about the “shoulds” which I believed would affirm that I was moving forward in life.
I should exercise more.
I should have children by now if I’m going to have any at all.
I should be making more money.
I should be saving more money.
I should do a better job at cultivating new relationships.
I should love my husband better.
I should not be stuck in a little townhouse for how hard I’ve worked.
I should have found my place by now.
In all the shoulds there were two things glaring back at me. Comparison and duty.
Comparison told me I was not on the right track as I measured myself against strangers on the internet. And Duty told me I needed to strive, earn, perform and do, do, do, or things would not turn out well. Things were not turning out well. I was unhappy. Unhappy and tired.
And that’s when God reminded me of all the gifts where I previously saw shoulds.
I get to come to this park and exercise in a beautiful place.
I get to bless and positively influence my seven nieces and nephews.
I get to receive from God’s hand His provision for everything I need.
I get to trust that God will always show up and take care of me.
I get to explore new relationships and enjoy the ones I already have.
I get to be married to an awesome man who is just perfect for me.
I get to have a place to call my own that my husband and I have made into our home.
I get to experience a season where I have space to breathe, reevaluate, rest, and refocus.
How many gifts had I left unopened? For many I never even bothered to take the paper wrappings off to see what the gifts were, let alone to enjoy them.
When I recognize all of life as a gift, and that God is a generous Giver rather than a grumpy taskmaster demanding duty, only then can I appreciate what I have received in abundance, and delight flows out of that spirit of gratitude.
Certainly there are things I need to do… like paying taxes. But for the shoulds, what if I was motivated by delight instead of duty? What if I saw the gift of each thing and let my joy in that blessing propel me forward? And if something really is feeling like the heaviness of duty instead of the richness of delight, why is that? I’m finding it’s worth leaning into that question and making room for quiet so I can answer it honestly. Maybe those duties are things I can let go of. And if not, I’m challenged to discover the gifts in them.
My 40th birthday has since come and gone. I’m glad to say that the milestone I had once dreaded, I am learning to see as a gift and a unique opportunity for leaving a legacy. As I live, work and give, I am slowly embracing this new season. And through gratitude, I am learning to exchange my heart’s motivation from one of duty to one of delight.