Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Support Foster Kids with a Suitcase

A Moment of Clarity

I had an epiphany Sunday morning.

I stood in church, my heart overcome with a desire to worship. It felt so right, so perfect to be in God’s house, my hands lifted high. The songs were more than words on my lips; they were from the overflow of my heart.

It was the first time in months that my heart felt ready to worship. I’ve continued to do all of the right things, spending time in the Word and praying and fasting. But God has seemed so…distant. I’ve done everything I know to do to focus my heart and mind throughout my days…but I’ve been empty. I’ve begged God to show me how to find Him again, but every day has been a battle just to keep going.

A couple weeks ago, I spent several days in tears. My heart was so heavy, so grieved. There was nothing I could pinpoint causing the stress other than sheer exhaustion. The reality that I only have five years left with kids in my home hit me hard, and my heart aches to spend as much time with them as I can. I want more than anything to have fun, to play, to build memories while I still have time.

But my life is chaotic. Work is stressful. I am exhausted, no energy to build memories with my kids. Gone are the days where we spent lazy summers going to the water park. Money has been too tight to go on vacations, and my job rarely allows me enough time to get away. I long to be the mom my kids deserve, but the responsibilities and exhaustion are more than I can handle.

I’ve long clung to the truth found in Mark 12:30-31: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Exactly which truth? The truth that says we must love ourselves first and love ourselves well before we can truly love others.

You see, Christ taught us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Have you ever met someone who didn’t love themselves? Maybe they had extremely low self-esteem. Maybe they were taught they were unworthy of love growing up. Whatever the reason, the one who is incapable of loving him/herself is also incapable of truly loving others.  

When I entered the season of single motherhood, I instinctively knew that I needed to be nice to myself. I knew I needed to find ways to pamper myself, to love myself. I had always put myself on the backburner during my marriage, putting everyone else’s needs above my own. But, as I walked as courageously as I could into the role of single parenting, I chose to occasionally put myself first. I made time to exercise. I lost weight and had to buy new clothes. I began to pamper myself with the occasional manicure and pedicure. It was all about learning to love myself.

As the years have passed, I have continued to do some of these same things for myself. However, somewhere in the chaos, I have lost my ability to have fun. My weekends have been about taking time to rest, relax—as much as I can while running my children to their various activities.

But this weekend was different.

Saturday, we put away all of the stress and responsibilities and decided to get away. No work phones. No voice lessons. No feeding the sheep. No cleaning house or mowing the yard. We decided all of those things could wait. We loaded up the car and headed to the lake.

We spent the day hanging out with my brother and his family. I watched as the kids surfed behind his boat. We cooled off by jumping in the lake. When my fiancé arrived, we jumped in the inner tube and enjoyed the cool water as we zigged and zagged around the lake. We laughed. We enjoyed the sun. We enjoyed one another.

And I felt like a totally new person.

I miss the days of three-day work weeks, where I could have several days each week to devote to playing with my kids. I feel as if I never have the energy to just play, to have fun anymore. And now I realize just how much I miss it.

About a month ago, I began to ask God to show me how to renew my strength, how to find rivers of refreshment in the tumultuous storms of life. And I think I’m beginning to find a few keys.

Slow down. I know how difficult this is as a single parent. There’s always someone who needs to be at voice lessons or a basketball game or the sheep barn. There’s always house work that needs to be done or meals that need to be cooked or errands that need to be run. There’s always more to be completed in a 24 hour period than we will ever be able to accomplish.

But, sometimes we need to just step away and take a deep breath. Sleep in and skip that morning workout. Tell your kids no, you just can’t do it tonight. Skip the extra hours at the office or the volunteer opportunity. Intentionally slow down.

Treat yourself. How about a massage to wipe away some of your stress? What about going to get a manicure and pedicure? Maybe a new outfit to make you feel beautiful? What did you buy yourself for your birthday? How about sending yourself some flowers to brighten your office or home?

I have to tell you that my fiancé has spoiled me in the last year. There’s nothing like a delivery of flowers with a sweet card to brighten your day. But, before Roy came along, I learned to do little things for myself just because. I learned after my first Christmas alone to buy and wrap gifts for myself and put them under the tree so I had something to open on Christmas morning. I’ve learned to buy myself new clothes when I buy clothes for the kids (or even if I don’t buy the kids anything). I’ve learned to find ways to treat myself.

Make time to play. So often I don’t feel like playing. I am absolutely exhausted and just want to rest. But this weekend showed me that sometimes the best way to regain energy is to play. To have fun. To let your hair down and do something totally different. To get away.

One evening the kids asked my fiancé and I to play cards with them. I reluctantly agreed. At midnight, we were still going strong, laughing and enjoying every moment of the evening. I am learning again that play time is essential to life.

Find out what works for you. Some people are energized by being with other people. Others, like me, need ample alone time. Only you can figure out what you need. And only you can make it happen.

A few weeks ago, I shipped all the kids off to various places and I spent an afternoon completely alone. I grabbed a book and some sunscreen, and found a quiet place at the local pool. I might have been the only adult with no kids there, but it was a relaxing afternoon that helped fill me up.

Maybe you need an evening out with the girls to refresh you. If so, find someone to watch those kids. Don’t feel guilty for caring for yourself; it will help you love and care for them better.

Lord Jesus, you know our hearts are to know you and love you. Our hearts are to love our neighbors as ourselves. And you know that means we must love ourselves first and love ourselves well. We pray you would help us find ways to play, to be nice to ourselves, to find refreshment in the midst of our chaotic lives. We pray you would renew our strength as only you can. We pray you will infuse us with your supernatural renewal.