There is no shortage of blogs on parenting and I don’t expect this to be one of the more enlightening ones that you have ever read, but I just can’t help bringing this up because it is something that I am and have been struggling with since my first child was born.
Many times when I am having a rough day… looking a mess, feeling a mess and just generally living a messy life…some well-meaning stranger has attempted to encourage me with “Enjoy every moment!” or some similar chastisement. Now I know that this is meant to pick me up off of the floor where I am bending down to clean up the 15th spill of the day, but can I just be completely honest for a second? Just being honest… This doesn’t encourage me…rather it makes me feel pressured and it makes me feel guilty. It makes me feel guilty because I have TRIED to enjoy every moment. I have spent my parenting life thinking up ways that I could make myself enjoy every moment. I have felt the pressure of all of the saints who have gone before me in raising children. Especially the ones that can only remember how those were “the best days of my life” and “I wish my son/daughter was back at that age because they were so cute/sweet/perfect etc…etc…etc”.
And I get it…
I get it that I will miss the different stages in my kid’s lives. I already do. Sometimes I look up at my teenage son (because yes, we have hit that stage where he is taller than me) and miss with all my being his cute little baby fingers and toes. But I am convinced that we have selective memory when it comes to the past. The Israelites, while they were wandering in the wilderness remembered Egypt (remember the place where they were making bricks by hand) as a land flowing with milk and honey (remember the land where they were actually going that God had promised them). We often remember things as being much different than they actually were in the moment. When asked about my favorite ever vacation, I would tell you about the time David and I went to Colorado. We fought the entire trip. So bad, in fact, that I distinctly remember not talking to him for almost a whole day while we were there. But we both more readily remember the beautiful scenery, the fact that we were without children, and the spa treatments that we splurged on. So when people say that they miss the years when their children were young and they wish they could go back, I think they conveniently forget the diaper changes and the long nights and the temper tantrums and the mountains of homework and the never ending messes, etc. etc. They only remember the hugs and the kisses and the cute little phrases and the fun, family times together. They simply do not remember all the moments that they did not enjoy. This contributes to their impossible encouragement that every mother should enjoy every moment of parenting.
So let’s just get it straight and then we all can breathe a sigh of relief. The definition of enjoy is to take pleasure in something or to benefit from circumstances. It is IMPOSSIBLE for you to enjoy every moment of your life or even every moment of parenting. It is a myth and it is something that distracts us when we strive for it. If you think about it, it is really a selfish expectation that every moment should be pleasurable for us and it leads to all kinds of wrong decision making. Even Jesus, Himself had moments, as a man, that He certainly did not enjoy. His whole mission in life was to get nailed to a cross as the worst sinner who ever lived (He, Himself, BORE the sins of the world…God looked at Him as if He had committed the acts Himself and therefore had to turn His back). This is not exactly a life that would scream “Enjoy every moment, Jesus!”
I’m just gonna come out and say it… Some moments in life REALLY, REALLY STINK…others are REALLY, REALLY HARD! And though we can have a soul joy and peace that Jesus has overcome those moments and will bring us through these moments, it doesn’t make the moment feel more enjoyable. When I am in the throes of dealing with temper tantrums or a child that is lying or a child that won’t obey or laundry that never goes away or a husband who thinks because I stay at home I am spending the family finances away on bon bons (he doesn’t, by the way…at least not since the number of children has been upped to 5), it is ridiculous for me to also have to beat myself over the head because I am not enjoying these things. Furthermore, if I thought the purpose of my life was to enjoy every moment (or even MOST moments for that matter), I am fairly convinced that I would not have the life that I have today. No, I would not trade my life for anyone else’s, but that is specifically because the moments that I have NOT enjoyed the most have pulled me closest to the One who gives beauty for ashes. True joy is found when we give up the expectation that we should enjoy our lives all the time. *BIG GASP* Did she just say we shouldn’t enjoy our lives? Read it again… We should not EXPECT to enjoy our lives ALL THE TIME and taking this point a bit further, we can get ourselves into MUCH trouble if we are constantly pursuing enjoyment. We should absolutely enjoy to the fullest any moment of happiness, pleasure, escape, or comfort that our Father blesses us with, but we should not be spending our lives seeking more of these things. If we do, we miss some absolutely HARD things that lead us right into the purpose God has for our lives.
Trying to enjoy every moment has ruined quite a few moments for me. Because I always have an expectation that “I should be enjoying this more”, I have often not enjoyed anything. Even celebrations can be ruined because of this expectation. Until we learn to accept from God’s Hand what He gives, whether it is enjoyable or whether it is the most difficult thing we have ever done, knowing that in the end He knows what direction and purpose our lives should take, we will never experience true joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always” is not a command to feel happy all the time. It is rather an encouragement that because He has conquered the world, no moment in life will ever conquer us.
So I say… quit thinking about enjoyment and instead focus on commitment and obedience to Jesus. The world would be a much better place if we would instead say to Moms and Dads who are struggling… “Stay the course, Momma or Daddy. Stay committed to your work. Be not weary in doing good…for in due season, you are gonna reap if you don’t give up!” And when the moments are full of drudgery and suffering and telling that child “no” for the 57th time of the day, we give others permission to experience frustration…to, for a moment, wish that they lived the life of perfect enjoyment of every moment that exists ONLY in our heads…and then we helped pick them up from ridding the floor of stickiness and encourage them to give thanks in everything and to keep moving forward.
Because I am here to encourage you, Momma, that you are not the only one unable to enjoy the poop explosion all over the bed. Feel free to vent your feelings to someone who will understand and who will realize that enjoying every cotton picking stinking moment is not the point. Rather be encouraged that if you are not giving up, you are winning the battle and someday soon, you will see the reward for your labor. Find grace in the moments you don’t enjoy…because I can promise you it is there.
And if you are reading this and you enjoy every moment of your life, feel free to enlighten this girl.
PS. This is not a condemnation on anyone who has ever responded to a parent’s complaint with “Enjoy every moment!” Rather it is an enlightenment on how that simple phrase may not be the best advice for a struggling parent :).