Throughout the first few weeks of this pandemic, fears were higher but optimism was too.
I felt like I could conquer anything- weeks at home with two under three years old, no preschool or scheduled outings? Sure! The world was in crisis and this was my one way to fulfill my duty as a mother and as a chronic illness sufferer. I could push through, keep them occupied, and try my best to make our days enjoyable. There was a certain level of adrenaline knowing that this was a “new normal” for a time. Our options were limited but I could make the most of it.
We would push through this stint of change and then get back to life as we knew it before the global pandemic.
One day, I looked around and realized that weeks had passed. I had begun to lose track of what day it was.
The day to day routine, which was fresh and new, started to feel like a whole lot of mundane. Walks? Yes, they were nice, and still are. But inevitably one of the kids would get hungry or thirsty or grumpy and we wouldn’t stay out as long as I’d hoped. Mealtimes? Short and rushed. In between times? Typically these consisted of doing whatever I could to “buy” time to get us closer to naptime or bedtime. I love my children more than I can explain, but the circumstances and lack of quiet began to wear on me.
My attitude started to slowly sour. Like a glass of milk left out in the sun, I still looked okay, but inside I was starting to ferment. If you were to get close, you’d recognize that something didn’t smell quite right. (And that’s not only because I hadn’t been washing my hair as often.)
For a chronic people-pleaser who derives energy in quiet and alone-ness, it was a recipe for a meltdown.
I was spinning my wheels, meeting needs, trying to stay above water. I let my fears about my health and the health of our kids keep a comfortable, dark place inside while I claimed to be “just fine.” My version of ‘making it’ was stuffing my feelings further inside. Make another bottle, find another activity to do.
If you were to have been watching me day to day, you would’ve thought, “Wow, she’s really doing well. She talks about her fears every so often, but she’s staying on top of things, doing housework, keeping her kids happy. Good for her.”
My expectations for myself and my day-to-day mothering were rooted in what some ethereal person watching me throughout my day would say.
Turns out, that’s not the best way to do things.
Turns out, that leads to overwhelm, exhaustion, and sourness.
Turns out, I needed a reality check.
For much of my life up to this point, I have lived with the understanding that if I just pulled up my bootstraps and rose to my personal expectations, I could be fulfilled.
I have had periods of time in which I’ve come to terms with the wrong-ness of that notion. I have opened up, allowed my true self to shine through and have been in tune with what it means to live freely in the presence of my God- a God who loves me with no expectations or stipulations.
Within the messiness and cluttered emotions of this pandemic, I allowed myself to revert back to my people-pleasing, “got to look and talk and act like I’ve got it all together, for everyone else’s sake” self. It not only wore on me until I broke, but it kept me from experiencing joy. It put me in a place of dark, heavy weariness that only served to bring me down.
Would you have known about this if you’d seen me? Did even my close friends, my mom or my husband know? Did even I know that I was in this state? Not really. Not until I was gracefully given a glimpse of the mask that I’d been strapping to my face every morning when I woke up- one that I had gotten so used to wearing that I forgot it was even there. This mask didn’t cover up half of my face as a protective measure against illness, no. This mask actually covered my entire face and made me look pretty- unblemished, energetic, smiling. On the outside it looked like all was well.
One afternoon, about a week ago, we were en route to the lake with family; to a place meant for a getaway, solace. I was supposed to be happy. I wasn’t. The invisible mask I’d been wearing was starting to suffocate me, and on a day when I was supposed to be throwing off my cares, I found myself instead drowning in a pool of shame.
My husband was confused, my mom was worried. I froze. I was exhausted, and felt like I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. The only thoughts I heard were about my inability to mother or to “be” while in this beautiful vacation place. I cried, a lot. I had a hard time coming to terms with what was happening, but now I can see it. I was getting a glimpse of my weary, self-sufficient self. That invisible sin, in the form of a mask, the very thing that made me look so good on the outside was keeping me from gaining access to the places that were hurting on the inside.
It was also keeping me from letting others in to see the real emotions, the real pain, the real thoughts about the brokenness of the world and of this time.
It took me about a week to realize what happened that day. It takes time to process life in a pandemic.
Shame is a real thing, and it keeps us from letting others in. It keeps us from taking care of ourselves, and makes us run ourselves ragged until we can’t run anymore.
The good news is that our Heavenly Father knew about shame, and about all of the ways we would try to make it on our own long before we were ever born. He sent Jesus to become shame on our behalf. Every hidden place of brokenness inside of us has already been redeemed by the One who endured every form of scorn and suffering that we can imagine.
The beauty of living life as his child is that we can know that we’ll always fall short when we try to do things on our own. There is freedom in releasing our shortfalls to the One who created us, and to raise our hands in release of our own striving.
Wearing that mask of perfection can only get us so far. At some point, it will keep us from even breathing.
In the early days of this pandemic, I had a personal dilemma about whether or not to stay on my immunosuppressant. Finally, one evening after weeks of wrestling with the decision, I slowed down, retreating to the quietness of my soul in order to ask God what to do, how to move forward. I hoped to see if he could give me any sort of guidance, because at the time, it felt like a life or death decision (as dramatic as that may sound now).
The one thing I heard distinctly was the word “breathe.”
Just breathe. So simple, and yet now has so much more meaning. Breathing is a lot harder to do with a mask on, as many of us know by now.
As I’ve come to find out, I had a lot more at play that was keeping me from breathing. I had doubled up my protective masks to the point that I was already deficient in oxygen flow and I didn’t even realize it.
What are you covering up, seemingly for the sake of those around you? Are you denying some true, deep emotions that need to be released? Are you convincing yourself that you are okay when you’re really not?
No matter the circumstances you may find yourself in today, we are all affected by the sadness and heartache and illness that is going on in the world around us.
Release your mask to the one who made you, who knows you more intimately than anyone ever could. You aren’t fooling anyone; least of all him.
He has already taken all of your shame on his shoulders when he carried the cross to calvary for you. He did it so that you can breathe in of the clean, fresh air of freedom. We don’t have to wait until heaven for that.
We will make it through these difficult times, with the maker of the Universe holding us together with every. single. breathe. we take.