In my last post, I suggested this idea that our intentions can be motivated by fear, or they can be motivated by faith. We are either running away from something, or toward something.
For the last ten years, my family has been living in a condition even more dire than default mode. We have been in survival mode. Do you know what I mean? In the beginning, we were struggling college students. Then, we started growing our family, and we grew pretty fast! I took a long time to finish my degree, and when I finally accomplished that goal, I walked across the stage to receive my diploma with baby no. 3 in utero! From there, we have struggled with loneliness, and underemployment.
It’s kind of hard to say how badly we struggled. We have never experienced a major catastrophe, or a tragic loss. We have never been diagnosed with a serious condition. We have basically been able to provide a comfortable situation for ourselves. This makes it a little more lonely because no one knows what you are going through. While mental illness is real, there is a degree of it we call “high-functioning” that people don’t even realize you are suffering. Everything looks normal on the surface. In fact, I have done a lot to appear normal. There was even a time when I was getting up and feeling pretty good!
But, it’s like you’re climbing this mountain always looking to this summit with a hope that there will be greener pastures just beyond it. Only to reach the top and find an even taller mountain beyond it, with rockier terrain and a steeper summit. It’s exhausting, and we often lost our footing.
Living without intention – without even realizing it.
I finished my degree, sure, but I really only did it out of fear that I would never graduate if I didn’t force myself through the courses, and finish up as quickly as I could! I had attended a half-dozen different colleges, and changed my concentration enough times that when I finally settled into something, it was a special interdisciplinary major that my school created for adults who want to design their degree based on the cumulation of diverse credits. I’m not ashamed of that. It was a challenging program! The point is, had I been more intentional, I would have been more courageous to continue for as long as I needed to get the degree that I would have really enjoyed, and used. Or, I would have taken a break to figure out what I really wanted to do instead of accumulating student debt to fund my indecisiveness.
But, there we were in survival mode. I had a toddler and a newborn, no friends or family close by. Michael was underemployed and taking graduate courses. Soon, we had two preschoolers, and another toddler and infant.
It’s been a long journey. It’s been a decade of crisis mode: being unprepared, rushing around to get ready, stumbling over clutter, squeezing out that little bit of funds that we need this month and going into debt. Being overworked, and underpaid. I’m talking about missing a day of dishes or laundry, and it takes three or four days to catch up. It’s being too exhausted to get up earlier than you do and everyone gets used to quesadillas for dinner (nothing wrong with that! My family has always been safe and fed nutritious foods, even cereal for dinner is an acceptable substitute if it gets everyone fed and gets you through the day, amiright?!).
Survival mode is isolating yourself from the world because you’re too ashamed to go out.
It’s looking for some outlet to remedy the stress of day-to-day living so you can somehow face another day. We don’t drink or gamble or whatever, so our vices have been numbing our minds to our favorite TV shows, and going to our favorite fast food joints, eating out way too often as a stress-relief (granted, we have become total fast food snobs, and won’t just go anywhere! Give us a little bit of credit).
The hardest part was when we started taking our stress out on our family, being more sensitive and emotional, rather than mindful and calm.
When we started feeling like our home is a place where the stress permeated everything. That’s why we ate out so much. It has been the best remedy for us.
I have to say right here that I am very grateful that despite our struggles, we have always had enough. We have always been blessed to find what we needed for our family, even if it meant some sacrifice. Our children have always been provided for and we have always been healthy and safe. I just need to acknowledge the sacrifice and work ethic of my dear Michael over all these years of struggle and heartache.
Fear-based culture became the standard.
When you live day-to-day playing catch-up, responding to one crisis after another – as small as they may be – how can you ever get ahead? Living like this has taught me that I was just responding to each moment out of fear – reacting out of fear or an expectation that things should be different without really knowing how to make it different. Michael and I have shed many-a-tear wishing things were different, praying for deliverance, and wetting our pillows at night as we fell asleep with a prayer on our lips that our children will never have to suffer as we have.
So I started reading about what I can do to change, what I could do to fix the dynamics of my home and change our trajectory. I was tired of feeling like I was always trying to escape from something, or making choices based on what I wanted to avoid.
Running away from something, for fear of failure, or otherwise, gives me this image of a person running away and constantly looking back over their shoulder, not really realizing what they are running into. It’s like in a movie when you watch the person running and looking over their shoulder and then they run right into that thing they were trying to avoid! AAHH!! Pretty scary, right?!
I think about this when people ask about my reasons for homeschooling my kids. Some people give answers like avoiding the system, or getting away from bullies. What then? What are you bringing your kids home TO? I like to think that I’m working toward my goals with homeschool rather than running away from something out of fear.
