|Not in the physical trenches, but a shining example of making the best of it in war-time.|
Some New Years are easy to celebrate with gutsy promises of better nutrition, exercise, and relationships, but other New Years . . . not so much. Sometimes we are ending a difficult year, and the year ahead promises that the challenges aren't going to go away soon. Whether it's raising a pack of kids while nursing an infant or caring for a family member with a chronic illness or just having your back up against a wall while trying to recover from financial disaster (or a combination of all three circumstances), reality makes it difficult to pull the wool over one's eyes with glib optimism.
Positivity is good to a degree, but it can also be disastrous if it causes one to ignore what really must be faced. In these difficult seasons, a list on "How to be Fabulous in the New Year" can rub salt into wounds. When sitting on a pile of rubble that was your home, it's difficult to comprehend "fabulous."
"Fabulous? Why yes, I'd love to be fabulous, but right now, I'm in the middle of a war," she said, clinging to her cup of tea.
I have entered New Years before with a list of hopeful resolutions about organization and time management that brought changes for the better; so I'm not knocking practical steps to fabulous. There are seasons for such resolutions.
I have also entered New Years, weary and skeptical, short on time and money, needing more validation that it's okay not to be perfect than maxims on how to be the best person ever. If that's where you are, then I share with you what I've learned over the years:
Resolutions for Those in the Trenches
1. Trust that God loves you. Yes, you! When you're in the trenches, you're vulnerable to all kinds of doubt. You don't know how long the war is going to last, but you know it won't be over soon. It's easy to look at others who left the trenches and think that God loves them more.
Keep your focus on God and remember that He loves you, exactly where you are. You don't have to have a bunch of resolutions to make Him love you better. He couldn't love you more than He does in each moment, good or bad. If there ever was a maxim that was true always, no matter what, it's that God loves you.
2. Trust that God loves others. This is a truth that sets us free from performance. Are we "little Christs," the salt and light of the world? Absolutely! Are we God? Absolutely not! Our finite selves can do all kinds of things that seem impossible, like surviving the trenches, but we cannot be all things to all people. Trusting that God loves others gives freedom to say "no" . . . and to receive a "no" from others.
People in the trenches are often in situations that require self-sacrifice. They know that life is full of necessities that are hard to do. But we also know that we have limits; we need boundaries. Boundaries are easier if you know that God loves everyone.
The people you find difficult to love, He absolutely adores, as much as He adores you. He is the one who will fulfill their needs, and He may or may not use you to help. In the fullness of His love for you and others, He may want you to say "no" to someone or something, even if others don't understand. Conversely, He may have others say "no" to you.
A part of abandoning ourselves to God's will is accepting the no's and yes's in our lives without casting judgments on God or others. This is most easily done when we trust God's love for all.
3. Trust God, not the journey. Although I kind of like the "trust the journey" memes on social media, it can lead to folly if not taken with a grain of salt. Stopping for a bit on our journey and making sure we're on the right path is vital for our well-being.
Change may not always be necessary, but taking stock is. We need to risk taking peeks over the trenches and assess if we should stay. Sometimes we can see that the battle stopped. If that's the case, we absolutely should step out, breathe the fresh air, and figure out next steps. Other times, we will see that the battle is still raging, but we need to consider different tactics. It is also possible that we'll see we're doing exactly what we're supposed to be doing and shouldn't change a thing.
4. Don't do it alone. Let's face it, people are difficult, and sometimes being lonely seems easier than messing around with humanity and all the opinions that come with it. But don't isolate yourself.
Friends are not mind readers, and this means you will have to reach out and risk being vulnerable. Some friends will get it, but others will not. Forgive the friends who are dunderheads.
I have found that it's not only necessary to stay connected to friends, but it's also necessary to stay connected to community. There are times that being in the trenches meant I had drop everything and focus, but that intense focus didn't last long. Eventually, for my own sanity, I had to go back to some volunteering. There were people who criticized me for this, but other people (usually other survivors of the trenches) who encouraged me to keep reaching out.
Although being too busy can be a hindrance, not being busy enough can lead to being closed-off and self-focused, which will lead to depression.
5. Take time to lament. This is Biblical. This is not wallowing. This is freely going to God in honesty and saying, "This sucks."
Yes, God is all-knowing, but God still wants to hear you express your heart. I admit there is a mystery in our conversations with God; I have no doubt that prayer is a mystery. You must go to Him and tell Him about your sadness, frustrations, and anger. He is your best friend, ever and forever.
If you don't take time to be real with God in the trenches, to pour out your heart about how broken it is, then your heart will harden. Hard hearts in the trenches might survive the war, but they will take longer to recover.
Lament to Him, and then let your laments turn to faith-filled praise. If you don't know how to start, go to the Psalms.
6. Be grateful. I don't mean this to be trite. Some days are so bad, one can't see anything good. If you can't find things to be grateful for, pray for eyes to see your blessings.
