I’ve been walking a lot lately, and oddly one of my favorite places to stroll happens to be the cemetery down the street from our house.
It’s peaceful there, very quiet, except for the birds that nest in the trees and make an appearance from time to time. Except for the occasional lone soul coming to tend to the graves of loved ones who have passed on.
There’s a bench where you can sit and look out over the horizon. The wind blowing from the cemetery trees brushes against your skin like soft whispers.
It carries the scent of tulips and roses and all the smells of green spring and budding summer.
It smells like restlessness, a contrast to the peaceful bodies at rest underneath the ground.
It reminds you how it feels to come of age, or to stand atop a cliff’s edge.
You want to take a leap, to land someplace you’ve never been; and though you are scared to death of where that might be, you fear standing on the edge one second longer would be far worse than jumping.
Some of the tombstones in the cemetery I visit sit so close to the bench where I stop to take a breath that I’m able to read the inscriptions on them clearly.
There’s a tombstone not too far away that says, She gave her today for our tomorrow.
Every day I study the words on this one tombstone, and they pierce my heart.
I’ve been struggling for a long time with the giving of today; that’s a confession I’ve only just begun to admit in the last couple of weeks.
Here I have been thinking all these years how much I’ve been sacrificing, as if it’s really been that great to begin with. As if I’ve really been doing something big.
I’ve been proud of how I’ve given myself with no expectation in return.
But that’s a lie.
The truth is so much uglier: Every moment I sacrifice and don’t receive what I expected to get back, I place a coin in the Bank of Bitterness.
And every once in awhile, I show the full amount I’ve deposited to my husband or my kids. Then I tuck it away, convince myself this bank doesn’t exist, and use the coins to pay for another scary trip on the roller coaster that has become the daily emotions of my life.
Lately that bank has been taking more and more deposits and the roller coaster has twisted further and further around bends and curves I fully expected to come but tried hard to pretend wouldn’t.
Someone told me the other day to simply write these emotions down. All of them, ugly and all, truth, pain and outcome.
I’m not quite there yet.
I thought instead that I would stop writing, because that’s what I usually do. Sometimes my brain feels too jumbled, too overwhelmed with thinking to write out a coherent thought.
But other times I wake up at two in the morning, compelled to scribble or type anything that might soothe my aching soul.
Have you ever had a hurt soul?
It’s hard to understand what or why I write if you haven’t had one.
And what causes it isn’t my place to judge.
What hurts your heart might not hurt mine.
And I feel some days like I’m the only one hurting.
Pain will do that to you. Make you selfish, cause you to focus inward far more than a person should.
I tell myself that I can’t be the only woman who feels this way.
I just can’t.
But sometimes I think that’s exactly what I am.
I watch other women.
They volunteer at their children’s schools, a genuine joy to help emanating from the smiles on their faces.
They throw huge birthday parties, and relish the fun others have in their company.
They carefully engineer their kids’ friends and even their own. They choose lunches and clothing and activities that will ensure their children have fantastic lives.
And they’re probably right.
Yet, I can’t bring myself to care enough to do the same.
Seriously, I’ve tried. And I cringe when other women laugh uncomfortably at my lack of urgency or desire to participate in normal mom stuff.
Maybe they think it’s my shtick, my, Oh she pretends she doesn’t care about any of that but you know she really does.
No. I really don’t.
In fact, I am ashamed to admit—I hate parenting.
I don’t hate my children. I worship my children. I adore my children.
I could spend hours sitting with them in the park, nestled up beside them under covers, breathing in their innocence, soaking up their laughter.
I could talk to them and listen to them and love on them all day long.
But I find zero joy in making sandwiches for lunches, or driving my kids to activities, bandaging a bo-bo, or picking out clothing.
I despise birthday parties. Honestly, I can’t stand throwing them and I’m filled with anxiety over attending them, the thought of socializing about more kid stuff and more mom stuff and more wife stuff filling me with dread.
I watch women stay at home and seem happy to do it. Privileged, even.
They don’t find joy in a career, and they don’t necessarily find it in their spouses, either.
Maybe they find joy in designing a well-decorated home, in dressing to perfection.
Eating lunch with friends. Sweating on the tennis court or in the gym.
Maybe their satisfaction is found living through their children. Or just for them.
But unfortunately that life is not possible for all women who stay home. Some of us aren’t even sure that’s a life we want to live.
I watch many women work demanding outside jobs, some full-time, some making even more money than their spouses.
And I find that, pressed to be honest, most of these women are also doing the majority of work that housewives and stay at home moms do. A double load.
I watch men enjoy golf, or a good hunt, or a night out at the bar, or just generally anything that requires less child-rearing or housework than their wives.
And I hear everyone spout off tired notions of, It’s just the way things are, or, The woman is a helpmate, or, We are just better at housework and raising children than men—and I am not okay with it. Not at all.
It makes me angry, instead, that women have such a disadvantage in this world, to be expected to work and run a household—and to do it perfectly.
I haven’t enjoyed marriage like I thought I would.
It’s not my husband’s fault. Anyone would feel lucky to be married to him, I feel 100% sure this is true.
He has a fantastic job.
He’s gorgeous, holds a smile that could set off a thousand butterflies in a woman’s stomach.
He helps out in whatever way I ask him to at home. He doesn’t see what I see; he is unaware of all that is done or needs to be done. But to his credit, he will help when asked.
He has hobbies and friends galore. None of them are mine, hobbies or friends, but this doesn’t seem to bother him the way it bothers me.
He is good to and good with our children.
But he is not the prince I dreamed of as a little girl, the one I expected to dote all over me, to put first his wife, to devote his entire life to pursuing her.
When I think about divorce, I hurt for my children. I know all too well the scars it leaves.
When I think about staying married, I feel hopeless. I know all too well the look spread across the faces of countless women in unsatisfying marriages that have lasted a quarter century or longer.
When I hear Christians say, If only you’ll trust in Jesus and find your joy in him, then you will gain satisfaction even if nothing changes, I want to punch them in the throat.
When they follow with, Marriage is created to make you holy, not happy, I want to never hear the name of Jesus again.
So it would make sense that I find the words on that tombstone, She gave her today for our tomorrow, nauseating.
I don’t want to give up any kind of today for a tomorrow I’m unsure is even promised to me.
That tombstone makes me want to run to every dead woman in that cemetery who lived unhappy or even just dissatisfied, pull them out of the ground, and shake them awake, begging them to tell me why in the world they would waste a single day of their one and only life.
And if they told me it was a sacrifice, if they told me it was worth it, I would beg them to tell me how to do it. How to empty the bank of bitterness, to spend every last coin I had feeling good instead of bad, how to board a slow-moving train instead of the roller coaster I’m a frequent passenger of now.
I would plead that they tell me how to let go of my restlessness. How to remain, how to find my joy in Jesus and have that joy stay longer than a few hours.
This isn’t about gratitude. I’ve got plenty of it.
It isn’t about being unhealthy. I feel healthier than I have in years.
It isn’t about love. I love my family dearly.
It is about not being able to fathom that this is the way life was intended to be.
Not being able to reconcile a belief in a God more interested in a holy perfection that feels completely unattainable in my human imperfection.
And though I tell myself that I just can’t be the only woman who feels this way…
Sometimes I think that’s exactly what I am.