The first month of 2016 is nearly complete. The older I get, the faster time seems to pass. It doesn’t seem like a whole year has passed since I was feeling the stress of a move and anticipating the birth of our first grandchild and the wedding of our younger son. I also could not have known that I would begin a new year without our beloved beagle, nor could I have predicted the joy of having all four of our kids and their families living within an hour’s drive. We all enter a new year together, and we all have one thing in common: none of us know what the twelve months ahead will bring. When I was a kid, I remember our pastor, on the first Sunday of the new year, looking at the congregation and saying, “Some people sitting in this room right now will die this year. It would be nice if we could know which ones.” Last week, a friend of mine lost her father. While his health was not perfect, his death still came as a shock. If you had asked her on January 1st, she would not have said her dad would be home with Jesus by January 30th.
Having two chronic illnesses, I live everyday with an additional element of unpredictability. I can usually tell upon awakening if my day is going to be good or bad, but sometimes a good day will take a downward turn or vice versa. I have learned to hold plans loosely. Some days my mind is willing, but my body is weak. Other days, my body is willing, but my mind refuses to cooperate. It may surprise you to read that it is the latter of the two that frustrates me SO much. I would much rather suffer physically than emotionally, for a physical ailment is understood by most people. When I needed to use a cane to walk, no one expected me to physically be able to do all I once did. An emotional illness, though, is often viewed as a weakness. Some think it is something I should be able to pray away–choose joy, stop overthinking, give it to God–I have heard all of these more times than I care to count. If it were really that easy then struggles such as depression and anxiety would not plague followers of Jesus. The reality is, though, that they do plague Christians just like they plague those who do not claim to be Christians. The Bible even tells of people who suffered from depression–Elijah, Jeremiah, and Job to name a few. The first month of the new year has found me struggling immensely with exactly that.
As I entered a new year, like so many others I had hopes and expectations of what could and hopefully would happen. Now, please don’t misunderstand–I am not writing off 2016 as a horrible year. We are only one month in; however, in this month I have found myself struggling with some very difficult emotional issues. Much of my struggle stems from the idea that I really have no reason to be here anymore. On any given morning, if I did not get out of bed, it really wouldn’t impact anyone. For years I dedicated every waking (and sometimes what should have been sleeping) hour to my family. With four kids, all very close in age and all involved in sports, just the laundry alone was overwhelming. Throw in cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, homeschooling, animal care, and the host of other responsibilities that come with being a full time mom, and you may be able to imagine that I was beyond busy. Then, one day, before I even realized it was happening, my busyness started to slow down. One kid went away to college and the laundry load decreased a little. Then another went to college and cooking dinner became a meal for four instead of six. Then, one moved out. Then one got married. Then another moved out. Then another got married. One day, I realized that my days are now pretty much mine to do with whatever I wanted. Oh, I still have some responsibilities. My husband still needs laundry done and shirts ironed and food made, but, in all honesty, those things take very little time when being done for one instead of six. I always thought I would love when this day came. But, guess what…
I used to feel needed, an integral part of the game. Now, I mostly sit on the sidelines wondering why I am even still on the team. Oh, there are moments of feeling needed, but most of the time, I just feel lonely. And loneliness feeds depression. And depression feeds loneliness. And it is a cycle so vicious that sometimes I wish I didn’t have to deal with it anymore. (Don’t read more into that than I am intending, please.) My husband has his job. He works with people who all understand what he does. (Many of those people are women who have chosen to be moms and wives and still have a successful career. I sometimes wonder if he resents that I did not choose that.) He is very good at what he does, and the people he works with love him for it. He gets accolades and job offers from other companies on a regular basis. His life did not change very much when suddenly the nest was empty. (I know it didn’t happen suddenly, but it sure felt like it did to me) I have spent hours thinking about what should come next for me. I could get a job, but with few professional skills, that would most likely mean working a retail job. Since working with people is not my gift, that’s not going to happen. Besides, if I did that, it would most certainly involve weekend work, and I already don’t see my husband much with his work schedule. I don’t want to be gone on the weekends when he is always home. I’ve thought about volunteering somewhere. The unpredictability of chronic illness pretty much negates that possibility. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone to say I am going to be somewhere on such and such a day and then not be able to follow through on my commitment. The last two weeks, especially, have been emotionally draining for me. I have fought mental battles that have left me weak and wondering why I bothered to get out of bed. As the day ends, I often say to myself, “There has to be more to life than what I am living. There has to be a purpose for my being here.”
That has been my prayer the past week. I do not believe in coincidences. I believe God ordains every day, every hour, every minute, according to His plan. I know my being alive is not a waste, for God wastes nothing. Yet, I find myself getting increasingly frustrated as I pray and cry to Him, asking Him to please show me what is next for me and only hearing silence in return. My word for the year is intentional; I need something to be intentional about. I spent over twenty years serving my family. I completed the job. Now what? They are all doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing–exactly what I hoped for them. But I worked myself out of a job. In fact, I have come to think I worked myself out of a purpose.
And that’s an emotional battle that is getting harder and harder to fight.