The Fellowship & The Thief
The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)
I have thought about writing this piece for close to a year now, but wanted to wait until I had a slightly better handle on what is fair and lovely before sharing this dark place that I experienced. About three months after my son was born I realized that what I was experiencing was more than “baby blues,” it was postpartum depression to a level that had me ready to call my doctor. For someone who considered herself strong of mind, I felt awfully weak. And that made me mad. But call it stubbornness, or call it sheer will, I was not ready to accept help from a pill. Although not opposed to mental health medication in general, I believe for me it would have merely been a bandaid, a temporary solution. So before talking to my doctor, whom I feared would steer toward that route, I wanted to seek guidance from my God, my ultimate Healer. After time in prayer, I felt led to try some specific, though simple, actions first.
Take time, even an hour, for myself each day to clear my head while my husband took care of our infant (i.e. the gym, getting my nails done, going to the coffee shop to read a few chapters, taking the dogs on a walk). That may sound small to some of you, but with a newborn and his unending cycle of newborn-needs, the concept was like taking an entire weekend away. I had read this “take time for yourself” spill in just about every new-mom-guide blog post, and I soon realized why.
Pursue fellowship with other women. I knew I needed the wisdom and encouragement that only other moms could give me. The challenge was that we had not even lived in this state for a year, which as you might guess, is not a sufficient amount of time to build female relationships of substance. (Conveniently, a women’s bible study was starting up in my church at the same time.)
Seek God each day for the strength to carry on. Because my own strength was utterly failing. Practically, this meant spending more time in His word and prayer. Practically, this meant watching less Gilmore Girls, as wonderful of a mindless distraction as it was.
Don’t give up. Because that isn’t an option anyways. Wish this task had more insightful details, but taking life one day at a time pretty much sums it up.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
So I began doing these simple things and slowly my spirits began to lift out of the cloudy fog they’d been living. But I’d like to spend a bit more time telling you about the women I met, and more significantly the friends I made, at this bible study.
We met on Wednesday mornings about 10:00 am. Which in and of itself was comical to me because all my adult life I have been working mid-morning. Who gets to just go to bible study at 10:00 am on a Wednesday? But now I was in a new category: stay-at-home-mom. And that’s one cool perk, I suppose: mid-week, mid-morning activities, conveniently structured around naps and when our young children are best behaved. The new friend who invited me assured me, “If you do the study, great. Or if you just show up for fellowship and encouragement and never get a chance to open the book, that’s great too.” But having led countless women’s bible studies myself, I had a hard time accepting that notion. Just show up? I am not a role call participator. Yet I went anyways.
We sat around a few tables pushed together, ten to fifteen of us. Many of whom had babies under the age of one in their arms. We talked, prayed, fed our babies, paced in circles, changed diapers, and cultivated God-glorifying fellowship. I eagerly watched these more experienced mothers juggle tasks throughout the morning and I began to feel more confident in my own abilities. They were patient and understanding, but more than anything, they were real. They made being the “newbie” easy. Not only was I the newest mom, but I think I was the newest to the church.
It might go without saying, but I did not finish reading or doing all the work in the bible study (actually, I don’t even remember what it was about now). But the life study that I did participate in, and the advise and encouragement I received, lightened my soul. Although all very different in personality and experiences, these women were, and are, the fellowship I desperately needed. So thank you, women of Renovation Church, for being the body of Christ.
(A side note to my fellow introvert: initiating relationships is not in my nature. It can be very hard to put yourself out there, investing the time and energy into a potential new friendship can be daunting. Having moved so much in the past few years has taught me: when you’re new to an area and know no one, but you want friends to share life with, you have to put yourself out there. Find activities or groups that share a common interest and see if there’s anyone compatible. If not, move on. But don’t allow your loner-nature to keep you from the richness of fellowship.)
What is something you like about yourself? I don’t mean in a prideful, arrogant way; but in a confident, grace-given way. Well one of the things I liked most about myself was my ability to find joy in simple, daily things. Flowers, manicures, nice walks outside, quiet moments, sunsets. I looked forward to things, I anticipated events, little and big. I worked hard for this ability, it took years of mental training.
But depression stole that from me. Even when I was doing things that previously brought me joy, there was an overarching cloud of unhappiness and discontent. And don’t forget anxiety, depression’s sister. In the handful of times my husband and I got the opportunity to go on a date in the first six months after our son was born, I was riddled with anxiety. It was all-consuming. I couldn’t make a decision. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t relax. My shoulders were up in my ears. At times, I think it was border-line psychopathic. I would finally convince myself I was fine, or happy even, only to be thrown down by a wave of despair. Hopelessness is not something I wish on my worst enemy, not that I have one.
As much as I was still pursuing the things God had guided me to, I couldn’t seem to find stabilization. Especially when I was taking time for myself, I felt so overwhelmed with anxiety and guilt that I would spend more time on the verge of tears than I would actually getting any relief or doing anything productive. Some days were better than others. But I felt so out of control. Which is heart-shattering to a control freak. I was up and down. I was emotionally exhausted. Perseverance took on a whole new meaning – to keep doing the things you know to be right even when they don’t seem to make a bit of difference.
If you live like this, please hear me: you don’t have to. This is not normal, healthy behavior. This is not how you were created to live. There is more. Please talk to friends and loved ones about your struggles. Seek professional help. But talk to someone. And don’t give up.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)
In hindsight, I realize that as much as I might wish the first chapter of my life as a new mom were easier and happier, the only fruitful thing I can do now is share my experiences in hopes that they offer encouragement and awareness to someone else. If you’ve read any of my posts, you know I adore Tolkien’s writing. I chose The Fellowship of the Ring as my fictional inspiration for this post because beyond all the relatable themes and motifs in the book there is an underlying string of fellowship which ties all the adventure, and quest, and obstacles together. The very real truth is that there will be thieves on all of our journeys, who come to kill, steal, and destroy our joy, marriages, faith, goals, relationships, peace, or hope. But I would encourage you to allow your fellowship, the people in your life, to help you discern between the light and darkness.
To wrap things up, just do your best, that’s all anyone can ask of you. My beautiful son just celebrated his first birthday (cue the tears), and I am happy to report that my good days now far outweigh my bad. My highs outweigh my lows. I am still pursuing balance, happiness, joy, and a newfound sense of identity, but I have hope.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5)