Posted in Faith, Mental health

Work, Trade, and Purpose

In the evenings, my husband and I usually watch TV shows together. We’ve gone through “The Office” a few times; we’ve watched lots of “Star Trek”; we I watched “Anne With an E” (my husband distracted himself with his phone during this one); we’ve watched all of “This is Us”; and recently, we attempted “Grey’s Anatomy” but gave up on it when we got tired of fast-forwarding nearly entire episodes to avoid the sexual content. Anyway, the show we are watching now is “The Chosen.” You may have heard of it – it tells the story of Jesus from the perspective of surrounding characters. It preserves the biblical account, but with lots of artistic imagination about how the events may have interacted and worked themselves out. One thing I love about the show is how it reminds me that the people of the Bible were real people. They joked around; they got into trouble. Jesus camped. (For some reason, that’s something I hadn’t thought of before.) You know all that time He spent travelling, or in the wilderness? Don’t you think He would have set up a tent and made a fire?

In an episode we watched recently, Jesus is on one such “camping” excursion, when He is discovered by a group of children, who (quite expectedly) cannot keep themselves away from this fascinating, funny, kind, and wise man. As they gather around Him, chatting and listening to His words, He gets them to help with His work. He is making things out of wood – spoons, locks, toys, and who knows what – and they help with whatever menial tasks they can do. He explains to them that He has a “trade,” but He also has a job much bigger than His trade. He doesn’t really say what it is, but we now know that He became the sacrifice to pay for all sin. So that God can be reconciled to humans, so that we can be part of His family. That was His over-arching purpose.

Nonetheless, I was perplexed at how happily and busily Jesus and the children worked with their hands, while discussing all sorts of other things. It got me thinking about this idea of a “trade,” one’s “work,” and how it relates to one’s overall “purpose.” It is something that has always been of dear importance to me, since I was a child, and was one of the most troubling things about making the decision to stay home with my kids. What is my trade? What is my purpose? There was a time when I thought the answer to both of those questions was “music therapy.” Now, I usually don’t know what to think.

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Maybe, because it discusses in depth these very same issues. So I went back to re-read it this morning, and the following two verses stopped me:

“My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NIV

In these verses, Solomon says that all of his work – though it felt rewarding for him to do – was meaningless, and nothing was gained by it. I’m sure we have all, at some point, reached the end of a long work day and thought something similar. Perhaps this realization is even more distressing when we’re under the belief that work is the main part of life. Which is what I thought for a long time, until having children taught me the opposite. Because if my kids are not distracting me from the work I think I should be doing, they are creating all kinds of additional work that I didn’t originally want. And yet, they, and all of my time that they use up, are of immense importance. I know it in my bones.

Because although my trade may be homemaking, writing, music therapy, or teaching piano; I also have a job – a mission, if you will – that is much larger. It’s simple, because it’s the same one Jesus had; the same one we’re all supposed to have. Like Jesus, my over-arching purpose is family. My own nuclear family, and the wider family of God. To love them; to serve them; to figure out how to be (and stay) in healthy relationships with them. This must be why Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).

But what of the “trade”? Is it unimportant or bad? If it were, why would Jesus have worked as a carpenter? Why would Paul have made tents?

Is this a good mantra for life?

We need our trade. Work is a basic human need, right up there alongside food, which is why I think Paul cautioned that “[t]he one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV).

In light of all of this, here are the observations that I glean about the nature of our “trade” during our lives here on earth:

  1. My trade is not the main part of my life. Without an over-arching purpose to go along with it, the work of my trade is meaningless.
  2. My trade is still important. It is a gift of God, and a privilege by His grace, to fill my basic human needs. It is also rewarding, in and of itself.
  3. My trade is enough. I doubt that, as Jesus worked as a carpenter, He beat Himself up about why He wasn’t building something larger or more important. I doubt that either He or Paul lamented having to work with their hands when they were actually gifted teachers. “All in good time,” as they say, or, more accurately – “All in God’s time.” We absolutely will fulfill our over-arching purpose in our lifetime, if only our hearts are willing. The results, however, are up to God.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, I am so sorry for getting this whole idea of work wrong. I love that you have given me both a trade, and an over-arching purpose, and I thank you for them both. I ask that you would enable me to be both content with, and dedicated to, the things that you have given me to do. May I not become lazy or negative, in neglect of my trade. And, may I not neglect my true purpose, which is family – both mine and yours – in favor of my trade. Amen.

