Have you ever biked on a trail or gone snow-skiing? There’s a rule each novice should learn before her first trip. What you focus on picks your path. If you stare at a big rock, you will hit it. If you focus on the ditch ahead, you will fall into it. To avoid pain, the wise gal learns to avoid obstacles by picking a clear path with her eyes.
Instead of focusing on the obstacles, she focuses on where she wants to go.
I often face this challenge as a mom. For instance, over spring break a freak Texas snowstorm trapped us inside for several days, so I planned to use the time to work on some speech goals with my daughter Rachel, who is severely autistic. I dug through the toys from my speech-language pathology practice and selected several activities.
Rachel had other plans. She wanted to go out for ice cream, which was impossible considering an inch of ice covered our driveway.
When I pulled out the first game, she hid her face under a blanket and signed “ice cream.” I coaxed her out, but she kept signing “ice cream.”
Not to be deterred, I showed her some tiny little toys and matching cards. Rachel tossed one aside and sat on another. And asked for ice cream.
I pulled out my Big Plan: a plastic bowling game. Rachel screamed, kicked the wall, threw the plastic bowling ball like a champion softball pitcher, and signed “ice cream.”
After an hour of high-pitched screaming and kicking, I fell into the ditch in my path. My heart felt like someone kicked it then sat on it. I hid in the closet and cried while my thoughts swirled like an ice cream machine on high: Everything I try with her fails. Maybe I’m a terrible therapist, maybe a terrible mother. Why even bother? Why can’t I have a family like other people where we get to go on fun family trips and don’t have to deal with these constant obsessive tantrums? God, this is not fair. I hate this, and I really hate ice cream!
My failures loomed in front of me. They were all I could see. And I tripped over every one.
It took me a while to climb back to a clear path. I realized I’d been focusing all wrong. Focusing on what others have, focusing on Rachel’s behaviors, focusing on what I want, focusing on life’s difficulties.
For me, part of how I pull out of that is to focus on eternal things. To focus first on God, on Jesus, on what heaven will be like, on the gifts God has given me. It seems like my perspective on other things brightens when I look to God first.
And I made a new plan. Sometimes I try to do too much, hold too tightly to what I think should happen. I quit trying to accomplish my Big Agendas and put away my Super-Awesome-Therapist-Mom Cape. Instead, I focused on having some fun. We baked and colored and played on the computer. I put aside my goals and my stress that Rachel’s entire future depended on me making her talk during spring break.
Maybe other moms can be both therapist/teacher and mom, but for Rachel and me, at this time, that formula does not work. And that’s okay. I don’t have to be other moms. I don’t have to compare myself to other moms. I only have to be what God called me to be: me.
And that’s all you have to be, too: you.
Whether it’s mothering or our spiritual lives in general, we often get tripped up by failures and obstacles. We focus on the world around us or the things we don’t have that we think we want. We compare ourselves with others, we focus on our trials, and we think in terms of ourselves rather than keeping our eyes on the eternity of freedom to which we are called.
Jesus came to give us life and to give it abundantly. He tells us in Matthew 6:33-34: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
When tempted to focus on the messes of today, instead choose to focus on the heavenly home that awaits us in eternity with Jesus Christ.