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seeing beyond ourselves

I sent my youngest to preschool for the first time this afternoon. I hadn’t planned to send her until next year, as she still has a whole school year between now and kindergarten. At the beginning of this school year I wanted to have the freedom to embrace the unstructured time with her and not feel pressure to always be shuffling her off somewhere. I don’t like that with the older kids either, but certain seasons call for certain things.

Anyway. I hadn’t planned to send her, but needing a solution for childcare while I volunteer at school this spring, I ended up enrolling her. Today was her first day.

The van was really quiet as I drove away; I’ve grown accustomed to her chatter following me everywhere and her questions and her singing. I had to grieve just a little bit about the fact that there’s not another baby filling another car seat in the back seat, and about the fact that this marks a significant life transition. We are no longer raising babies and toddlers. We are raising schoolchildren. But even in the midst of the silence I deeply felt how much she and I will both need this time.

We have this tendency to get lost in our own worlds – especially as moms. There are so many things to do, of course, but also a lot of imposition on our time and even on our bodies. We are happy to do this, to give of ourselves in this way -- it is what we have been made to do. But because the inputs are so great, we become consumed with what is right in front of us. This also is not a bad thing. We are doing what we have been called to do and focusing where God has placed us. But at some point we have to figure out a way to balance it with the fact that we are not always the neediest person in our own lives. Grant is traveling this week, and there were a couple of times that I was feeling a lot of internal frustration and need of my own when I forced myself to text him and ask him how his day was going. Both times the response and depth of need in the conversations he was having with people took me off guard and put me in my place. It didn't take away from my own need, but it also reminded me that I am not the only needy person in this world and in these particular cases, my need was far from the greatest one.

Within the past couple of weeks, God has gently reminded me of some needs in the lives of other people that I should be more attentive to. He's not asking me to solve any problems, or to have any answers. He's just asking me to be willing to walk alongside and bear burdens and love. My first gut reaction is to be a little bit insulted. (It's painful to even type that.) It hurts my pride a little bit to have to be reminded of something I should have been able to come up with in the first place (but then again, any presence of mind I have to offer something to someone or ask someone a question about something is from God anyway, so I'm not sure why it feels different sometimes than others). It also just hurts a little bit because I feel weary too, with my own burdens. But it is dangerous in my relationships for me to always assume that I am the most weary. Because that is rarely the case, and God always gives extra space and grace when He asks us to reach into the lives of others.

It is dangerous to the Church as a whole if each of us are always assuming that we are the most weary... or to take it a step further, the most wounded, or the most judged, or the most anything. I'm not meaning to impose my weaknesses on every member of the church. But I am saying that I think we all get in these modes sometimes... these modes where our own needs are so loud and so central in our minds that we are unable to ask others how they are doing, or if we do, we are unable to hear the response for what it is. We are unable to see beyond ourselves because we are so blinded by ourselves.

Once my mindset shifts me out of my me-in-the-center-of-the-world mentality, the effect dominoes. As I watch God work through my conversations, where He actually ends up taking the burden anyway and not me, I feel more free to keep thinking outwardly, to keep pressing into the needs, and to keep subduing the earth as we're called to in Genesis 1 -- not in the sense of trampling or taking over anything, but simply in the sense of being available to bring calm to chaos, a kind word to a hurting heart, or a moment of relief to a grieving soul. There is more power in our words and in our presence than we realize.

And so, dropping Livia off at preschool today and driving into the sunshine, I had a few minutes free to listen to a burden described in a forwarded voice message, absorb it, and allow God to show me what it is that He can do through me, if my eyes and arms are open to the need. My head has knowledge of a lot of burdens right now and her time in preschool is an opportunity God has given me to lean into those well. This isn't always the case -- sometimes the needs will come ferociously like waves, one after another, and there is no gentle absorption or time to process but more like a game of whac-a-mole... meet the need, as fast as you can, before the next one pops up, and whoops that didn't happen because the next problem came tumbling in the door before I even had a chance to think two thoughts. God can sustain us in seasons like that too, and if that's your season I pray you can feel Him in that. But no matter what, whether the needs come from within or without, or whether they are our own or the burdens of others... we can ask God to help us see them for what they are and we can lean on each other. We are not alone.

I also find that practicing gentleness and attentiveness with external needs translates back into greater gentleness and attentiveness with my children's needs at home. (It is possible sometimes also for it to have the opposite effect, where serving others in certain ways detracts from my ability to serve my family well. I have to really watch out for that and make sure to find the right balance). But it's like anything where doing something begets more of it. Remembering the brokenness and fallenness of all of us gives me greater compassion for the little ones right at my feet. It teaches me what I need to teach them. It gives me motivation to keep pressing on. And giving multiplies. When we give, we are able to give more, not less. When my eyes are fixed on Jesus and not myself, my heart has greater capacity to love those around me on every level, in every way.

I cycle through these things. I feel like even in typing this out there are so many caveats, so many nuances to servanthood and love and bearing burdens. There are days that I feel caffeinated and capable, and there are days I don't. There are seasons where I feel like I'm on the right track, and other seasons where everything feels off and forced. But through all of them, there is always room for less of me, and more of Jesus.

Later edit -- something that happened almost as soon as I hit "publish" is that the school bus arrived and the big kids tumbled in the door. Sometimes it's an immediate spew of their day and homework and worries, but today Elijah called out as soon as he came in, "How was your first day of preschool, Livia?!" and his attentiveness to what was going on in her life is humbling, encouraging, and admonishing to me.

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Hi, I'm Hannah.

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