A couple days ago, my daughters made a “kids couch.” They pushed together two folding chairs, covered it with a blanket, and snuggled up on top with books. It was adorable that they were so determined to sit with each other – and appalling that they were driven to such lengths because our love seat is lost under the remains of Christmas. Stockings, crumpled gift bags, a laptop bag that once held my computer and now is stuffed with blocks and a shirt that still has its tags, discarded jackets, and more cover every surface of what used to be a functional piece of furniture.
I’ve been sitting in my office for two days now, trying desperately to finish this post and several more writing projects. But I can’t put a complete thought into words and punctuation without stopping for another notification. Between my phone buzzing and my computer dinging, my head is spinning!
And then there’s my fridge. I can’t find a spot for our tea pitcher, but I also can’t find anything to use for dinner tonight. What is IN THERE, anyway? How can I possibly have (or complain about) so much food but nothing to eat?
Basically, it is complete chaos over here. And it’s overwhelming me to the point of stress paralysis. I walk into a room, stare at the mess, and walk right back out. I add another three or four tasks to my to-do list before I run out of room on the piece of paper covered in scribbles. I could start a new page, but what’s the use?
Even though I call myself a “recovering perfectionist,” the truth is that I still struggle with perfectionism. And part of that battle is my tendency to be all or nothing. That means when I face a mountain of laundry or a stack of unexpected medical bills or a list of writing deadlines, the result is always the same. I panic, because I can’t tackle it all at once. I freeze, terrified that I’ll never take care of any of it. And I act like a child, essentially putting my hands over my ears and crawling under my bed, shouting, “Lalala! I can’t hear you! You don’t exist!”
It’s not good, you guys.
Thankfully, I’ve been learning a lot from a friend much wiser than me. Her name is Sara, and she was a blogger and writer. She battled chaos that was infinitely more serious and challenging than my messy house or busy schedule; she had a rare, terminal disease and spent her days home bound in a small condo in Iowa.
And yet – she managed to keep herself from feeling overwhelmed. And even when her body was literally paralyzed, she kept her heart and mind looking upward and moving forward. She did it by simply choosing joy – finding the beauty amidst the bedlam – and facing whatever life gave her head on, with determination and gratitude. These words of hers are helping me this week:
I think our expectations of what we want life to be often overshadow the good things that are already in front of us – and that’s when we miss the silver lining. When my sister was going through a divorce, we were on the phone talking about hard decisions and out of my mouth came these words that I would later cling to for myself as well: “All God asks of us is to live the best life we can with what we are given.” We are all given different blessings and different crosses to bear, which means we can only take care of what’s in front of us in that moment and do the best we can.
I don’t know if that conversation brought any relief to my sister, but as my life changed over the years it proved to be something I needed to hear. I needed to remind myself that my old gifts were gone, and they didn’t serve me in living my best life anymore. I had new gifts and crosses given to me, and I had to rethink how to live my life with them. It took a while to find my new normal, and that continues to change on a daily basis.
But when my focus is on living the best life I can with what I have in that moment, I always find my silver lining. I’m not expecting what I used to have or what I think I should have. I’m looking at the blessings right in front of me and saying thank you every day.
Excerpt, Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts
As a perfectionist I deal with the trouble caused by expectations quite often. Sara reminds me that our expectations can get in the way of us not just dealing with what we truly have, but also being thankful for it.
My couch (FINE, my entire living room) is a mess partly because we all received more presents than we needed or deserved – but I refuse to complain about that, because who doesn’t need more socks and more books is never a bad thing).
And all those message notifications are more than interruptions. They’re evidence that I have work and ministry to do, something I have longed for and desperately needed through more than one wilderness phase of my life.
As for the fridge? Well, it’s full-but-empty because my kids and husband were home for the majority of two weeks, and that’s what happens when your house is full and your life is busy. Extra time with my people means less time for chores and errands.
So today I’m taking a note from my friend Sara, and I’m changing my expectations to exactly what I have in front of me – and then living my best life with what I have and what I can do.
I can put away half the stuff littering the couch. I can turn off my phone’s notifications. And I can stop at the grocery store for chicken and milk and carrots. Because my people expect dinner – and a place to sit afterwards, and I want to be here with them, focused and grateful for what I’ve been given.
How can you choose joy, even when facing chaos, today?
Mary Carver is a writer, speaker, and recovering perfectionist. She writes about her imperfect life with humor and honesty, encouraging women to give up on perfect and get on with life, at www.givinguponperfect.com. Mary is the co-author of a new book called, Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts. CHOOSE JOY is a must-have for those searching for meaning and beauty in a world full of tragedy. Sara’s words breathe with vitality and life, and her stories will inspire smiles, tears, and the desire to choose joy. To learn more about CHOOSE JOY, visit TheChooseJoyBook.com.