I have been in a funk lately. It’s actually a familiar funk that I revisit occasionally.
I know that much of what has contributed to that has been the constant mental chatter about what I need to do as we prepare for our first of two moves this year. I’ve been trying my hardest to stay positive, to see the bright sides, and to stay productive.
However, this isn’t the entire picture. At home and in my private life, I. AM. A. MESS. PCS time ratchets up my usual anxiety to a degree that I become hard to live with and things like taking all three kids to the grocery store on a crowded afternoon start to cause fight-or-flight reactions. Too much noise. Too much chaos. Too many stimuli competing for my focus.
My overwhelm and concern for details about future circumstances frequently results in unkindness towards myself, shortness and impatience with Ryan, eye-twitching, loss of sleep, and truly feeling disoriented because I begin to lose focus and become unable to distinguish which “most important” task comes next. I fight against this with prayer, with venting to Ryan and a few close folks, and by making lists and just diving in. There *may be* more-than-usual crying too.
You see, it isn’t just the details about packing up our belongings, making appointments for final well visits, or researching kids’ activities in the next place that causes mental overwhelm. There’s also the very deep and emotional aspects of moving that deluge my brain waves.
I vacillate between feeling excited for a new adventure and feeling tender and sad about leaving behind Augusta. I could get lost in Googling homeschool activities in South Carolina and 15 minutes later look out my back window at the kids’ forts and cry because I know it’s going to be tough for them to walk away from something they have built: literal forts as well as friendships with neighbors. I’ll push those feelings inside and get up and get busy doing something, anything to distract me.
It’s a weird combination of trying to stay in the moment of today (schooling the kids, making dinner, getting to soccer practice), manage your grief over leaving a space that’s brought your family three years of wonderful memories (feeling nostalgia when you’re with friends you’re about to say goodbye to, walking the halls of places you won’t see again), and embrace the simultaneous optimism AND fear of the unknown that is right around the corner (painting a table to use on your next porch, ordering new bedding for one of the kids who’ll switch beds, researching off-post churches in Columbia).
Am I right?
To go one deeper, a hidden part of my fear of moving to a new place is wondering what will that new place will have for me? Right now I have been called to homeschool our children and that usually consumes a large part of my time and energy, but beyond that? What will I do at our next duty station? Will there be a chance for me to flex my professional muscles again? Will there be a great network of military spouses? Will I have a neighbor or friend in whom I can confide? Will there be any opportunities outside our home for me to serve or give or share? What will Claire’s purpose be and how will she fulfill that?
I have spoken recently with Ryan and a friend who is a more senior military spouse than me, and revealed that I have kind of gotten stuck in this area. I have found myself feeling worn-out trying to discern and plan for what it is God will place in my path at the next stop. I have found myself feeling lost. Adrift. Invisible. When this process is constantly being repeated, there’s only so much fresh steam you can muster.
Maybe these feelings have been in part due to turning 40 this year, or maybe it’s just a common military spouse predicament. I know in my head that my true identity is in Christ, but on a practical day-to-day level, there are legitimate concerns over where I fit into the picture beyond my role as wife and mother, military spouse, dependent.
Those are just parts of me, they aren’t who I am. Despite the fact that much of my time and energy goes into filling those roles, there is so often a tension and strain in a place I keep hidden. I spend time wondering what it is beyond those roles that fills me up.
This isn’t a commentary on women’s roles, working outside the home or not, submission, or ____________. This is simply an honest admission that I can be a faithful follower of Jesus, I can love and honor my husband, I can love, shape, and mold my children and still feel a twinge of longing for something else that I’m looking to fulfill.
Over the years, I have filled this something else by teaching college classes, by leading Bible studies or women’s ministry groups, by writing a book and sharing on this blog, by being invested in a small prayer group, or by writing for or serving on projects that help build up other women.
With the current situation of military life, those something else things must be sought out and developed. They don’t happen by chance or by waiting around for those opportunities to simply fall into your lap. Those something else things are vital to me, and yet their occurrence and availability aren’t promised or always easily spotted. They take work.
