I am a 31 year old wife and stay at home mother. These past seven years of marriage and motherhood have been Jesus’ greatest refining work in me. Drawing out both strengths and weaknesses I never knew I had; it’s stripped me to the bone and transformed my life. If just for a moment, I could have audience with my younger self, I would cradle the fresh face of youth in my hands and gently say:
Just stop striving for any affirmation apart from the Lord. Claim His peace and humility and devour His Word!
Looking back I can identify how I’ve been striving for most of my life (even if I wouldn’t have used that word at the time). I grew up in a home with alcoholism, divorce, and medical trials. I was a happy child, which I attribute to the Lord’s faithfulness, but racked with fear, self-consciousness, and (with three other siblings) a deep desire to be acknowledged, seen, known, understood, and affirmed! I always took pleasure in Jesus, but it was when I’d lose focus on Him, that I would strive to be satisfied by other things.
For most of college, that was an on and off again relationship. In the back of my mind I knew this was not the person I was going to marry, but the desire to be affirmed and the fear there might not be someone else kept both of us striving to make the other fit in a box they was never intended to fill (which led to dissatisfaction and dysfunction). If I could do it all over again, I would invest all that time, emotion, and energy into my faith, rich community, friendships, hobbies, and general enjoyment of LIFE! It was the Lord’s grace that he gave me the courage and strength to move on from there (even though it was painful at the time) and whispered, “Trust me!”
However, after college and even after I married my wonderful husband, striving continued to voice catastrophe into my pursuit of Jesus and joy; once I became a stay-at-home-mom, the fight became even greater. Everything I had once unknowingly found affirmation in – school, grades, work, a paycheck, encouragement, status, relationships/attention, a pat on the back and a “job well done” – was stripped away.
I was constantly caught between others or self. I was either striving to be the perfect wife and mother (in my own strength) which led to exhaustion, dissatisfaction, and an unmet desire for constant affirmation OR striving after personal fulfillment through self-centered pursuits which led to putting my family on the back burner and then feeling like I couldn’t possibly balance it all. There were seasons of loneliness, self-pity, and discontentment, which often reared their ugly heads in bouts of anger and resentment.
I’ve come to realize, when I feel these ways – unsettled and anxious – I need to search deep in my soul and scripture, test every thought and take it captive, and discern what is taking the priority place of Jesus. Because something always is and he is more than willing to reveal it if I humble myself before him.
This spirit of striving doesn’t give itself away easily, it usually lurks into our hearts under some noble guise turned impure motivation. It is taking something – even if it’s a good thing – and putting in the place of God. No matter how much we try to force them to, no boyfriend, husband, job, child, house, ministry, blog, hobby, or accomplishment will fill the deepest longings in our hearts. In fact when we strive to find identity apart from Jesus, we not only place an undue burden on ourselves or others, but we also cease trusting Him and eclipse the joy He’s promised us.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon mentions striving repeatedly, always categorizing it as a negative pursuit of the world. Like chasing after the wind: completely pointless! It cannot be caught or contained and leaves the chaser worn out and hopeless. However, the Bible mentions striving as a GOOD thing when we’re striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, striving to enter through the narrow gate, striving together in prayer to God, striving to excel in building up the church, striving toward hope, striving to enter God’s rest, striving for holiness and to be at peace with everyone.
Sure, striving can be a good thing. It is good to make great efforts to achieve or obtain something. However, somethings may not be ours to achieve or obtain at a given time and even if we’re making great efforts, if they’re in vain – to fulfill our own desires or manifest our own purpose – we are left with the not so great definition of striving: to struggle or fight vigorously.
We have four children now; three biological and one adopted. Each brought with them joys and challenges, a new balancing act, and a different personality. I’ve now lost a baby to miscarriage and a father to addiction. I’ve struggled with always looking ahead instead of being fully present and embracing whatever season I’m in now. But the reality is we strive because we’ll never be satisfied on earth. And we won’t be satisfied on earth because we were made for Heaven.
If I could talk to my younger self, I’d simply say do not strive for anything apart from Christ. Submit every part of yourself to Jesus over and over again – the passions, desires, dreams, regrets, hurts, joys – and with thanksgiving, wait expectantly for him to fulfill His purpose! Psalm 138 says, He will NOT abandon the work of his hands; therefore, you do not have to fight vigorously to be accomplish great things or to be seen and known…you already are! Instead, rest in the present and be restrained by His perfect peace because you are no longer striving to build your own Kingdom, but rather to multiply His!
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