Flourishing in Rest

I wake to writhing pain in my lower back. I sit up to look at the clock. 10:15 pm. My husband is sleeping soundly next to me and our six-week-old baby is in her crib in the next room. I lean back on my pillow and begin to toss and turn, breathing through the pain as it worsens. A half hour goes by. I climb out of bed and stumble to the tiny bathroom of our 500 square foot Chicago apartment.

The pain has moved from one side of my back and has taken over my abdomen in charley horse fashion.  I clutch my stomach with one arm while trying to rub out the cramping with my free hand.  I begin to gulp water only to vomit it immediately back up.  After an hour I crawl back to our bedroom.  “Babe.  We have to go to the hospital. I am so sick.” 

I don’t know who to call to watch our 6-week-old daughter but I’m able to remember a conversation had by a new friend from a few weeks prior. “I live right down the street.  If you need anything, don’t hesitate.”  I press the dial button and wake her up. “Lauren… It’s Brittany.  I know this is a strange request but can you please come watch my baby?”

In the emergency room I describe my pain as a 10, while I continue to dive for the nearest trash baskets.  My sweet husband holds my hair helplessly as we wait to be called back. 

After a CT scan and some heavy drugs, I’m told that I have kidney stones and am severely dehydrated with multiple infections. They plan to admit me.  In that moment, sweet relief washes over my whole body.  I recall having the thought, “Thank you!Finally, I can sleep.  I can rest!”  My thoughts of relief in that moment should have been a wakeup call to my postpartum self.  The first 6 weeks as a brand new momma had been incredibly rough and it was clearly taking its toll. 

I didn’t share this thought with my husband until years later.  At the time I was ashamed that I wanted to stay in the hospital rather than care for my newborn daughter.    

I share this memory to make a point -- often as mommas, we take on the role of martyr before we are willing to accept that we desperately need rest and self-care.  It took kidney stones and a forced hospital stay before finally waving my white flag of surrender. 

I wish I could say that in the seven years since becoming a momma, I’ve learned my lesson on caring for myself.  I wish I could share that I’ve mastered this “rest thing” and that I’m the poster girl for how it’s done well and balanced. 

But the truth is, I’m still awful at it.   On a daily basis I am physically tired and emotionally burned out from never getting it “right.”

You see, I can’t remember the last time I “slept in.”  I was blessed (ha!) with two early risers who are up with the sun most days.  The second their little feet hit the floor, my toddler demands a “snack” (also known in most American homes as breakfast).  I pack lunches, get kiddos dressed, drive to and from school.  During nap time I list on EBay and package shipments because that’s how I get to be a stay at home momma.  Except, I’m really not because twice a week I work outside of the home for a sweet little elderly woman who needs some extra help.  And then there’s school pickup, homework, dinner, bath, and bedtime stories.    

Does this sound familiar to any of you mommas?  How in the world would one even find time for rest and self-care?  In theory,this idea of rest sounds nice.  But in the real world, rest gets pushed to the back burner of my priority list. 

Last month I took a long weekend off from caring for my own family to fly out to visit a close friend Pam, in North Carolina.  Now, Pam has two children under three years old and a husband who works long hours.  I knew when booking my plane ticket that I would likely be stepping in to help wrangle toddler chaos.  I also assumed that I would be sleeping on her living room couch.  I was perfectly okay with this.  I resigned myself to write “rest” off of my personal agenda for the weekend and to just enjoy the much needed time with my friend. 

Upon arriving to her home, Pam showed me upstairs to a beautiful, newly remodeled guest room with a large bathroom and a king sized bed.  The view from the room overlooked the breathtaking countryside of the Smoky Mountain Foothills. 

If only you could have seen my face the very moment I realized that this would in fact be a weekend of rest.  It was like the relief I felt from that night back in the emergency room. 

The next morning Pam brought coffee to my room and I was able to drink it in blissful silence.  In the evenings I went running with no jogging stroller or children begging to get out of the mobile prison (as I’m sure this is how my children feel about my jogging stroller at this point). 

