Most families know what it’s like to live on a financial budget. We have always had to live within our means, and that is especially important now as a family of five with one income. It takes discipline and practice. There is a set amount of money coming in and it should be more than the money going out.
Ten years ago, as a new bride at the age of 22, I became very ill from mononucleosis. A year later, almost to the day, I relapsed. About three years after that I had it for the third time. My earliest years of marriage and parenthood were spent struggling to find balance and health. We eventually decided that I would stay home with our children, and it ultimately led us to choose to homeschool. I am now embracing this lifestyle with enthusiasm, as it offers peace and better health to us all.
This lifestyle, while suitable for us, still requires of me the same discipline and planning that our finances demand. I have an energy budget. My energy and stamina are finite. I have four people and a home to attend to each day, and only so much of myself to give to them. My body gives me signs when I am close to reaching my limit. If I overspend, my family and I end up paying for it later. After years of testing the boundaries of what my body will allow, I now have a good feel for when rest ought to be a top priority. The tug of war between the conservation and expenditure of my energy is as routine for me as adhering to our financial budget. The idea is to spend less, save more.
We are in the middle of our first year of homeschooling, which means we’ve barely crossed the starting line. During the Christmas break, I reflected on the highs and lows of our first semester in order to make necessary improvements. And this led to a rather startling realization about the “routine” I had been so proud of during our inaugural year. I have been budgeting another one of our family’s greatest assets: joy.
School objectives, nap schedules, in-home therapy sessions, meal prep, laundry, appointments, dishes, diapers, discipline, work schedules, field trips, and everything else in between can put my energy budget on overdrive. I act so carefully to retain the stamina I have for fear of losing too much energy. My day gets reduced to the necessities, with room for little else. This means less room for silly voices, knock-knock jokes, dancing in the kitchen, acting like a robot, and the like. I know the way to my kids’ hearts, and the way is usually simple and silly. I end up missing out on these opportunities to connect with them.
There are certainly times when rest must rule. But always living in fear of what I might lose deprives me and my family of the simple joys that we seek. And what exactly was I afraid of? If I indulge in too much silliness, every last shred of order and discipline will disappear forever? Ten minutes of playing in our spoon and Tupperware band will cancel out my previous night’s sleep? Fear had become a big motivator for me—a red flag that something was not right. So, I brought my petition very simply to God in prayer: Lord, I am tired. I tend to opt out of simple and joyful moments in my daily routine out of fear of becoming more exhausted. Help me to cooperate with Your grace so that I may recognize the life-giving moments presented each day.
The very act of taking this to prayer reminded me of God the Father’s unconditional love for us. I had no doubt that He was waiting to hear the needs of my heart because He is ever-willing to give. There is no fear in His perfect love. Even our sinfulness and our brokenness do not deter Him from remaining present and delighting in love for His children. For my children to learn about God the Father’s love, they will have to first witness that kind of love from us.
The Holy Spirit has led me to two simple ways to stop budgeting my joy.
First, I ask the Lord each morning for an openness to the graces of the day. Sometimes it takes a few extra moments to feel sincere in this request, but sincerity is a must. Second, I mentally or physically note one particular action I will initiate or consent to during the day: if a very silly request is made by one of the kids, I will make it a priority that very moment; I will randomly dance to a fun song that plays while we’re in the kitchen; I will use a funny voice when responding to a question. It seemed ridiculous to me at first that I have to be so intentional about joy at home. But, we’ve seen the fruits of this already. I have fussed less, said “yes” more, and have even had more confidence when my answer is “no”.
Our financial budget is as fixed as ever but my joy budget is slowly disappearing. I thought I could not afford to give of myself in the little moments in order to save myself for “bigger” things. No doubt though, I can’t afford not to give in to the little moments, as those often make the biggest impact upon our children. I want my kids to see love and joy in simple opportunities, rather than assuming love is complicated and joy is elusive. I have hope that I can become more compliant in purifying the love in our home. As a reminder of how to best approach my role in the home, I am posting this quote on my wall from St. John Paul II: “Do not forget that true love sets no conditions; it does not calculate or complain, but simply loves.”