A while ago I was asked to do a radio interview about my book. In the course of the discussion the man asked me what advice I had for moms who lacked a support group. How can they find help? How can you meet the people who can encourage you, perhaps stirring you up to love and good works, and cheerfulness in the midst of potty training? Of course this doesn’t apply to moms only – lots of people struggle with this. But there is something unique about being a mom that makes it harder to really get out there and meet people. You could go to the park with other moms, and maybe not get past a few sentences coherently exchanged. There are diapers, scrapes, all manner of interruptions. It is not as easy to go somewhere because you need to plan around meals and naps and potties and whatever else is currently happening. You need to know that your own energy will hold up, that you could get yourself back home from wherever you are going. Most of the time mothers are not free to make friends the way they used to.
So what if you really need a little help? What if you are in that burned out, beat up, emotionally sloppy place that is so easily gotten into? If you are short on sleep, short on time, short on friends (or even long on friends who need you), and long on demands, this is simply going to be part of your life. The companionship of little children is delightful, funny, fun, and incredible demanding. Nursing and pregnancy can create an ambiance of exhaustion that is hard to get out of. I remember as a senior in high school I used to T.A. in the pre-school. I loved the kids, loved the funniness of everything, would stay for a few hours and feel like I needed to go lie down in a dark room somewhere for the rest of the day. Yet many of us live in an atmosphere a little bit like a pre-school classroom around the clock.
Anyways, back to the original question, how is this overcome? What should we do when we are flat out needy? The answer might not be easy, but it is oh so effective. Rephrase the question for yourself. Stop making a little mental list of all the things that would be nice to have someone do for you. Stop thinking of what you would like to be given, and start thinking about what you have to give. We have condensed this in our house to a very simple “when you need, give.” It is incredibly easy to fall into the temptation of keeping a close watch on potential nice things other people could do for you. But do not define yourself as a needer. Define yourself as a giver.
I know you are thinking (especially if you are a mother), that of course you are a giver. Look at all these people who loiter around you looking for handouts all day long. But there is a huge difference between giving things reluctantly or selfishly, or with dead eyes, or with threats, or as a bribe, and being a giver.
Imagine if that friend you wished you had came to the door with a coffee for you. Without smiling, she handed it to you and said “There. Are you happy now?” then she follows you into your house and says “Oh my word. My head hurts, I am so tired. What do you want me to do? Your laundry or something? FINE! I’ll do it.” Then she could set up a laundry folding area in the middle of your living room so that wherever you went you were able to see her looking imposed on, rubbing her temples dramatically, and sighing ostentatiously. After four hours of this kind of giving, she could finally leave your house with a parting comment about how totally selfless she is, and how it would be nice if someone would think of her every once in a while.
Would you feel so blessed? Would you be so thankful that you had a friend who gave herself so thoughtfully to you? I’m actually pretty certain that we all would have felt more like telling her as she headed out, “No one thinks of you because you have a corner on that market. No one could possibly think more of you and your needs than you do. Goodbye, and don’t come back. Don’t ever pretend to give to me again.”
Of course this is an extreme example. But how much of our “selfless giving” to our children is done with this kind of flair? How many of the meals we make are delivered to our families with a side of droopy eyes, temple rubbing, and loud sighs? Are we really giving what we think we are giving, or are we being that terrible imaginary friend to them? Do your children feel given to? Or do they feel like you would if someone like that came over to help you? Resented, insulted, boring, and unwanted.
The truth is that we cannot necessarily control whether we have friends who give to us. We cannot build a perfect support system for ourselves. What we can do is get outside of ourselves and seek to give to others with a cheerful heart. We can let go of our self absorption and start giving, every time we have an opportunity (which is many thousands of times in a day) with a thankful heart. So if you are feeling low, think of what you can give. You can always give a smile, give a cheerful laugh, give a meal with no strings of desperation tied onto it. You can confess an attitude that may be in the way. You can turn your thoughts out. You can look to the interests of others who God has placed so conveniently close for giving.
My Dad has always said, for years and years, don’t spend your time looking in your own heart. The human heart is full of nothing good. Do not go dumpster diving in the needy emotions that you are sure to find inside somewhere. When you feel needy, look to Christ. Because if you belong to him, you have no needs that have not been filled. When you are looking to Christ, you have so much to give. When you have what he has given you, and you still are consumed with what you need, you need to get yourself re-oriented. You have the Holy Spirit, you have the love of God, you have forgiveness of sins. Drink from that river when you are thirsty. Because that water flows so fast it can not be contained. When you turn to that source, your life will be a life of overflow. Overflow of joy, of gratitude, of forgiveness, or fullness of life. You can never out-need the greatest Giver. And all the needs below you? All the little cups being held up for water? Give with the same abandon that God gave to you. Give selflessly. Give without reservation. Give in kindness, in laughter, in forgiveness, and in joy. Give what you have been given.