During nap times, Pam and I had a chance to sit for hours and talk.  During these hours I poured out painful details of the past year while my friend listened and offered wisdom. 

This past year in particular has been anything but restful.  After our second miscarriage in September I took up the task of “fixing” myself.  I’ve poured my blood, sweat and tears into charting temperatures, tracking hormones, timing sex perfectly and doing naked headstands.  You’re welcome, for that mental image.  I’ve watched dozens of women around me celebrate as they enter seasons of pregnancy and new motherhood while I’ve sat on the sidelines licking my wounds and wondering when God decided I was old news. 

Since September we’ve heard a dozen devotionals and messages at our MOPS meetings centered around flourishing in our present seasons and celebrating lavishly.  My confession to Pam that weekend (and my confession to you today) is this:  I have hardly felt the flourishing and I have done anything but celebrate this year.  In my deepest core I have felt like a scam.  I have felt beat up, angry and downright exhausted. 

There has been no rest because I wouldn’t have it. 

Resting would mean surrendering my agenda and my control to the God who failed me last September.  Resting would mean choosing to accept that my season of current heartache and brokenness was part of God’s plan. Why would God choose me to go through heartache I’ve been forced to watch so many women celebrate lavishly?

As I sat with Pam (who at the time was 4 weeks pregnant… God has a sense of humor, right?), Pam said to me, “Brittany, every single thing that God does is intentional.  It is no coincidence that you lost your baby while four women in your discussion group are now pregnant.  That is no accident.  That’s how he sanctifies you!  That is how He has chosen to sanctify these mommas!  God chose a season of mourning to sanctify you and to make you more like Him.”  

Thank you Lord…. I think? 

Pam’s words sunk deep.  It was as though a well of water was suddenly released over my dry and parched heart the moment I chose to listen and take hold of this truth. 

There are no accidents.  Every single detail of our lives are intentional and for the purpose of our sanctification.  The seasons of celebrating lavishly and the seasons of heartache and mourning. 

Maybe you’ve been in a similar season?  Maybe, you’ve shown up to MOPS this year and have sat bitterly fighting back tears as women around you have flourished.  As they’ve shared joyful news of new babies and of thriving marriages.  Perhaps, you too have left wondering, “How, God?  How do I celebrate with them when I’m just so sad?”  While I don’t know each of you individually, I would be willing to bet that I’m not the only momma in our MOPS group of 120 women who has battled these thoughts this year. 

The unexpected gift that I received during my weekend at Pam’s house was rest.  I left feeling more alive and more filled up in than I have in a long time.  I left with a deep sense that God is asking me to move with Him into a new season; a season of healing and restoration.  As Nicole Espy shared in her MOPS devotional recently, often it is the unearthing and the pruning of the soil of our hearts that must come before the flourishing.  God is teaching me that in HIS strength I must learn to celebrate lavishly with women who are in seasons of joy, even when I’m not feeling joyful.

It took a weekend of silencing the noise around me, of accepting rest as a good and necessary practice, for God to bring me into a new season of surrender and healing. 

I don’t know what’s in store for the future of our family.  Perhaps, we will glorify God best on this earth as a family of four, not five.  I may never experience another pregnancy or the growing of our family.

But this I do know – God loves me (and you!) deeply and fiercely.  He has not forgotten about you or me.  On the most painful days of this sanctifying journey, He is present.  Perhaps, in these particular seasons of pain and heartache, He does His best work when we rest into him.  When we surrender our weary bodies into the arms of a Father who hurts with us and wants to bring beauty from the ashes.  When we are still and silent and finally ready to listen. 

Jesus says in Mathew 11:28, “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.”  I humbly confess that I’ve never loved this verse. It’s always felt much easier said than done.  Come to Jesus and He will give rest?  Does Jesus really understand what my life as a momma is like?

I think I finally get it though.  It is through the surrender of our busyness and constant attempts to control life that we finally give way to rest.  It is how we open ourselves up to true healing and it is only then that the sanctification can take place. 

It is through the discipline and cultivation of rest that we discover how to truly flourish and celebrate lavishly.