A whole lifetime ago, I was a yes woman. My commitment button was stuck on auto. Nothing made me hesitate; everything sounded like a worthy cause. Pick up a mentally ill church member from the hospital, take a meal to a stranger who had just had a baby, lead a team at the homeless shelter – why sure, I’d love to. I was a volunteer organizer’s dream.

Why would anyone do that to themselves, especially a mother with her own family to care for? Well for one, I was raised that way. My parents did not demonstrate boundaries; they never granted themselves permission to prioritize their own family first. Some people are raised in the church but I was raised by the church. We literally had a saying, “If the doors are open, we are there.” I can’t recall how many special events my siblings and I either missed or attended all alone because of a church conflict. Now that I am a parent, this makes my heart sad. But back then, I avoided thinking about what I needed or deserved because it felt selfish and shameful.

Living Without Boundaries Is Wreckless

My lifestyle without boundaries continued into adulthood.  I scheduled my wedding around church meetings. When I delivered my babies, few visitors came to celebrate us because church conferences were in progress. I continued to give of myself without expecting much back from my community. My ideal self was generous, compassionate, and capable. I believed that if I could keep this up, I would finally matter to someone. I would make a difference in the world. Bonus: I might finally find the God who is satisfied and pleased with me.

Well obviously, this insanity was not sustainable. My doctor prescribed months-long complete bed rest and physical therapy. I lay there in pain, even less available for my family and feeling guilty. My stellar husband Steve was tireless and tender during this season. However, the faith community I had invested in really dropped the ball. While this was dismaying, it did not come as a surprise. They were all busy in that same manner. Bedrest was a remarkable opportunity to finally process some very honest feelings.

God Was Never Disappointed in Me

I reflected that God had tried to speak for some time before this crisis, in order to slow me down. My busyness meant His still, small call went unanswered, shelved somewhere in the back of my mind. Finally, I was contributing nothing to anyone. I had failed but I was in awe of this: it wasn’t God’s anger or disappointment that met me. Instead, a deep sense of the longstanding, boundless love of God poured over me. I felt His compassion aimed full blast, like a father for a precious daughter. Mind-blowing! I developed a whole new perspective. While I was nothing, He joyfully gave everything.

The truth is God calls me to manage my life, to live in a manner that reflects His high valuation. This means neglect is a setback to His wonderful plan for my life. When I finally recovered enough to carefully do the little things- go for a walk, pick up some milk, drive my daughter to preschool- I made a  conscious decision to set definable boundaries from then on. Self-care can not be contracted out to a spouse or a pastor. I nurture my whole self because God wants me well, whole, and connected. He came that I would have life to the fullest, starting now.

What Self-Care Looks Like

Grasping God’s great value for me still empowers me all these years later. I use a journal to track healthy habits and daily goals, like time to read my Bible and pray. Yoga, exercise, and working in our beautiful yard keep me in shape.  I observe that quality time with people energizes me personally, but alone time is equally essential. When my body signals the need for more sleep or fewer to-dos, I take action. It impacts my mental health to work out feelings – rather than bottle them up. Feelings are often clues to the new directions God is taking me. I advocate for myself when someone doesn’t recognize my boundaries. I live present and mindful of the feedback from every area – body, soul, and spirit.

The Family I Invest in Changes the World

Next, God gifted me with an incredible family and commissioned me with the opportunity to prioritize them, especially while Adrienne and Addison are young and under our roof. This is a role that I find highly fulfilling, so I protect my time and energy here.

Our family feels very different from my family of origin. In our home, we do a lot of talking. We slow down to model attentive listening as we negotiate those inevitable life and relationship issues. My kids join me for Bible time a few mornings a week; there’s no one I want to share my faith with more than my children. Also, I absolutely love to shop and create nutritious meals for us. I grab opportunities to collaborate on school and house projects because spending time with them communicates their value. We take turns planning family bike rides and beach days. We capitalize on family fun for its power to reset and reconnect.

Investing wholeheartedly in my family is how I choose to change the world. God is not pressuring me and demanding more, more, more. His joy about me, about us, is my strength.


When My Priorities are in Order, Everyone Benefits!

I haven’t set aside my desire to be a capable, compassionate woman in my community. When our weekly schedule allows, I invest my extra time and energy. I volunteer where/ when it’s joyful. I schedule dates with friends to purposefully grow quality relationships, create events to connect my community’s homeschool families, and check on my neighbors in need. One way Steve and I give back as a couple is to host friends at our little beach bungalow.

These days, rest is chosen proactively (rather than forced on me because of neglect). Disappointing people or failing doesn’t scare me much. Instead, I make sure to stay connected to God’s love for me and to remain consistently aware of his still, small voice. It says “yes” to boundaries and “no” to neglect.

So NO, I won’t drive any more crazy people home from the hospital. 😉

Written by Melissa Brendtro