How do you understand the nature of work, trade, and/or purpose? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Motherhood, Music Therapy, and Mid-Life

Sometimes I think I must sound like a broken record. Whether it’s talking about how tired I am, or fretting about whether I am raising my children right, or – especially lately: What is my calling? What is my passion?

Mothering is one thing. I always knew I would do that. In my mind, it was just what would happen. It did, and has been immensely fulfilling.

But something’s still missing, because career has also, always, been dearly important to me. As a sixteen year old, I purchased a book called “Find Your Fit.” I was determined to make the right choice early on, so that money and time would not be needlessly wasted on an education I didn’t use, and so that I could go to work every day with anticipation (rather than dread).

I followed my 16 year-old passion, but perhaps not common sense. I chose and relentlessly pursued (for a time) a career in music therapy. In many ways, it did fit my personality and abilities. But timing, geography, closed doors, my own limitations, and eventually pregnancies got in the way of finding my “fit” within the tiny, highly competitive world that is music therapy (in my region, anyway).

In all honesty, I must admit that my first pregnancy and the break from my job that it necessitated, came as a relief to me. I hadn’t anticipated, in my naivety, what my day-to-day would look like. Let me sum it up for you in three words: human juke box. That is what I felt like I was. I had trained and studied for over 5 years, expecting to work on multi-disciplinary teams of professionals and accepted as one of them. In reality, my value in the workplace went so far as my singing and guitar-playing prowess (which wasn’t very far at all). I didn’t like the spotlight, or the role of amateur pop-star/entertainer. This wasn’t what I had signed up for.

Recently, I read a quote somewhere that grabbed me:

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

E. E. Cummings

It grabbed me because maybe – just, maybe – have I grown up enough to finally come to terms with who I really am? Not who I admire, or who I want to be, or even who I wish I was. But who I am.

Yet, as a tired mother, am I even able to see past my present predicament, enough to know who I am? All I want these days are slivers of time to rest, be alone, think, and pray. The remainder of my time and energy is absorbed by menial, time-specific tasks too numerous to mention, or poured into my family members as I do my best to make sure they’re ok.

An elder asked me a few months ago: “What’s your passion?” (Could there be a worse question to ask a mother?)

Napping. Maybe that’s my passion. It’s all I can think about, anyhow!

Decluttering my home. Crawling out from under this pile of rubble. Seeing the light of day again. Could that be a passion?

In response to the question I had held back tears and mumbled something about how I used to think my passion was music therapy. But now I didn’t know.

And the ridiculous things we google sometimes. Am I right? Today it was “when being a music therapist doesn’t work out.” Yes, I actually googled it. And came up with nothing, of course. Aside from some annoying article written by someone who still loves what they do. (Yes…I’m bitter. I know.)

But the people like me are out there. I’m sure of it. Maybe they’re not talking, but I’ve noticed the colleagues who have dropped off of the association email lists. The classmates I never heard from again. The university students I used to work with, who vanished into thin air. Not everyone who entered this field is still employed in it. I wonder where they are. What are they doing? Did they find their true calling? Or are they still holding out for what they started with?

Maybe my pain is intensified, because I started out loving my profession so much. Maybe I just didn’t have the right amount of time, or luck, or the skill set, or whatever it was, to get properly established in it before having a family. Now I am pushing middle age, with obligations to my time and energy that I didn’t have before. Who would hire me?

I wonder if I should become a librarian. Just think of it: a quiet building, filled with books. (Books have always been a safe place for me.) Putting them away all day. Bringing order. Smiling at people across the desk, checking out their books. Until they leave me again to my quiet building, my books, and my thoughts.

Am I a librarian at heart? Or am I simply looking for an escape from my inner (and outer) chaos?

And is my career supposed to be about me, anyway? Isn’t it about the people I wanted to help? Honestly, what brings me satisfaction, as I look back at my life thus far, are the smiles in those photos. The smiles of my clients, and a few years later – the smiles of my children. They look happy. In those moments with me, they are happy.

And I guess that is worth something.

Are there other mothers out there, who question everything they used to think they knew about themselves? Or who have come out on the other side?

Are there music therapists who are still happy in their jobs? Or ones who aren’t?

Whoever you are, I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Parenting

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

One of the things I remember from prenatal class was when the teacher said: “You cannot do everything, well.”  I have also heard it said: “Women can do it all.  Just not all at the same time.”

And boy, have I ever found these to be true in my life.

