On Having It All: My Journey

I love reading about women’s issues.  As a woman, feminist, and person with an interest in psychology, sociology, public health, and personal development, it’s kind of a no brainer area of interest for me.

A question I keep coming across: can women have it all?

The answers differ.

You can’t.  You can.  You can, but just not all at once.  You could if our government provided a system of subsidized childcare options or if maternity and paternity leave policies were different in this country.  You can if you can afford a nanny.  You can if you have a feminist husband.  You can if you don’t have a high level position.  Lean in.   It takes a village—use your village. Put your big rocks first and then the sand.  Bla, bla, bla.

At first I was really into this debate.  As someone who feels the tug of war between the privilege of motherhood and an aptitude for a meaningful career outside of the home, I felt invested. But lately, I’ve grown sick of it.

It’s not that I don’t care about equality or women having opportunities to succeed.  I do.

It’s not that I don’t understand the history of feminism or the ground we still have to cover.  I do.

And it’s not that the concept of “having it all” isn’t appealing.  I would love to have a fulfilling and financially rewarding career on my terms, opportunities to advance to high level positions, rich friendships, a fabulous romantic relationship, all the time in the world with my child(ren,) AND time to work out, blow dry my hair, shop for awesome clothes, have my own hobbies and pursue philanthropic work…with no stress or strain placed on my relationships or health throughout it all.  Who (male or female) wouldn’t want this?!

Our culture says that if we work hard enough, we can live this dream.  We can have it all.  I bought into it, and it was my goal when I thought about becoming a mom.

But slowly, I’ve realized: having it all isn’t a good enough goal.

And the fact that we have a national debate about our right to “have it all” may say more about our entitlement than our interest in equality.

And although we may cloak this conversation in terms like “justice” and “the right to self-actualization,” what “having it all” really means is “if I can’t simultaneously have everything I want, I feel deprived, angry, and like my rights have been violated.”

In other words, my personal fulfillment and satisfaction at any given moment is the most important goal.  

Here’s the thing I’ve realized as a person trying to follow Christ: it’s not.

We aren’t called to pursue our vision of personal fulfillment—we are called to obedience to God’s call on our life.

We aren’t called to “have it all”—we are called to have right hearts and right actions.

We aren’t called to create our own dreams, but to ask God what His dreams for us are and partner with Him in living them out (they are much bigger and cooler than ours anyway!)

Scripture never promises that we can “have it all.”  It offers no formula for attaining this, no encouragement to strive for this, no affirmation of this lifestyle goal.

What we ARE are told in scripture is that God will meet our needs.  We are told to seek His kingdom first and that everything else will be given to us as well.  We are told to deny ourselves, to consider others as more significant than ourselves, to be humble, to be content, to look not only to our own interests but to the interests of others, to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

What it doesn’t say is “seek yourself and your own self-fulfillment first.  Your happiness is most important.  You deserve everything you want, so go ahead and put others’ interests beneath yours while you try to attain everything you want all at once because you’re terrified of not being satisfied.”

Yet it is so tempting to live life that way–to move ahead with your ideas and your vision of what life should look like without checking in with God about His vision.

When Zoe was born, I had a nanny hired, a return date for work, and a plan–MY plan.  After my 6.5 week maternity leave was over, I would be back at work balancing everything. The intensity required by my management position would be hard for my family, would likely put some strain on my marriage, and wouldn’t allow me a lot of time with our baby, but I needed to make money and be satisfied professionally and not hate my daily life (because I just knew I would HATE being a stay at home mom…who could possibly like that? 🙂 )  I had a job that made me feel important and a team to supervise and professional goals and I would accomplish it all and be an awesome working mom because I had worked hard and that’s what I deserved.  I didn’t really check in with God about it, but it was my plan and what I wanted, so it had to be okay, right?

Then I spent the morning of my 27th birthday sobbing in my bedroom because I couldn’t deny God’s call.  He was gentle but clear.  And He was telling me that I couldn’t have it all.  That for my family and my personality type in this stage of life (not a prescriptive statement, just my story) it was best for me to stay at home, to focus on one thing at a time, to stop striving for a life that was all about ME and my sense of status and self-importance, to make a decision that was best for the people I have been given to love instead of just looking at what I wanted.  That 27 would be different than every other year because this year, I would surrender to God’s plan for my life even where it differed with mine.