As a military spouse, this is an ongoing cycle. And while Ryan will arrive in Columbia and have a “job,” duty, and mission surrounded by people, I will arrive and get to work making our house a home, setting up a new school year, and searching out opportunities for our three kids to get involved. Guess what will get pushed down on the list of important things as the more pressing and urgent details of life will take precedence? Something else.
Our service members serve; we search. Ryan will set to work serving. I will set to work searching. Serving usually has a clear cut mission. Searching is tiresome work of hunting, foraging, and rummaging.
In trying to recreate or search for my identity, my role, or the work or activities that will define and fill me at our next new place I begin to feel so drained and worn out that I want to
zone out on social media, binge Netflix, isolate myself crawl in a hole. I know this isn’t the answer. And while admitting the tiredness and finding true rest is important, that something else craving is always waiting for me when I get still enough to engage with my thoughts and feelings.
I want to share some wisdom from something I’ve been reading lately that has articulated this place of ambivalence and anxiety that has been plaguing me. This idea has caused me to consider an entirely different approach to the idea of personal purpose.
In his book As a Man Thinketh, James Allen writes:
“They who have no central purpose in their life fall an easy prey to petty worries, fears, troubles, and self-pitying, all of which are indications of weakness, which lead, just as surely as deliberately planned sins (though by a different route), to failure, unhappiness, and loss, for weakness cannot persist in a power evolving universe. A man should conceive of a legitimate purpose in his heart, and set out to accomplish it…He should make this purpose his supreme duty, and should devote himself to its attainment, not allowing his thoughts to wander away into ephemeral fancies, longings, and imaginings.”
Eureka! That’s it! When I read this it hit me that I have been wearing myself out in every way in my searching and working to fill my something else. While I know on an eternal level that man’s chief end or purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, this isn’t what I think Allen is getting at.
His words resonated with me and articulated the idea that I need to “conceive of a legitimate purpose” in my heart and get to cultivating or accomplishing it. I need to think through this concretely and determine a purpose or end that doesn’t have to change or shift each time we move. I need to figure out my purpose or something else that can travel with me. I don’t need to feel limited or crippled by all of the moving, relocating, and reinventing that military life demands of me. I need to see it as an opportunity to find a purpose that is mobile.
There’s a new buzzword (phrase) that many military spouses and even entrepreneurs are using, “location independent.” This essentially means that your job or career doesn’t depend on a particular location, office, or building. Being location independent means that you can literally work from anywhere.
Allen goes on to add:
“Those who are not prepared for the apprehension of a great purpose should fix the thoughts upon the faultless performance of their duty, no matter how insignificant their task may appear. Only in this way can the thoughts be gathered and focussed, and resolution and energy be developed, which being done, there is nothing which may not be accomplished.”
Translated, I understand this to mean that if I want to move beyond my mental clutter and overly emotional angst about finding my something else each time we move, I need a new paradigm.
Allen uses the phrase “no matter how insignificant,” but you could easily substitute that with “no matter where you live,” or “no matter how many times you relocate,” or “even if your husband is deployed,” or “even if you are homeschooling your kids,” or “even if the next assignment is only six months.”
I need to pray and seek, think and consider, and make a plan (resolution and energy developed). Instead of being a victim of my nomadic circumstances, I need to take the reins of my situation, find out what it is that I can do that energizes me as Claire (beyond wife, mom, friend), utilize the resources, strengths, and gifts at my disposal and set out to accomplish it.
When life begins to get hectic and overwhelming it’s easy to believe that you must be the only person who feels this tension or has these thoughts. But I don’t think that’s absolutely true. While I may be
significantly slightly more in tune with my emotions than most, I know I’m not alone in feeling this tension for something else.
“The will to do springs from the knowledge that we can do. Doubt and fear are the great enemies of knowledge, and he who encourages them, who does not slay them, thwarts himself at every step. He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure. His every thought is allied with power, and all difficulties are bravely met and wisely overcome. His purposes are seasonably planted, and they bloom and bring forth fruit, which does not prematurely fall to the ground. Thought allied fearlessly to purpose becomes creative force: he who knows this is ready to become something higher and stronger than a mere bundle of wavering thoughts and fluctuating sensations; he who does this has become the conscious and intelligent wielder of his mental powers.” – As a Man Thinketh, James Allen