Granted, I was only nineteen and had just finished my freshman year of college when I found out I was pregnant and we decided to get married. But while the shame of that messed me up for some time, I was also in love and he was a really great guy and we were totally up to the responsibility of doing whatever it took to be amazing parents. When our third child was born five years later, we realized maybe we needed to slow things down a bit and think more realistically about what it was going to take to make this all work. Adding a second income seemed an important place to start, something part-time, something “mom friendly”.
After a long search I landed on becoming a dental assistant. I could work evenings and weekends when my husband was home so we didn’t need a sitter. The dental field seemed challenging enough and had potential for growth if I really liked it. I interviewed with an older, respectable dentist and was quickly hired. It took about six weeks of working late and my husband warning me several times before I realized that the dentist’s intentions were not about teaching me how to be a great dental assistant. While I was angry at him, I was angrier at myself for my naivety. I quit and looked for another position. A friend of mine recommended her dentist. I called and got an interview, and once again was hired. My first week on the job, the dentist offered to pay my way through dental school. Having been naive once, I waited to hear what came next. It was not appropriate and I’ll leave it at that.
I remember getting in my car, driving home with anger pulsing in my temples. Back then I was nothing if not determined, (read stubborn) and I wasn’t a quitter. I had juggled the schedules, put out money we didn’t have for a few new clothes and expenses that go into working, brought home charts and books to memorize and worked above and beyond to prove myself and learn quickly, all while being a very good wife and mother and managing the household, but here I was, feeling like I’d run at top speed towards a great goal only to slam into a brick wall. I felt pretty beaten up.
I pounded the steering wheel and sent up an angry prayer to God, “What am I supposed to do now? Huh? Huh?”
Just be a mom.
The thought stopped my tears. The anger died. What? I sat very still. Just be a mom? It had never occurred to me. Really? Embrace motherhood?
A clear picture of my real intentions raced through my mind. Truthfully, this wasn’t about trying to make everything work out for my family, this was about me. My desire to go to work wasn’t so much about a second income, but was rather a way to redeem myself from the shame of getting pregnant and walking away from college and a potential career in journalism. “Don’t lose yourself in motherhood, avoid more shame, do what you have to do to prove yourself.” That’s what I’d been telling myself in the darkness of my shame.
I realized my goals had nothing to do with my children. Viewed through my shame, my children were there to be managed. It had been rough early on but now I had the hang of it and it was getting much easier, surely nothing I couldn’t handle. I could work and redeem myself and raise them just fine.
I had not embraced motherhood. Inside my house were three little beings who needed me more than I’d been willing to acknowledge. In a split second I recognized the selfishness, the error and the importance of the wall I’d just hit.
I got all that in an instant. What took time was trying to wrap my head around the alternative, just being a mom.
Embrace it? How do I embrace something so big? What would that look like? What about that second income, we needed the money, didn’t we? After more time sitting there in the car, trying to figure out who I would be and what life would be like if I embraced motherhood fully, I finally I realized it wasn’t to be understood, not until I did it, that’s how big it was.
Striking isn’t it, the simplicity of actions we take in momentous moments? I got out of the car. I’ll never forget pushing open that front door and stepping into the house. I can still see the thin brown 70’s tile in the little foyer area, the dark wood of the closet door, the white trim, the feeling of home. I could feel with every fiber of my being that this was about the needs of my two little girls and my baby boy. In that moment I embraced those needs. I knew it was going to take everything I had to do what was required of me. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was open to learning.
My shame took a backseat to their needs that day and it’s never had that kind of power over me since. I walked away from that wall with a new goal and a new heart towards my babies. I’m actually grateful for that wall because it changed my life and their lives, irrevocably.
“Back in the day”, the choice to work or not work was a big deal. Both choices came with their own gains and losses. Today it seems, though I could be wrong, that the issue is no longer polarizing, and I really hope that’s true. What remains the same however, is the harsh reality of brick walls. Some of life’s most insightful moments come after hitting a wall. But how do you know when you need to keep on trying to bring about change, and when you’ve hit a brick wall and the changes need to take place in you?
Here are five important signs of a brick wall signaling a need for internal changes:
1. Your determination is outrunning your circumstances. If you’ve taken all the right steps externally towards achieving your goal but you’re met with continued resistance that has nothing to do with you, it’s time to analyze the situation as objectively as possible. When action takes precedence over analysis, it may mean you’re so focused on your goals you’re missing important cues that something is wrong. Consider that hitting a wall may not mean that you’ve failed to try hard enough or that you’re not smart enough, or that someone else is to blame, but rather there’s something more going on that you need to learn. Take time to do an honest heart check. Ask God for wisdom and insight to see if there’s something He wants you to understand or change.
2. You’re frustration over hitting the wall is escalating to the point of unhealthy anger. Anger that causes you to sin, hurting yourself or hurting others, is not a healthy, helpful anger. This is a clear and common warning flag. Pay attention to it. Figure out what it is you’re really angry about and why. Then chose a better response. Loving well in the midst of our disappointments is a hard thing to do, but by being open to God’s love for us when we’re at our worst, we can then chose to share that love when we’re disappointed in ourselves, our circumstances, or even our loved ones. Loving well, no matter what our circumstances, is always the best goal. Letting God change the perspective of our heart may be the change required to move forward.
3. People, one or more, are warning you about the wall but you just don’t see it, again and again. Stop trying to convince them you’re right and really listen to them. Is there a love for you at the root of their concerns? Hold on to that while you listen. Is it possible they could be right? Consider that you might have a blind spot that could be hurting you, and ask for input about it. Test it out.
4. It’s beginning to feel like a life or death, black or white, must have or life as you know it is over kind of situation. Ask yourself, “Why is this so important? What is the real fear involved? Is it life threatening?” Hitting a wall and not achieving a goal may mean disaster, death, or truly bad consequences. But realistically, that’s rare. If we focus too much on achieving a specific goal, we lose sight of the bigger, more important picture that may include a variety of positive alternatives and good choices. Sometimes the gift of a new perspective is all we need to “get it”, so seek out Godly counsel for input. Give yourself permission to fail, to dream new dreams, to try new things, to trust God for the outcome. If you do these things, down the road you may find yourself getting what you really wanted after all. God has a way of fulfilling the desires of our hearts in ways that have nothing to do with our best efforts.
5. You feel victimized, hopeless, and/or depressed. You’re not hitting the bricks anymore, but you’re knocked down and bleeding. Hitting a brick wall is painful, so don’t minimize it, but don’t go over the feelings or circumstances obsessively. Dwelling on the pain or letting these feelings take root is like rubbing the raw wound on your forehead where you hit the wall, over and over. The wound needs to heal. The best way to start that process is to acknowledge the pain, mourn the losses, cry if need be. Then, if you’ve made mistakes in the process, admit them. If you’ve hurt others in the process, ask God to forgive you then go make it right with any you may have hurt. If you’re blaming God, seek the truth that says He is for you, not against you, that He loves you no matter what you’ve done and wants to heal you and be your Comforter and Savior. It’s in this process that insights emerge. New goals become clear. Wisdom arises on how to steer clear of repeating past mistakes.
Seek help outside yourself if you’re unable to do this on your own. Persist in healing and someday you may be able to help someone else when they hit their own brick walls.
One final word on what to do when you’ve hit a wall and you’re not sure what to do next: Breathe this prayer that’s been proven to be quite effective when we really mean it: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”