Tara Marsh and Family
Tara Marsh is a homeschool mother to four lively children (aged 11, 10, 8 and 5). She lives in Sydney, Australia where beautiful “thinking spots “ are plentiful. Her lovely daughter Anna and my Caroline are penpals who enjoy music together and giggling over Skype. Tara blogs occasionally at Beside Still Waters.
I often have epiphanies in the car. I suspect it is partly because I seem to spend so much time there these days, but I think it is mainly because I find that traffic encounters are rich in metaphors of real life. I seriously think I could write a whole book about the life lessons I’ve learnt from behind the wheel in a big, busy city.
I had one such revelation in the car recently at the end of a particularly busy day filled with errands and activities. As I hopped in the car for the sixth time, I subconsciously slipped into auto-pilot and followed my most frequent route, which in this instance was the wrong direction. I was totally oblivious for a full five minutes, until a small voice from the back seat interrupted my trance..…”Mum, where are you going?” I was so startled, that I didn’t even know where I was, or where I was meant to be going in the first place.
As I reflected on this mishap later that day, it struck me just how similar it was to my life at times. When I get busy and tired and don’t give myself any space to think, I forget who I am and where I am going. I slip into auto-pilot and go through all the right motions, but lose my sense of self, as well as my sense of purpose and direction as a mother. This in turn robs me of my passion and joy, and my role becomes a life-sapping burden instead of a blessed privilege.
I think mothers, in general, have a complicated relationship with their sense of self. Before we have children, we know very little of sharing that space with another person. We give a part of ourselves to our husbands when we marry, but I’m not sure that anything can truly prepare a woman for the degree of self-sacrifice she will willingly make to bring life to her own child. We have dreams of raising a happy, godly family, who will love each other and God, and impact the world for His Glory, so we give, give, give of ourselves.
Yet, as time goes on and our toddlers and pre-schoolers continue to demand much of our time, energy and head-space, it is very easy to forget why we wanted this motherhood gig in the first place. We can neglect our own selves and become so intertwined with our children that we find it difficult to distinguish where they end and where we begin. That can then become such a habit, that when they do begin to be more independent, we are not sure who we are anymore. I am amazed at the number of women I have spoken to who feel this way. I’ve even been there myself at various times, and it is not a very healthy place to be.
God created each of us with dreams and thoughts and passions. They are the essence of who we are, and I think He delights in them, just as we do when our own children start dreaming and becoming passionate about something. Yet, if I neglect myself by spending every waking minute on others, I miss out on the potential of my God-given dreams and thoughts to inspire, encourage and sustain me on my journey of life. In forgetting who I am, my capacity to give to others is greatly reduced.
Tara and Anna at tea
I think there are two barriers to creating much-needed space. The first is purely mental: battling with the idea that it is somehow selfish or indulgent. There is always going to be something that seems more important to do with your time than spend it on yourself. To compound matters, if you are like me, you have read way too many books and blogs that tell you that it is selfish to seek ‘me time’. You will have read that it is an unbiblical pursuit, and that part of living a sacrificial life is putting the needs of others above yourself. We are called to live sacrificial lives, but at the same time, I have come to realise that if I am an empty vessel, then I have nothing to pour into others. Yet, if I prioritise time alone to recharge and “fill my tank,” then I not only have more to offer, but I am also more pleasant to be around (even to myself!). Besides, if Jesus often needed to withdraw from people to pray and recharge, then who am I to think I can get by without it?
The second barrier is purely practical. A mother has to go to great lengths to carve out the time and space to think and dream. If you have young children, or you are a home-schooling family, your children are with you almost every minute of the day. And let’s face it, as dearly loved as they are, they sure can drain your mental and emotional tank fairly quickly. They are also not going to recognise your need for space as acutely as you do.
I find there are small ways I can grab moments to think during the day. Reading/rest hour in the afternoon is compulsory in our home, and an early-morning quiet time, or a few stolen hours at night (when I really should be sleeping) will also refresh me. In fact, I know I am in desperate need of some time to myself when I start thinking up excuses to not go to bed, simply so I can spend a few quiet hours where no-one needs me, and the noise of life subsides enough to hear myself think. However, although moments alone here and there are beneficial, it does not meet my need for uninterrupted and unhurried time-out. It is like a sip of water to a thirsty traveller lost in the desert: more of a tease than a release. If I have been wandering around for too long on auto-pilot, then I need a long, deep drink from the waters of solitude.
Thankfully, my husband has caught on to the fact that sending me out for half a day every now and again will reap great rewards in the form of a happy and patient wife. At times, I have even paid a sitter or traded with a friend to snatch some time to myself. Yes, it is difficult, and yes, it usually requires some kind of sacrifice, but it is so worth it. Short of a weekend away in the countryside, the ideal for me is a few hours away from the house, somewhere quiet and beautiful. Anywhere with trees (and no people) will do it for me. And if you add a strong cup of English tea to that equation, I return feeling like I can just about handle anything! Best of all, I become reacquainted with myself enough to remember that I love being a mother and can think of nothing on this earth I would rather do!
So…now it’s your turn! I am really interested to know how you find the time to recharge and think. Do you recharge alone, or do you need other people around you to be energised?