Motherhood, Marriage, and Ministry: Can a Woman Do It All?
- Lysa TerKeurst Author, <i>The Bathtub is Overflowing but I Feel Drained</i>
- 2007 1 Jan
What is home? A roof to keep out the rain. Four walls to keep out the wind. Floors to keep out the cold. Yes, but home is more than that.
It is the laugh of a baby, the song of a mother, the strength of a father. Warmth of living hearts, light from happy eyes, kindness, loyalty, comradeship. Home is first school and first church for young ones, where they learn what is right, what is good, and what is kind. Where they go for comfort when they are hurt or sick. Where joy is shared and sorrow eased. Where fathers and mothers are respected and loved. Where children are wanted. Where the simplest food is good enough for kings because it is earned. Where money is not as important as lovingkindness. Where even the tea kettle sings from happiness. That is home. God bless it. ~Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink
When people find out I have five kids, write books, and run a ministry, their first question is always how in the world do I do all that? First of all, let me assure you there are always plenty of things I don't get finished. There are always more items on my to-do list than I ever get done. On top of that, I always underestimate the amount of time it will take to get something accomplished. But I do like having a plan to get things done, I am a good delegator, and I've made peace with the balance between my calling and my responsibilities. That's how I do what I do.
Have a Plan
The first part of a plan is to decide what to say yes to and what to say no to. It is not realistic for me to say yes to everything, so I've learned the great art of saying no. For example, I can only go to my office one day a week. While the ideal thing might be to go to the office five days a week, this is not my season for the office to take the ideal place in my life. Some days my kids are my ideal. Some days a hurting friend is my ideal. Some days my husband is my ideal. Wherever my energies need to be placed, saying no to some things gives me the ability to get intentional with the things I need to say yes to.
Once you get your "no" items out of the way, the next step is to properly schedule the things you've said yes to. We have a rule in our home that each kid can pick one outside activity to participate in. With five kids, this still equals a lot of scheduling, driving, and watching, but this is what we've decided is realistic and fair for our family. I've found it helpful to have a scheduling session with my husband once a quarter to plan out our master family calendar. Then, once each week, Art and I sit down and go over who is responsible for each of the balls being juggled that week.
Communicating ahead of time helps us avoid the pitfalls of anger, frustration, and last-minute debates as to who is running what carpool. We each have a plan. In addition to scheduled activities, the kids also put in their requests for get-togethers with friends and other social events. They know if they don't get their request in before the planning meeting, Mom and Dad have no obligation to make it happen. We not only schedule the kids' activities, but we also plan out time for us to connect. If there is time for a date night, then we write it in on the schedule. If it's a particularly busy week, we might just schedule time for coffee or a movie night at home together.
Finally, we fill in our individual appointments and obligations. This is where I leave space for ministry work, doctor's appointments, orthodontist appointments, and volunteer obligations. It's much easier to know when to schedule these if you have clearly defined white space in your calendar. If there is a special project I need to accomplish, I break it down into bite-sized pieces and assign myself parts of the task each day. Some examples of special projects are a closet that needs to be organized, files that need to be updated, photographs that need to be developed and put in albums, or an area of the house that needs to be dejunked with the excess going to charity. Once all of this is in place, I feel the freedom to plan time for me in my schedule. If I want to have coffee with a friend or go on a girl's night out, I can easily see when it is realistic to make this happen.
Getting my schedule out of my brain and onto a calendar drastically reduces my stress and alleviates the feeling that my schedule is running me rather than the other way around.
Become a Good Delegator
If you cannot get everything done that is required of you, then you have to take an honest assessment with a solution in mind. My solution is to ask for help. I divide my tasks into three categories:
• Only I can do this.
• Someone else can do it under my guidance.
• I can hand this off to someone else freely.
Knowing the difference between these three categories is life-transforming! The first, only I can do this, are obviously those things only I can do. No one else can spend time with the Lord for me. No one else can make the type of emotional investment necessary to be an effective wife and mom for my family. No one else can exercise for me (oh, how I wish they could!). No one else can write my books for me. This first category contains things I make time for by giving other tasks away.
The second category are things that someone else can do under my guidance. The important thing here is to clearly communicate your expectations to the person you are giving a task to and train them to do the job the way you want it done. Once you've trained this person and they have learned the job, you can then hand off this task to them freely. The time you invest on the front end training and educating on the right way to accomplish a task will reap great benefits on the back end.
This is where my kids come in. There are lots of household tasks the children are perfectly capable of handling. Also, I have a sitter who helps me run my afternoon carpools. Art and I have decided it is better to give up other things to have the finances to make this possible for my sanity's sake.
