Learning to Embrace Setbacks


I was in a meeting and looked down at my phone. It was a local number. This meant it was either my doctor or dentist reminding me about an upcoming appointment I’d forgotten about, or it was the dreaded call from daycare to come pick up one of my kids. “It’s not an emergency”, she said immediately, “But Brooke’s fever is inching toward 100 degrees”. She reminded me of their policy to send kids home for anything 100 degrees and over, so my plan was to get her as fast I could, take her home give her medicine, and hope that she’d be able to back to school the next day.

The moment I arrived, her temperature was right at 100 degrees, and it appeared daycare was checking every minute to try to get that read (I’m cynical like that). With a business trip the very next day, I knew it meant that my husband would have to take the entire next day off work.

My heart sank. A tinge of frustration was already starting to course through my veins. Not only was the rest of my day hijacked, but I felt the guilt begin setting in on what the following day would bring. Here I was (again) putting more pressure on my husband to take care of the kids. “This always happens at the worst possible time”, I thought. I packed her in the car, put her down for a nap, and worked the next two hours moving my meetings around and giving my husband the fair warning of what the following day would bring.

I wasn’t sure how to word yet another email to my colleagues to let them know I was home with a sick child. I could imagine my coworkers thinking “Here we go again”, and felt like I probably sounded like a broken record to those around me.

When she woke up, I decided to go for a walk with her to burn time. She was a bit fussier than usual, so I knew I had to keep moving. As I walked, I looked around. I saw the sun peeking through the beautiful clouds. I noticed how the trees create the perfect arch of shade over the road where we walked. I noticed my daughter completely content watching those same things. It was almost as if God was saying to the frustration deep in my heart: “It’s okay to enjoy slowing down and looking around”.

During our walk I ran into another mom I knew who was sitting on her front porch. Her son had strep throat and she had a major crisis happening at work. She had to wake up at 2am and 4am that night to ensure packages were delivered in Madrid. She had stepped outside to collect herself for a few minutes before her next conference call. I thought to myself as I looked at her, “I totally get it.” I could see the stress and strain that she was carrying with her as she tried to balance both. I knew exactly how she felt.

I’m realizing now with two kids that my life is full of these unexpected setbacks. Before I had kids, I prided myself on having few of them.

Now that I experience them on a daily and weekly basis, I am starting to realize just how deep my desire for accomplishment and approval of others (and myself) really runs. Each day I start out with an expectation of what “success” looks like, and when these setbacks come along – my response is typically one of frustration, worry, and feeling like I’m letting others around me down. Often, I hang on to the bad attitude and outlook as if it’s justified and proves to others that the setback frustrates me just as much as it may frustrate them.

On my walk, God is showed me that I have a choice: I can either begrudge the setback, or I can see what purpose God has in it. I can accept that these setbacks are common and experienced by everyone, and I can give myself the grace that I readily give others. I can learn that a good day should never be defined by how much I get done. I can fear the absolute worst, or I can hope in a new day ahead. I can worry about what people think of my life, or I can trust that only God’s opinion of me really matters.

Yes, God is changing me through these setbacks. He knows that I have idols of accomplishment that rule my life and govern my happiness and he’s peeling those away each time I get a new call from daycare. He knows just how much I want to prove to my family and to my work to not let anyone down, and he whispers:  “let it go”, “look around”, “see what purpose I have in slowing you down”.

So, I’m holding onto the freedom he’s giving me as I continue to experience these daily setbacks. I am learning to look around and up when I am strolling a sick kid, asking God what I could learn in the moments where I don’t call the shots. I am starting to accept that God intends to use these moments to produce humility, a dependence on grace, and how to find my approval in Him and Him alone.

To other moms that may be strolling stuffy nosed kids around the neighborhood as you check emails or try to take conference calls on mute: You are not alone. You don’t need to carry guilt or frustration around, or feel the constant pressure to perform. Run to God and ask him to show you the purpose he has in the season you are in. When guilt begins accusing you, knock it down with the message of His never-ending grace. Remember your identity isn’t defined by your accomplishment or by the number of setbacks you have had recently, but instead by being a daughter of the Most High God.

So, let’s get out of our own heads. Let’s admit that we need a Savior from the setbacks we experience. Let’s watch how he will redeem them and use them for the good of those who believe.

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