After having my first child, I really tried to cover all the bases on my own steam.  I tried to keep up a successful and current career, keep a clean house, cook all our meals, and spend tons of time with my child.  All by myself.

But I couldn’t.  It tumbled down pretty quick.

I really loved my job.  But, I felt bitter about it when I came home to a dirty disaster of a house, and had to scramble for meals for the family to eat.  I also began to feel disconnected from my child, and worried that if I continued on that path, I would miss out on the precious years of him being little.  Years that I would never be able to get back.

I remember, coming to a crossroads.  The term position I had was ending, but I had been offered another one.  It was the sort of job that I would have never dreamed of having.  It really fed the part of me that craved significance, value, purpose, creativity, and excitement.

But, I was starting to realize that while I worked at a job, there was another full-time job at home and with my kids being left undone.  If I were to continue working outside the home, someone needed to help with all the other stuff.  I sat down at the kitchen table and crunched the numbers.  I knew that I would need to pay for housecleaning, and childcare, if I were to take the job.  However, if I stayed with a smaller 1-day-per-week contract, I would be able to do my own housecleaning, and my son would only need daycare one day per week.

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It may not surprise you, that both options were about equal from a financial standpoint.  So, I chose to stay home and keep a side-hustle that wouldn’t use too much time or energy.  I wanted to spend my days with my kids while they were little, rather than apart, if I had a choice.

The decision of whether to stay home or not is a pretty big deal.  (And let us remember that to even have the option of staying home is a privileged position.)  But since it can be such a difficult decision to make, today I am sharing the things that I considered at the kitchen table that day.  If you are in the same situation right now, I hope the following thoughts will help you.

  • Finances:
    • Can your family afford to live on one income?  Are there things about your life that you will have to change?  Are you all willing to make those changes?  (We eventually ended up selling our house and moving.)
    • What will you need help with if you go to work?  (Housecleaning, childcare, cooking, driving or dropping off children, yard work, etc.)  Who will help you?  Will you have to pay them?  What will this cost?
    • What do you expect to make from your job?  What is left over after paying for the additional expenses you will incur by working?  (Paid housecleaners, childcare, fuel and vehicle expenses, clothing, memberships, other work expenses, etc.)
  • Quality of life:
    • What will your child or children experience while you are away at work?  Will the childcare situation be beneficial and stimulating for them, or stressful and exhausting?
    • How will you keep up relationships with the people that matter?  (Husband, children, other family members, friends, etc.)  Will you have enough time and energy to spend on them?
    • What do you and your family need or want in terms of – household cleanliness, meals, vacations, extra curricular activities, etc.?  How will you best achieve this?
    • What will your own schedule look like, realistically?  Will you thrive on this schedule, or will you be exhausted?
    • Is your job a valuable outlet that you will miss?  (For creativity, socializing/networking, academic stimulation, energy, etc.)  How will you fill this void if you decide to stay home?
  • Professional development:
    • Would having a job right now help you advance professionally?  How?
    • Would staying at home cost you, professionally?  How?  (Loss of: learning, promotion, status, income, etc.)  Would you be able to recover from this loss?  Are you willing to make these sacrifices?
    • Is there a way that you could keep your career going on a part-time basis?  (Reducing your role at work, working from home, starting a small side business, etc.)

While I took all of the above considerations into account, I do remember a pivotal moment when my decision was made, before I even acknowledged it consciously.  After explaining my position to a wiser, older woman whom I trusted (but who was not personally invested in the situation), she did something very bold.  She told me what she thought!  She said:

“Usually, it’s better for the children if the mother stays home.”

And I just couldn’t argue with that.  How could it not be better during those pivotal years, for my kids to have time at home with the one woman who loves them the most in all the world?

I understand that every family is in a different position.  There are families where fathers are able to spread themselves out more between work and kids, and then the wife does the same.  There are families who just can’t afford to live on one income, and if it’s a matter of eating or not eating, they do what they have to do.  There are families with grandparents who are able and willing to watch the kids for a few hours a day.  There are families who thrive on a lot more activity and stimulation than my family and I can manage.

Whatever your situation, there will be benefits and drawbacks.  I’ve seen kids thriving at home, and at daycares.  I’ve also seen the opposite…at home, and at daycares.  If you pay attention to how your kids are doing, make the best choices that you can within the options available to you, and ask for help when you need it: they will thrive.

Is this a decision you have made or are making?  Where’re you at?  How’s it going for you?  Tell me about it in the comments section.

Warm wishes,

Lisa