Are there tasks in your life that can be delegated to others? Are you willing to ask your husband and kids for help? Do you need to look outside your home for a helper who can take on some of the things that might be bogging you down?
Another creative solution is to look for a homeschool helper to be the person to whom you are delegating. I found a family of teenaged homeschool girls who were looking to make some extra money. They come help me with whatever chores I can't get done on my own. They help with laundry, dishes, organizing kids' rooms, and whatever else I put on their list. I love the help. They love the spending money, and they even earn school credits for home economics. Pray about a creative solution if you are looking for some help. God will hear your prayer and help you know to whom and how to delegate.
Make Peace with the Balance Between Calling and Responsibilities
As moms, we must stop looking around for validation and affirmation of what kind of mother we are to be. We can't look to our friends. We can't look to our parents. We can't look at and compare ourselves to other moms. We must stop looking around and start looking up. God will be faithful to reveal His individual plan for you.
But how do we act on the God-given purposes in our lives and still be attentive, caring wives and mothers? First, we abandon the idea that God has designed life so family is separate from service and that the two must compete. In a speech at the 1997 Women's Ministries Symposium, Jill Briscoe talked about the fallacy of having a hierarchy of priorities, such as (1) God, (2) husband, (3) children, (4) church, and so on. Instead, she suggested, there's a hierarchy of principles—"God and his kingdom come first. God will tell you what is front and center today. Are you listening?" If you're a praying person who listens to God and looks into the hearts of people around you, obeying the first and second commandments to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39), you'll know when to skip the day's entire to-do list and take your kids to the beach, take yourself to the beach, take your Bible to the beach, or take kids and your neighbor's lonely, autistic son to the beach...Contrary to what some people may believe, a woman doesn't have to choose between having a purpose in life and being a faithful and fun-loving mom, wife, and friend. One of the best things we can contribute to the people we love is to be a woman who responds to the call of God. Through us, those we love experience the joy of following God and are often challenged to consider their own God-infused purposes."
A calling on a woman's life will be unique and personal. God knows your husband better than you. God knows your children better than you. He knows what kind of wife and mom they need. He knows what kind of demands will be required of you in every role you play. So turn each day over to Him and let Him order your steps. Ask Him where to start, take that step, and then ask what is the next step you are to take. All the while pray that your spiritual eyes and ears will be open and attentive to any pit stops along the way God might have for you.
Having a plan, learning to delegate, and making peace with your calling will help you get done what needs to be accomplished and get more intentional with those you love.
Refresh My Soul
Read Psalm 121.
Where does your help come from?
You have just had a glimpse of my life and how I do what I do. In this chapter, I wanted to provide you with an opportunity to honestly assess and investigate what you do by answering this most popular of questions. While I offered practical and logistical tips in this chapter, I want to spend a few moments here encouraging you to first and foremost seek help from the Lord. In all I have learned about making my life work for me, this has been my greatest lesson. I must find my true help in Him.
In verse 2 of this psalm, the psalmist identifies God as "the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth." He is the God of the universe, the Creator of all things.
Read Psalm 96:10-13.
All things fall under the authority of God. As their Creator, they all must obey according to His will. This order and authority brings me great peace and comfort. I know that nothing happens in my life that has not been first filtered through the hands of God. For this reason, I have learned to view what could be seen as life's interruptions as opportunities instead. Each day I submit my plans, my ideas, and my desires to His ultimate authority. This is what brings me joy and makes my life work, no matter what. I can call on God for help because He is in control.
Read Psalm 33:6-11.
This is a beautiful passage about God's authority over all creation. Verse 11 tells us that "the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations." This means that His purpose extends into the generations to come. Your children and grandchildren will be affected and shaped by His purposes as well. You are leaving a legacy by learning to respond to His plans for you.
Proverbs 19:21 says, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails."
What are your plans? Are there things in your life that aren't going according to your plans? Take comfort in knowing and accepting that—for whatever reason—God has allowed this as part of His purposes for you.
Now, reread Psalm 121:3-8.
These verses are here to encourage you today. God knows you intimately. He knows what you are facing. He knows the details of your life. These verses tell us that He watches over your life. He watches your coming and going. (Wow! That means God sees all those trips to soccer practice and runs to the grocery store.) Even when you sleep, God is taking care of things because He does not sleep. Allow these verses to seep into your heart and become part of your thought life. The God of the universe cares for you! He is there to help you release what you don't need to be doing and give you strength to do the rest.
Originally posted in January of 2007.
Lysa Terkeurst is a wife, mother of five, and the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She has appeared on many national broadcast programs, including Focus on the Family. She is the author of a number of books, including What Happens When Women Walk in Faith, and the coathor of A Woman's Secret to a Balanced Life.