It’s that time of year again. Gym memberships are purchased. Quotes from the best self-help lit circulate. We vow to ourselves (and sometimes to the public) to make big changes.
“This will be my year,” we say.
I am a goal setter myself—and a HUGE dreamer. I always have been. I love making New Year’s resolutions. I love the metaphorical reset. I thrive on the idea of a fresh start.
But the past six weeks have robbed me of all ambition, motivation, and drive.
I have been stuck in “survival” mode. It’s like I can barely keep my head above water, like I am doing only the bare minimum, and even that sucks all the life out of me. Tell me I’m not alone.
I think we all find ourselves in a place like that at some point. Usually, it’s emotionally or spiritually. Sometimes it’s physically. For me, during the month of December, it was all three.
I have been more physically sick than ever. Despite the festivities of Christmas time, I can count on one hand the number of times I actually got out of bed. I didn’t make gingerbread houses. I didn’t admire the lights at Temple Square. I didn’t play in the snow with my toddler. I didn’t make it to holiday parties or deliver gifts to neighbors or attend church on the Sunday before Christmas. All I did was survive.
In fact, my daily to-do list for December consisted of these two items only:
1.) Keep my son alive
2.) Keep myself alive
The physical anguish has also taken a toll on me spiritually and emotionally. I have never felt more like a failure. Weird, right? To feel like a failure for being sick. I know it’s not my fault, but I feel too weak to build the mental dam that can block the self-deprecating thoughts from flooding in.
I am wracked with acute guilt for the mother I want to be, but can’t. I want to take Milo outside and together freeze our buns off while building a snowman. I want to chase him around the living room and barely avoid stubbing my toes on his inconveniently placed monster trucks. I want to engage in our daily fight of teeth-brushing—and of course win. But I’m honestly too fatigued.
Also, the realization that I’m not carrying my load in my marriage hurts. My husband is the most celestial degree of patient, and he has lovingly expressed that none of this is my fault, but I’m a bad listener. I feel burdensome and guilty that I cannot do the grocery shopping and certainly not the cooking. You should see the piles of laundry. And what my two-year-old wears in public with his dad. I haven’t been there for my husband like he has been there for me. I hate that.
I’m frustrated that I can’t contribute more to my church calling. I feel like I’m letting those who matter most to me down.
Social media certainly doesn’t help. We see the highlight reels of others’ lives, the edited, glorified version of everyday moments. Most tuck the bad and the ugly away from the public eye, leaving those of us in “survival mode” wondering why we don’t have it figured out. It’s an easy trap to fall into.
The root of my frustration is that I don’t want to just survive, I want to THRIVE. I wish I could set gargantuan goals that ignite within me a spark of motivation. I want to dream big. But right now, even just surviving feels like too much.
And so here I am at the start of the new year, face to face with the disheartening truth that this trial of mine will carry over into 2019. It won’t just come to an end simply because 2018 did. No, the internal wrestling match is still in full swing.
For that reason, I am clinging to an experience I had a couple weeks ago, an experience that serves as a powerful reminder that it is okay if my only New Year’s resolution is to just survive.
I think it was a Thursday when it happened. I had, for like the 20th day in a row, been miserably sick all day. My son was with his grandma and my husband was at work. I was alone, thinking too hard about my physical and emotional plight and how much I hated it all. Then my eyes wandered to the Harry Anderson painting of Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane hanging in our living room.
I see this painting every day, but that night the reality of what I was seeing really struck me. Christ really knows what it is like. Every bad, terrible, unfair thing that ever happens to us…He knows. He’s felt it. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He confronted the agony of our every physical pain, the anguish of heartbreak, and the constant ache of wishing you could do more and be more. His atoning sacrifice is infinite and all-encompassing. He knows how draining and even excruciating it sometimes is to just…survive.
With this astonishing reminder of what my Savior did for me came an accompanying reminder of His unconditional love. I felt it so powerfully, so undeniably.
And then I had this epiphany, courtesy of a God who knew I might soon collapse under the weight of the burden I carried.
It was as if I could hear my Father in Heaven say to me, “Jessica, all of this—what you are doing now—is honorable. I have seen great faith from you.”
What? Really? This is faith? This is honorable?
Heavenly Father helped me to feel that my weeks and weeks of just getting by really were a great demonstration of my faith in Him. I felt not just His approval, but that He was proud of me for hanging on. He was proud of me for putting one foot in front of the other, for moving forward even when it felt impossible. He was proud of me for believing that better days were ahead even when all I could see then was darkness. He was proud of me for surviving.
I’ve decided it’s easy to trust God when things are going right. It’s easy to set big goals and accomplish great things when all is well, or mostly well, around us. Is there really any honor in that?
I have come to truly know that there is no shame in merely surviving—whether that’s physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or all of the above. It is a noble work to keep trying when we feel taking one more step into the unknown might kill us. I believe it’s when we are simply surviving that we grow the very most, and that growth is permanent. It is in survival mode that we produce unshakable faith and learn just how strong we really are. Surviving means we come to know Christ in a whole new way, at a higher and holier level. Surviving is honorable and admirable and worth celebrating in the eyes of God.
Let me say that again: SURVIVING IS HONORABLE AND ADMIRABLE AND WORTH CELEBRATING IN THE EYES OF GOD.
To those feeling like failures amid your goal-setting peers, I am speaking to you.
To those dreading 2019 because your resolutions fall short of your own high expectations for yourself, I am speaking to you.
To those brave enough to continue facing the same trial you have faced for weeks, months, or even years, I am speaking to you.
To those enduring to the end of a trial, I am speaking to you.
To those doing the very best you know how, I am speaking to you.
SURVIVING IS HONORABLE AND ADMIRABLE AND WORTH CELEBRATING IN THE EYES OF GOD.
To my fellow “survivors” out there, I echo these words from Elder Holland:
“Don’t give up…Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead…You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”
2019 will probably feel like the world’s longest spiritual marathon. I don’t plan to cross the finish line first. I don’t plan on claiming a new personal record. My only goal is to finish the race. And that, according to God, is enough.