The overwhelming majority of clients in my clinical practice are black women. Often they come in with similar stories. They have forgotten how to enjoy their lives, or they have a sense that they are simply not sure what they are doing with themselves. Many times they report feeling completely overwhelmed, having sleepless nights, feeling stressed out at work, and feeling disconnected in relationships. While they certainly wouldn’t think of themselves as having anxiety or depression, many of these women struggle with symptoms of these disorders on a daily basis. They have been socialized to push through; to keep going no matter what happens; to be whatever is needed for their families. The danger of this for so many women is that they might tend to lose themselves in the process of caring for others. For more information on this experience, sometimes called strong black woman syndrome , come see my previous post.
One of the standard questions I ask in an initial meeting with a client is simple:
What do you do for fun?
It pains me to say how difficult this question is for some people to answer. Sometimes, people actually laugh out loud! Sometimes they roll their eyes or shake their heads. Sometimes, they look down and tears fall down their cheeks. It’s a simple question, but it’s a quick way to assess whether or not a person is attending to themselves and their own needs. Sometimes, we become so caught up in all the things we SHOULD be doing, that we have difficulty maintaining balance in our lives. For me, ultimately, this is an issue of priorities. When we make decisions about what becomes important in our lives, our attention and behaviors are directed toward those things. So, the simple question is: Are you a priority in your own life?
Recently, my devotional time led me to Matthew 11: 28-30. It’s a familiar passage:
“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” (GNT)
If you’ve ever stepped foot in a church, you’ve probably heard this passage. It is usually presented as a message of hope for the weary and overwhelmed. It’s a favorite! But this time, when I read it, something struck me. The first verse talks about God giving us rest. Then, the next verse talks about taking God’s yoke up. If you’re not familiar with that term, it typically refers to a wooden structure that is used to attach work animals to a cart or other vehicle of some kind so that they can pull it. So, God is going to give me rest….by giving me something to pull? (Insert puzzled face here)
Then, it hit me: God gives us rest when we are freed from heavy loads that we have no business carrying! The invitation to rest is not an invitation to an existence that is free from responsibility- that’s not realistic. It’s an invitation to carrying the loads God assigns to us and putting down the ones we have decided to pick up along the way, that perhaps were’t even ours to carry. This rest is an invitation to put down the unimportant, burdensome responsibilities of life, and pick up only the things that matter. This rest is an invitation to make good choices about how we commit ourselves.
Many of us could benefit from heeding this wonderful invitation. How many things are you doing just because you feel like you SHOULD be doing them, or because if you stop, someone will be upset with you. Have you stopped to ask yourself if there is purpose and fulfillment in those things? Have you prayed about whether God is calling you to these activities? And, here’s the critical question: What parts of yourself have you forgotten in the process?
Have you forgotten to laugh and play?
Have you forgotten to connect with dear friends?
Have you forgotten how to actually enjoy your family in an effort to “take care of them”?
Have you forgotten to take care of your body?
Have you forgotten to spend meaningful time with God?
Have you forgotten to ask for what you need or to make space for rest and rejuvenation?
I want to issue a challenge: Take a look at the forgotten part! Do an inventory and answer honestly whether there are pieces of you that you have lost in the process of living your life. If the answer is yes, that’s ok, because God’s promise is clear: “Come to me, all you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” Let God reorganize your priorities and your life. Get the rest you need! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!