As a parent to a child with significant disabilities, my brain is constantly calculating outcomes. Do we have her feeding tube supplies packed? Will her wheelchair fit in the van? Is her speech device charged?
Caregiving takes many forms. Maybe you work in health care, or you spend your days pouring into others in the classroom. A few of my friends are navigating unexpected paths of caring for sick or aging parents, and still, others wake in the middle of the night with bottles and burp rags.
Our seasons of life may differ, but the effect of caregiving often looks the same: full calendars, limited margin, and bags under our eyes.
As I was ticking off the ways I feel like I need to be constantly ten steps ahead in my parenting and caregiving, a friend asked me this question: What are you doing for yourself?
I shifted on the couch and became incredibly interested in picking at my cuticles.
What was I doing for myself? I wondered. I wasn’t sure I had an answer – or rather, that I liked my answer. Because the quiet response creeping into my mind was: I’m not doing anything for myself. And if I was honest, I was harboring quite a bit of bitterness because of it. I stayed quiet, not brave enough to say it aloud.
She continued, encouraging me to consider finding tiny pockets of joy throughout the very busy day.
I sat with her invitation. Did she even know my schedule? My life?
I began to feel alarmed that I couldn’t think of much of anything in my daily life that brought me personal joy.
Wasn’t I, as James says, supposed to “count it all joy”?
My schedule is full of work deadlines and caregiving expectations. Every day my brain is full of anticipatory questions to meet anticipatory needs.
“Well, I can’t just go on a private retreat whenever I need a break,” I joked.
This time, she was the one staying quiet. I shifted in my seat again, feeling just brave enough, to be honest.
“This season of life requires a lot out of me,” I admitted. “In the midst of all I have going on, I’m not sure I know what brings me joy.”
She reminded me that I wasn’t a failure for not being able to pinpoint my joys – and invited me to reframe what I was considering joy in the first place. (Not in some sort of spiritual bypassing way, where I needed to pretend everything was easy or okay because I’m a person of faith and God is good. But in a simpler sort of way to extend compassion to myself in the midst of challenging times.)
If we can offer empathy to the people in our lives, why is it so challenging to extend grace to ourselves?
“Sometimes, taking an intentional minute to look out the window and breathe brings me joy,” she told me. “Or, in particularly busy seasons, I set a reminder on my calendar to just block out ten minutes to be quiet with God.”
The way she defined joy seemed so simple. When we’re in the depths of caring for others, it’s easy to feel like incorporating joy in our days for ourselves is a step too far. When we’re depleted, the last thing we need is a self-care checklist.
But adding little pockets of joy into our actual, messy, real lives is something we all can do.
I’m working on redefining joy. I’m adding tiny invitations to joy into my day, like lighting a candle as I work. I can’t eliminate deadlines, but I can offer myself a glimmer of delight. As I watch the flame flicker and breathe in a beautiful scent, I try to take a minute to remind myself that I am loved, even in my overflowing inbox and looming deadlines.
Since mornings are particularly hectic in my home, I’ve started showering at night as a way to be kind to my morning self. During the day, I might be at home caring for my daughter while she is sick, but I can also open the windows to let fresh air fill the house and turn on a playlist that makes me smile. (None of these actions are profound or life-changing, nor do they address larger structural and systemic problems caregivers and the people they love can face, but they can bring small pockets of everyday joy to a demanding season.)
Certain seasons of caregiving can be downright depleting. Demands are great and respite is often scarce – but even in these truths, there are still ordinary joys to be found, inviting us to breathe and remember that as we care for others, God cares for us.
Joy is there, hiding in the corners of our messy, real lives. We might just have to redefine what it looks like.
If you’re in a demanding season of caregiving, either in a personal or professional setting, consider what tiny parts of your day provide glimpses of joy just for you. You’re worth it.
A blessing for caregivers:
As you pour into others, may the God of all things replenish your spirit. May you find tiny pockets of joy in the bursting seams of your real life. When you are weary, may God grant you rest. When you are stretched too thin, may God bring you peace. And when your spirit is overwhelmed, may God offer you pockets of joy.