When times are heavy and dark, I usually find it most necessary to go outside, no matter the weather, and look around at nature. Taking time to marvel at creation is a tried and true way of lifting our minds from our problems and seeing the good.
You were created for a purpose; God loves you; not a tear is wasted. It's hard to believe all this in the trenches, but thankfulness begets hope.
7. Laugh. Make a resolution to laugh! See the irony in your day and chuckle. Take a step back and see how funny it is that laundry and dishes are signs of a good life. Find a book with funny quotes that you can easily pick up and put down for a chuckle. Watch a silly movie.
Be sure to laugh at the negative voices in your head that tell you the war will never end or that God has abandoned you. The Father of Lies can't stand being laughed at; so laugh all the more.
If you absolutely can't laugh, do whatever necessary to get yourself some sleep or time away or both. If you still can't laugh, you are in serious trouble; reach out for help.
8. Remember perfect is the enemy of good. Nothing kills the human spirit faster than perfectionism. Nothing. Forget perfect; aim for good. A little good is better than giving up because you couldn't be perfect.
One day I will write a thesis that perfectionism is a fruit of unhealthy fear. Nothing good comes from fear. Perfect love, which only comes from God, casts out fear. Be courageous; embrace love; do good.
What NOT to do in the trenches:
1. Obsess about diet. Trying to eat only healthy foods is actually becoming an eating disorder. Google it, and you can find the study they did on it a few years ago. It's true that a healthy diet will help with depression and coping, but if you obsess over it, you will hamstring yourself.
Mothers are great at shaming other mothers for their choices in food, and you don't need that kind of negativity. I've found that most mothers who do that kind of shaming have never really been in the trenches themselves. They're usually control freaks who are so uptight, it's a miracle they can walk. Pray for them; they need help.
Just do your best and leave the rest to God. Seriously. People keep trying to go back to a time when diets and families were perfect. Over and over again, historians will tell you that time NEVER existed. Cocoa puffs are a lot better and more fun than starvation.
Sometimes in the trenches, one finds a diet that does help a lot! If that is you, then stick to your guns, no matter the criticisms from other mothers who found better diets or who hate diets . . . Again, just do your best, do what works, and don't worry about it.
2. Obsess about exercise. Exercise will make you feel better; it's true. Being a perfectionist about exercise, or beating yourself up about lack of exercise, will make you feel worse.
I am a fan of running. There are times, however, I could not run even though I wanted to. At those times, I would do jumping jacks and other exercises in spurts throughout the day. Dancing in the kitchen with the kids is a great way to laugh and be grateful and get exercise! Some seasons have had weeks go by when my only exercises were rocking fussy babies and going up and down stairs with pukey sheets and towels.
Seasons come and go. Take advantage of seasons when you can throw yourself into an exercise routine, and don't despair when you have seasons of bench pressing laundry.
3. Obsess about sleep. Yes. You need sleep. We all do. Sometimes, though, we face crises and the best we can get is broken sleep. You will look better and think better with sleep, but when you can't get a solid 6-8 hours of sleep at night because you have a nursing infant, sick kids, or some other trial demanding your energy, the worst thing you can do is obsess about your lack of sleep.
During these times, definitely aim for good rather than perfection: cat naps do wonders; caffeine is a gift; cucumbers on eyes reduce puffiness.
4. Obsess about Me-Time or anything else. For me, different seasons in the trenches meant different definitions of "me-time." It is necessary to care for yourself, but in some seasons a simple 15-minute shower seems like a glorious gift, while in others it feels like bare minimum. So take care of yourself, but again, avoid being a perfectionist about it.
BONUS from the Saints: The Sacraments are key.
No other branch of Christianity has suffering down like the Catholics. Since becoming Catholic, it has become clearer how beautiful the Church is, especially in times of suffering.
Based on my writing about the saints for the last three years, I can tell you that the saints would all agree that key to doing well in trenches is embracing the Sacraments, especially Confession and Holy Communion.
There is a practical side to the sacraments, which enriches your relationship with God and people, but there is also a mysterious transcendent side — real grace.
If you're wondering if it's worth the effort to go to confession, even if you have no mortal sins, I can tell you it is worth every inconvenience you have to overcome to get there. If you're wondering if daily Mass is worth the extra time out of your day, I can tell you that it will change your day for the better like nothing else. And the saints would back me up.
God never leaves your side! But the saints would say to take every advantage of the sacraments that you can. It is a worthy resolution, and one that will be more rewarded than all the others.
You, beloved, will get out of the trenches. One New Year's Eve, you will grasp in your fist a tidy list for exercise, diet, and time management goals. You may notice someone at the party, though, standing in a corner looking bewildered and tired, feeling a bit guilty that her resolution is only to survive. Because you did survive, you can give her a genuine hug and tell her that her resolution is enough, that surviving is a noble feat, and one day she will get out of the trenches, too.
©2019 Emily Woodham