One thing matters above all else. You need to know what it is.
How can I stay true to myself while going through seasons of life doing things I never wanted, like parenting a difficult child? -M
When seasons of struggle or even difficult decades come- and they do come– the very first thing I do is pair down.
Let’s talk for a moment about the tv show “Tiny House Nation.” It’s one of my favorites. The hosts, John and Zach, help people transition from typical american housing into to “living tiny.” People choose to go tiny for simplicity, mobility, and most often times financial freedom. Zach engineers and builds amazing 300 square foot houses for families, while John helps them “pair down.”
Pairing down involves not only getting rid of belongings, but prioritizing what activities and spaces are important to family life. Some need the kitchen to take center stage, some the living room and television, others need a place for their pets, still others need a home office. The family must choose what they will allot limited space to.
It can’t all be important in a tiny house.
Just like it can’t all be important during a difficult season. But first let’s talk about less difficult seasons- maybe even delightful ones. Because they have their own kind of space as well.
During flourishing seasons of life, we tend to “add.”
When things are going well, the universe feels expansive and generous. We add pets and family members. We add activities and adventures to our agendas. We are open to new relationships. We take on new commitments. We get involved in new hobbies.
Life feels full but manageable. The world is our oyster. Hope abounds. The sky is the limit. All that stuff.
But then something happens.
We miscarry. Someone gets sick. We lose a job. We struggle with infertility. An marriage falls apart. A child is born with complications. We learn what postpartum is. Financial hardship strikes. A custody battle ensues. A loved one dies.
We wake up one day and realize, “This season is going to take a while. There is no quick fix.”
And we pray for strength. We hope for change. We ask for answers. We wait. And while we wait, life demands that we go on living it. Like it or not.
But suddenly we aren’t sure if we can make it.
We feel overwhelmed. We feel lost and afraid and unsure we have what it takes to walk through this valley. The load is heavy. The demands tower tall overhead. We feel paralyzed by the vast responsibilities.
This is not just a feeling. This is reality.
In the flourishing season, we took on a lot of extra weight. We could handle it then. But now? Now it feels like it will bury us alive.
What do we do?
1. During a difficult season, we need to give ourselves permission to feel what we feel.
We accept the situation for what it is. For a moment, we need to stop expecting it to be different.
Not deny it.
Not excuse it.
Not believe it should be some other way.
Not tell ourselves, “Other’s have it worse. I shouldn’t feel bad about my life.”
Rather we need to stand (or sit or lay) still and own our reality. Getting honest is the first step in being true to ourselves.
2. During a difficult season, we choose to lose what is less important to us.
During our flourishing, expansive time, we lived broad and wide. Closer to the surface of life. This difficult season will call us to deeper, narrower living. Closer to our existential core.
Because the journey is more arduous than before, we will need to pair down.
Life will be more demanding as we transition through this difficult season. We will have less time and energy, so we must choose which priorities we will assign space to.
We can go ahead and choose to lose the less important things up front rather than letting them eventually slip through cracks and make us feel guilty when they do.
3. During a difficult season, we decide- What is our #1 goal.
We don’t have room for ten goals. Or even five.
Multiple goals during a difficult season will give our negative inner voices to much ammo. When we fail to meet all those points, our inner critics will mow us down with shame and condemnation. This will not make a difficult season easier.
So we choose our #1 goal.
We do this by determining what result we want on the other side of this season.
What is the one thing that matters above all else?
(Hint: a healthy 1 goal will likely involve a relationship of some kind. It may be with- your child, your spouse, your family unit as you define it, yourself, or God.)
Once we determine what the #1 goal is- we hunker down and solely focus on it. Like Superman using his laser vision to carve steel. (Because in a way, we are carving steel, too.)
How can I stay true to myself while going through seasons of life doing things I never wanted, like parenting a difficult child?
Don’t try to do everything you did before. It’s too much.
Stay true to yourself by pairing down. By only taking with you what’s paramount, so you can devote your time, energy, love and attention to the manifestation of that one thing.
I have walked through my share of difficult seasons both ways. And I can tell you- pairing down is the most purposeful and productive way to stay true to yourself. To survive and even thrive during and beyond a difficult season.