When I was expecting my sixth child, the doctor ordered bed rest because of preterm labor. This order produced more than a healthy nine-pound full-term baby boy. Six weeks of bed rest dramatically altered my point of view concerning work. Before this order I’d wasted my fair share of time inwardly complaining about all the work I had to do. Suddenly and without warning, I wasn’t allowed to do any work at all.
Actually, the first day was great. As a mother of five little rascals, the chance to rest felt sublime. The next day I was antsy to get out of bed and do something . . . anything! It took an army of people to fill in for me and I was embarrassed. By the third day I wanted to climb the walls. By the second week I felt the gears of an internal attitude adjustment suddenly shift. I understood for the first time that the ability to work was a gift – a gift that can be taken away at any moment. I vowed to never complain about having too much work to do again.
By the third week I discovered my children needed the busy hurried me less than I preciously thought. My maternal work description needed to include more than productivity. My children rather enjoyed having a mother who was right there where they left me, a mom who wasn’t too busy or stressed-out to be truly present in the moment. While I was in bed and unable to care for my children in the usual ways, I learned what else my children needed from me. Yes, they needed a mother who could fix their meals and clean up after them. More, they need a mother who had unhurried time to hug them, read stories, snuggle and sing songs. While in bed all day, I found my children needed my peacefulness, patience and skin to skin affection. The doctor didn’t order a distressed mother, but that is what my children got. I stopped defining my value by how much work I accomplished during the day.
Most of us define ourselves by the work we do. One of the first questions we ask a new acquaintance is “What do you do?” Yet we often confuse our paid work with our real worth. Our culture tells us that our vocation is a proper gauge to determine how important we are. So, we spend most of our lives on egotistical things like career, car payments or mortgages. We get strapped onto a materialistic treadmill where someone else keeps turning up the speed until we can’t get off. We live in a society that teaches us we can never have enough. We need more, more, MORE! Then eventually retirement comes and we are left to wonder, “Is this all there is?”
If we want only more things - this really is all there is. Yet having more things never satisfies our inner most needs. What satisfies is personally offering others what we have to give – a song, a sincere thank you, a smile, forgiveness, a story, warm meal or a heart-felt hug. If we devote ourselves to offering our time, love and devotion to those in our own homes and communities we will not become bitter, empty or disillusioned.
The next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you have too much work to do, imagine being ordered to bed for the rest of your life. After the first day, you wouldn’t like it there. So, put a smile on your face and be grateful. If we make it our life’s work to care for others with compassion and joy we will find the only path to personal refinement and discover the ultimate fulfillment of life.