Faith-based Culture is working TOWARD your goals and intentions.
When you’re running toward something, you are looking ahead and seeing where you are going. When you are motivated by faith and a desired outcome, you can begin to formulate real, attainable goals. I’m not running away from my kids being bullied, I’m working toward having more empathetic kids. I’m not running away from a corrupt system, I am creating a new system that leads to freedom and fulfillment.
Do you see the difference?
So, I started studying, and reading about how to develop the kind of life I really want instead of constantly rushing around, claiming my plate is too full, or that I just can’t handle any more stress! When you’re in survival mode, you are constantly in a state of fight or flight.
Some of my favorite books about being intentional with our family are “The Awakened Family”, Dr. Shefali Tsabary, “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne, “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr, “Outwitting the Devil” by Napoleon Hill, and “The Millionaire Fastlane” by MJ DeMarco. (You can find a full list of recommended books by myself and my guests here The Family Culture Podcast Book List).
From these books, and others, I have been gaining a new education of how to live with intention and not allow circumstances to dictate my choices. Life ebbs and flows between stress and recovery naturally, and I have learned to embrace this. I’ve learned the importance of whittling away those things that don’t serve me. Simplifying, but also doing things that stretch me to listen to my authentic voice.
I have also learned a lot about grace through this experience. I would get very upset when my plans wouldn’t work out. I have a Type 2 Energy (not affiliated), which means I like to think everything through and tend to be a perfectionist. I learned in all of my struggles that I don’t have to be perfect! In fact, it’s impossible. I didn’t have to run away from my fear of imperfection, because I could make progress, which is way more important. I learned that even when I feel alone and weak, I have a Savior that is holding my hand and carrying me through all of this process. So, yes, I am still far from perfect. I am still learning how to act more on faith, and be intentional. I have to deliberately ask myself if my choice is a response to a fear, or if there is an alternative option. I think what Napoleon Hill says about drifting is true, because it is so easy to become complacent and indifferent. And, when you’re stressed it is very easy to fall into indecision out of fear that the situation won’t actually improve.
Creating a faith-based culture
Creating a family intention; setting attainable goals; using trials and tests as stepping stones for learning rather than indication of failure; having a vision, standards, values, and traditions that shape the identity of your family will guide your choices. Pause and be mindful of why you are feeling what you are feeling before you react. Don’t allow situations to act upon you, but use your agency to act for yourself, think for yourself, and be intentional. Create a culture where everyone feels seen and heard. Hold family meetings. Take time to spend time together having fun. And, remember, it’s all about the process.
As I review our family history over the course of the last ten years, I have been learning how my choices have been fear-based. I know now that I can look into my choices and decide what would be the faith-filled option. Let me just mention what I define as faith.
First of all, for me, faith is in Jesus Christ – His grace, the enabling power. But what exactly is faith? To me, faith means I am willing to take action even when I can’t see all of the steps. It means that I move in the direction of my hope allowing those actions to reveal the next steps in the process. When you plant a seed, you hope it will grow, but faith is watering it, giving it the right conditions to grow, and being patient with the process. A good seed will grow. It starts underneath the soil before you can see it, but you keep watering it. It continues to grow before it reaches it’s full potential, and you keep watering it while it blooms and blossoms.
Process. From Surviving to Thriving.
This is all a journey. In “Outwitting the Devil” Napoleon Hill explores the ways that the devil is working on engaging our fears. Whether you believe in the devil or not, a lot of what he said rang true to me in hindsight of my life over the last ten years. You are held back by fear when you drift through life without a plan, waiting for someone to tell you what to do, or not exploring your own options. You are allowing fear to run your life when you bump into failure and give up. This is why you’ll hear people talk about how important failure is to progress because those obstacles are stepping stones, not stumbling blocks, if you let them. They are teaching you what you need to work on in order to grow. I learned from “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” that it’s important to just let go of the outcome and enjoy the journey because fear will limit us whether we are afraid of success or failure.
Building a family culture around faith means that we have a growth mindset about our progress. We get curious about what may happen if we work toward our goals and intentions. We are present and mindful of the moments that make us who we are. And we ask ourselves, why?
Why do we do what we do? Why did our parents do what they did? Why do our friends do what they do? Why are we doing this? If the answers to why mesh with your vision and values, then keep going and keep working. If not, then find a new way.
I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time. As I look back on the last ten years I hope to instill in my children this understanding that we have grit, that we have endurance. I want my children to understand this family narrative of overcoming the deepest and lowest adversity to rise up above it. I want them to use our stories as motivation to make choices on faith that they will become their authentic selves, despite their fears. That is my why.
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