I’ve had to mourn this dream of having it all.  I have.  It hasn’t been easy to walk away from an idea that is so entrenched in our culture, so attractive, so positively phrased.

But as I’ve walked away, I’ve found a surprising paradox: that as I turn away from my own goals and vision and hopes in favor of His—I find the fulfillment that I’ve been looking for all along.

Instead of trying to cram everything in and fighting a constant battle for balance, I have a sense of clarity about my priorities and am able to enjoy and be fulfilled by the present.

Instead of worrying about my next move and whether or not I’ll meet the goals I want for myself, I am learning to trust His provision and His ability to satisfy me in the opportunities He brings me to.

Instead of feeling bitter about opportunities I’m missing out on, I find myself thankful for the gifts I already have.

When you realize that everything you have is a gift, you’re less concerned about “having it all” and just so, so grateful you have any of it.  

We are guaranteed nothing in this life.  Everything we have is a gift.

I want to live a peaceful life of gratitude and offering to others, not a restless life of grasping and striving for my own goals.  I want to be passionate about personal growth—not personal fulfillment.  I want to view my children and husband and people in my life as the gifts they are, not as objects to work around and obligations to balance in my calendar.

I don’t want people to look at me and say, “wow! She is Superwoman.  She really has it all!” Instead, I want them to look at me and say “wow, she loves the people in her life well and I feel loved when I am with her.  I wonder if there is something to this God she talks about.”  

I don’t want to have it all—I want to steward what I have well.

And so my takeaway message, to you and to myself as well: God has a special plan for each of us.  Be obedient to God’s plan for you–don’t be a slave to your pre-scripted plan for yourself. And don’t fear His plans–God doesn’t call us to boring and unfulfilling lives.

(A few cases in point: I LOVE every day as a mostly stay-at-home mom and I actually find it to be a perfect fit for me right now despite it being my worst nightmare for years!  Another friend of mine recently went back to work after maternity leave even though it wasn’t her initial “life plan” because she feels God has given her the job she has as a way to provide for her family.  She works hard at her job, is intentional to spend time with her baby every day, and her family has been blessed because of her efforts.  A friend of mine is single in her 30s, has no kids, and lives pretty much paycheck to paycheck—a far cry from the “all” that society talks about having.  Yet she isn’t trying to get more–she is trying to GIVE more.  She impacts others every day through her career and spends her evenings working with youth who need a positive role model—evenings she has to give because she isn’t frantically trying to climb a corporate ladder or meet a husband.  And her life is so, so rich.)

I don’t think anyone (male or female) can have it all.  But with His guidance, I think we can have the right things…and that’s what I’m striving for these days.

7 thoughts on “On Having It All: My Journey

  1. Amazing, Sarah. You are so right. I’m thrilled that you have found what is best for you. And, giving love is all that matters. I’m blessed to call you my friend.

  2. This is so true Sarah! I couldn’t agree more! 🙂 We live paycheck to paycheck because of the lives we lead… lives we lead because of what we feel God is telling us to do. We never want for anything… and have everything that we really want. Our wants are less! We are content! We are happy! We are doing what we feel God leading us to do and we fear doing anything else because we have seen the joy and peace that comes from being obedient. We have also been disciplined when we have tried to go our own way and do what it is that we think we want. I joke and say to people at times that I think the Lord wants us to live paycheck to paycheck forever but…. part of me really does. We have learned to trust God daily for everything…. and He is always there! I never dreamed that I would homeschool. I was always open to it but… I said the Lord would have to prepare me. When I felt God telling me to homeschool this year…. I didn’t hesitate (much) and I didn’t really need anyones approval with the exception of Michael. I had no doubt what the Lord was telling me to do and that was all I needed. I knew He would equip me and be with me because He always is. There is such power and confidence and peace in REALLY knowing (and living) that! I am excited for you! I am excited for the joy and peace that you are already experiencing and for the abundance of it to come! Love you guys!

  3. “when you realize that everything you have is a gift, you’re less concerned with having it all and just so so grateful that you have any of it.” Wow, so beautifully said, Sarah. I have loved reading your parenting journey and watching you grow in this new role in your life. Love you my friend.

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