I'm supposed to be the adult, but there are times that I want to burst into tears over a child’s defiance. Or I'm tempted to throw a non-working computer out a window. My ducks never seem to line up like I wish they would, leaving me ready to scream. My inability to juggle all of my responsibilities leaves me exhausted and frustrated over all of the ways that I did not handle things as well as I should have. And the cycle of monotonous tasks seems to be an overflowing well of frustration. There are always new dishes on the counter. Laundry never comes to an end (if only we could have a naked day so I could pretend that I actually caught up with the washing!). No matter how many meals I prepare, somehow the little mouths chirping around my nest still long to be fed.
We do our best to keep our frustrations from getting the better of us, but some days it feels like Murphy’s law is hard at work in family life: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and it will be my problem. Frustration is common to all of us and how we manage it matters. So how can we manage the frustration we experience?
When I compare the inner-workings of my life with the exterior glimpse I get of other people, I get a skewed and false perspective. Every other family seems to have their act so together, especially compared to the frustration that seems ever-present in my own. Why does everyone else seem to have life together? Am I the only one with family challenges? We compare our lives with those who seem to have more, but never consider how blessed we actually are by comparing our lives with those who face greater hardships. Should I complain about making dinner when there are parents who cannot supply their family with food? Is it worth throwing a fit over computer challenges when some people don’t even have a roof over their heads? This is not to say that our trials don’t matter. Our frustrations are real and God cares about them too, but sometimes we need a little perspective. Frustration is just not where God wants us to dwell day by day.
I repeatedly need reminding that God did not promise a life free from challenges. In fact he tells us quite the opposite. In John 16:33 he says, “I have said these things to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have affliction, but have courage! I have conquered the world!” Resetting my expectations is a good place to start. Perhaps if I could recognize the commonness of struggles, my frustrations might not look so unusual and I might be willing to lower my standards from the ideal to the manageable. Challenges are just a normal part of this human experience. Life is bound to have difficulties, but God walks with us through the challenges that we face. Life is seldom Pinterest perfect--things are much more complicated than that for everyone. Children are still learning and growing into who God designed them to be. Rain falls into all of our lives and sometimes even on a picnic day.That has to be okay.
Laughter is healing medicine to the heart. Sometimes we need to have a good laugh and stop taking ourselves so seriously. So what if you have peanut butter on your dress walking into church? Consider it a mothering merit badge and know that God would delight in that sticky hug too. When stuck with a non-working computer, take it as a God given opportunity to unplug from your regular scheduled activities. Don’t let it overwhelm you, but look instead to what God may be directing you to delight in instead. When your child makes an enormous mess, choose to see the delight they had in the process and take a photo to laugh about it later (and don't hesitate to leave it for them to clean up later). There is joy that can be found in the most challenging of situations if you are willing to look for it. Consider how you can make those frustrating never-ending tasks a game and bring your own Mary Poppins spin to the activities at hand.
Children are blessed when they learn to pitch in and help. They might complain sometimes, but holding them accountable to clean their own messes teaches responsibility. It helps them see consequences to their own choices. It teaches empathy for those who have to clean after them. It gives them a sense of belonging and value to the family enterprise. It trains them to bear another's burden and work like a team. Not to mention they gain real-world life skills that will serve them well when they're on their own. You might even have more fun doing it together and making it more of a game or a race, or give you a chance to talk as you work side by side. All of that is better than lonely drudgery.
Life is not supposed to be about our comfort, it is supposed to be about God’s glory. Sometimes I get lost in pursuing my own agenda. I get distracted by our cultural view of what this life is really about. I feel entitled and wish that I could have the pieces of my world operating by my specifications and on my timeline. I forget God’s purpose and find myself distracted by my heart’s desires. My heart might handle frustration better if I tuned into God’s purpose in my life. When I remember that life is not about me I can be more patient with life’s circumstances.
Just a hint--it is not me or you! The God who made this universe still rules the world. God is in control even when things don’t seem to be making sense. God is not cruel, trying to frustrate our plans. He loves us and desires what is best for us. We do not have a distant God, but rather a God who loves us so much that he died to restore our fellowship together. Our God is not small, but all-powerful, with the ability to manage the big and the small frustrations of life. Trusting God makes so much sense and yet too often I find myself struggling to manage life without relying on him. Yet when I trust him to do things the best way, I can let go of trying to control things myself.
When I find my frustration rising, perhaps I need to step away from the emotion and rest my heart. How much am I focused on my struggles rather than turning to my source of comfort? Prayer is so effective in centering us back to the God who is in charge of all things. Sometimes the best medicine is to step into God’s creation and to catch a glimpse of his bigness to put my frustration into perspective. A prayer over a frantic morning can help put hearts and minds back on task. Letting praise music wash over the household can defuse the tensions. It requires turning from my struggles and instead looking to God for comfort and strength to face the challenges.
Frustration is a normal part of this life, but it does not need to take our focus nor control our lives and families. We can manage our frustration with some spiritual perspective. John 16:33 does not say, “Junk happens, get over it.” Jesus instead says, “I have said these things to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have affliction, but have courage! I have conquered the world!”
These are the words we need to hear: “I want you to have peace” and “Take heart! I have conquered the world.” Jesus assures us that even when stuff happens we can have peace because we know who is really in charge. He has conquered all of these things for us so that we might have peace. So when you are feeling overwhelmed take a deep breath and remember that this too shall pass. God is still on his throne and desires that you have peace. He not only wants it for you, but he also conquered death and hell to secure it for you. Let the joy of that thought delight your heart today!