By Vanessa Rasanen
Sometime last year in a desperate attempt to find reprieve from the exhaustion that comes with having four kids (including a newborn), a husband traveling for work, and a full time job, I found list after list of remedies that I couldn’t fathom fitting into my daily routine of craziness.
Go to bed earlier? Ha! Post-bedtime is when I finally get to sit and enjoy the quiet so I can hear myself think… assuming there isn’t laundry to be folded or dishes to be done, of course. When my husband is home, that’s our time to connect, talk, or watch a show together.
Exercise? Yeah. Endorphins-shmendorphins. I know it’s good for me, but there’s so much other stuff needing to be done. I can’t possibly wake any earlier than I already do!
Ditch the caffeine? What??? Are you crazy? If I didn’t have my coffee in the morning (and evening) and the sodas during the day, I’d die.
Cut out the booze??? Never! What are we? Pietists? Pssssh.
For over a year I fought the fatigue by heeding none of this advice. While I learned to let some things slide to the back burner (after all, no one will actually die if the dishes sit in the sink overnight), I mostly survived by focusing on the reality that this was a temporary suffering.
But that could only work for so long. Eventually caffeine had no effect on my exhaustion. I could down a whole pot of coffee on my own and still crash by 8 p.m. on the couch. The stress of just day-to-day vocational duties had me turning to wine, beer, or bourbon — with 3 or 4 glasses a day at least 5 days out of the week being my normal. I had so little energy the thought of doing any exercise, even minimal, was laughable. It took everything I had just to get food on the table and clothes on my kids. Something had to give.
I had been somewhat concerned about my alcohol consumption for a while when I randomly came across the guidelines that spelled out the definition of heavy drinking for women as being 7+ drinks in a week or 3+ in a day. Yeah, I was well beyond that line. With the support and encouragement from my husband and doctor I decided to give up the bottle — not for forever, but just so I could learn to cope with stress in other ways without the alcohol being my first go-to.
At the same time I had asked my husband to pick up more soda from the store if it as a good price. He didn’t. Now, whether it wasn’t on sale or he simply chose not to buy it for my own good, I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter. I realized giving up the soda was nothing but good for me, and if I was already going to be nixing the alcohol, why not cut out the 2-3 cans of soda I had been drinking daily.
Most folks were supportive, even if they thought I was crazy for cutting out both of my vices cold turkey simultaneously. And at the holidays, no less. Others insisted I was being silly. But the real flak came a few weeks later when I made the decision to give up caffeine completely.
The first day I was fine. The second day — a Sunday when my husband was working leaving me to parent solo in the pew — I thought I was dying from caffeine withdrawal. Note: don’t use the expression “I’m dying” in front of your three year old. Whoops! Thankfully she trusted me when I told her it was just an expression, and I was fine. (Though I truly felt far from fine.)
That was over two months ago. I think. Truth is, I’ve lost track of the time that has passed. Migraines I used to suffer from several times a week are non existent. I sleep better (though that’s partially due to the 18 month old now sleeping through the night). I have more energy. My mind isn’t as foggy. And my depression is minimal (though I’m still on my medication).
Most folks scoff at my ditching the coffee. They insist it’s a necessity to function. And I get it. I used to believe that, too. I thought the benefits of giving it up couldn’t possibly be worth giving up something I really enjoyed. Coffee. Soda. Yum. But it turns out the benefits of being caffeine-free far exceeded my expectations.
I’m not writing this to insist everyone should cut out their vices or should make drastic lifestyle changes. Nor do I write this to boast about my semi-superhuman abilities. I’m writing this to tell you about something that has been helpful and beneficial for me, in this time of my life.
Thing is we often hear or read advice for how to feel better or live healthier or what have you, and we are so quick to make excuses about why those steps won’t work for us. We may expend so much energy complaining about our ailments and then more energy shooting down every remedy suggested, when in fact, we should remember that often the best things we can do for ourselves are the hardest to do.
So we force ourselves to eat more vegetables when we’d prefer to eat fries. We push ourselves to choose water over soda. We make ourselves get to church on a snowy Sunday morning. We do (or should do) all sorts of things that we know in our minds are good for us but don’t really feel good.
As a friend of mine once put it, “Hard does not mean bad.” She was referring to parenting struggles, but it applies to whatever we are facing. Or to put it another way, in the words of Dr. Bob Kelso from Scrubs: “Nothing in this world worth having comes easy.”
Okay okay, before you roll your eyes at me and remind me that, in fact, the most important thing we have actually is easy, because we don’t do anything to receive it, let me remind you (lest you’ve forgotten), life in faith is far from easy. Yes, the justification part is easy. By grace alone, Christ has saved us. He has done all the work. Thanks be to God.
But this temporal life remains with all its trials, numerous and varied. While we have the joy and comfort of knowing our sins are forgiven in Christ Jesus, we are not meant to become lazy in this life, as if this life is made meaningless by the Truth of our salvation. No, we serve our neighbors. We care for others and for ourselves, because this life — this temporal life in a broken world — is still a precious gift from above.
We may fight addiction, battle depression, struggle with a multitude of other health issues. We will face brokenness and despair, heartache and worry. We will have tough decisions to make, but we must not shy away from tackling any of these challenges simply because they’re hard.
If you are making excuses for why you can’t make a change you know is best, pray for the strength to do the hard work set before you. Pray for the courage to tell the world to shut up when it tells you you’re fine and dandy and don’t need to change a thing. And remember through it all you have Christ crucified for you and you have your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to support you along the way. You are not alone. Come what may, you are never alone. And that makes all the trials just a little easier to face.