De-stressing the Distressed

By Sara Elsner

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I am distressing a drop-leaf table with chalk paint, adding to our home’s style of “cozy classic eclectic” that’s accented with touches of farmhouse-inspired pieces, recycled from flea market and curbside treasures....yes, I said curbside. I love this distressed decorating trend because its upkeep is very forgiving and family-friendly. It also gently blends with, inspires, and updates our decade-old oak twenty foot long dining table, and two decades-old china hutch, library bookshelves, and master bedroom furniture. I can’t bring myself to distress these major pieces because I have already seen too much of the bigger picture - we got married in the 80’s when country was cool. Since wedding registries in those days were limited to selections of dishes and towels at major department stores, our decor style was “contentment with pops of country blue”. By the time we had obtained the aforementioned furniture, stained oak was way cooler. Having seen trends come and go and come back again-ish, I now know that if I’d totally sell out for the farmhouse look I love, I’d soon regret that I could no longer see the beautiful wood grain of those major furnishings for which we’d waited years into our marriage to obtain.

So instead of irreversibly distressing every piece of furniture within our walls, I now choose to accessorize with trends that compliment what is more valuable to our home and family - respecting boundaries that protect long-term value.

The same can be true with our family schedules. I have had seasons of glorifying a trend of busy-ness, assuming that it was adding unquestionable value as I had filled every free moment of our own children’s non-school hours with extracurricular activities that seemed really significant at the time. They must have been, because I sometimes buckled car seats of as many as three babies and toddlers in order to chauffeur as many as five of our oldest to various sports, dance, music lessons, and ministry opportunities. And to an extent, many of these opportunities did enrich their lives. We were all grateful for the different ways God had allowed us to afford the those activities, but there was always one more class or lesson or team to join, or that our kids’ peers were adding to their repertoire, that our kids would want to add. Or that I did not want them to miss out on.

And I remember an older, wiser woman with grown children telling me that if she got to do it all over again, she’d allow for more margin and family meals at home. And I thought, yes - I am doing that too, so we’re okay. And we probably were - it was a season. But it soon became a very distressed season.

The distress wasn’t necessarily because of the busy-ness. If you’ve got one child with one extracurricular activity in addition to school (whether public, private, or homeschool), there is busy-ness that can be overwhelming. Actually if you’ve got one baby in diapers, and that’s it, there is busy-ness that can be overwhelming. And everyone has different capacities for busy-ness. And every season of motherhood comprises varying levels of busyness that stretch our capacity. We all need to acknowledge and accept both grace and inspiration from that truth.

But a distressed schedule can be a consequence of the motive of discontentment behind our busy-ness - not a fruit of motivation that accents and inspires.

If we are putting our kids in every activity that just might be the-thing-that-is-their-thing that makes them famous or lands them a full ride through college, or if we are trying to keep up with Johnny’s mom who is doing that for Johnny, then before we know it, we may have achieved the look of a passing trend (and our own kids may truly succeed at several things), but at the expense of valued relational moments as family. And when those activities are no longer the trend, and when personal identity and value have become defined by activity, we may regret that we have lost simpler moments of valuable conversation or even quietness. And we have neglected to teach our kids and ourselves about contentment and trusting God and cheering others on.

Please know that I am not saying that we should keep our kids home all the time with no sports, dance, music, etc. We still do those things. But in my 27 years as a parent I have seen some trends come and go - even for each individual child. I have seen what dictated our entire family’s schedule for several years become pale in significance to the next new interest. And it’s great to give our kids opportunities, as God provides, to try new things and be inspired. But when resources of time and budget and sanity and safety become distressed by all the activity, it’s time to be content within those boundaries and trust God to open those doors that He wants our kids to walk through. And to be at peace when He closes the ones He doesn’t. I have also found Him very faithful to do both.

“The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:6)

“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.” (Proverbs 24:3-4 NIV)

So if you find yourself or your family in a season that is becoming overly distressed by activities that are taking more value than they are adding, it’s okay to take a sabbatical from the busy-ness. It’s not negligent to be quiet and content in His direction that keeps focus within the boundaries of inspiration and calling. It’s here that the value of the bigger picture will be protected, and we and our children will learn to choose wisely. 


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A wife of thirty-ish years and homeschooling mom of eight, “plus-three”, Sara enjoys cooking for her remaining household of seven that grows to at least thirteen when their married kids are also seated at their family’s twenty foot table. As a math major, Sara battles symmetry-addiction, and she can’t avoid using both sides of her brain as she gardens and decorates. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!