My head snapped up from the pillow at the sound of my daughter calling my name from downstairs. Good Luck Charlie had ended, and my job needed to start again. More than fifteen years removed from my napkin dreams, I was running fast. I’d been given a front-row seat on a rickety wooden roller coaster motoring on a never-ending loop. Twisting, turn- ing, backward, forward. Straining to find my bearings, but never slowing enough to compose myself. Going in circles, but never finding my dreams.
If we ignore the yearnings of our souls, we atrophy, and our dreams die. Sadly, many of us choose this descent because we believe it’s safer. If we don’t hope, we won’t be let down. If we don’t imagine, reality won’t disappoint. Either way, we avoid pain.
These destructive tendencies seem to afflict women in particular. Since 1988, the use of antidepressant drugs has soared nearly 400 percent, and women are 2.5 times more likely than men to take them. Twenty-three percent of women ages forty to fifty-nine regularly take these drugs, more than in any other demographic. Nearly one in four. A devastating statistic. Why the struggle? Why the heaviness?
As for me, I wondered: Is this just seasonal depression? Or will it linger? My faith was flailing. The gloom lifted by spring, but the lurking shadow reminded me that January would come again. I think perhaps the antici- pation of the darkness returning was as precarious as when it settled.
A friend recently confessed through tears that she struggles with bitterness. Her life doesn’t look the way she’d hoped it would. She couldn’t reconcile how her life—looking so successful on the surface—disguised the aching void that brings her tears the moment she opens her balled fists.
Are we grieving because our lives don’t look the way we imagined in our youth?
Do we pressure our children to reach their potential because we aren’t living up to our own?
Are we spending every moment cultivating the lives of everyone . . . but ourselves?
Women are stars fading behind the dark shadow of those we care for, and we often look a little worse for wear. Our light is dimmer than it used to be as we find ourselves unable to dream beyond our current reality.
So we compromise. My childhood dreams were just that—dreams. I should let them go. We push down any hope when we sense it emerging. The desire for change uncovers what terrifies us most: failure.
Then we go numb. We tell ourselves a quick fix will do just fine. Whatever will keep our heads above water—whatever will allow us to keep making lunches, paying the bills, getting through sex, doing the kids’ carpool, working out, pursuing that career, and so on—will just have to do. We don’t want to become the crazy lady at the bus stop, so we think to our- selves, Just give me the shortcut. Then I’ll be okay.
Perhaps most alarming are the many women who don’t see past their manicured lives—grasping for society’s definition of being “put together.” We have pretty ways of masking our lack of meaning, using all kinds of beauty products and retail therapy. We have homes to furnish and decorate, then redecorate once we tire of what we have. We keep up with fashion styles, throw and attend parties, and maintain a rigorous pace. While these are all delightful and beautiful and often worthy goals, using them to conceal our unfulfilled lives is dangerous.
Some women uncover their talents before having kids and then shelve them while raising their children. They’ve experienced a sense of fulfill- ment in living out their purpose but believe they must set aside their pursuits for the sake of motherhood. They’ve bought into the belief that their gifts and child rearing are disparate parts, unable to coexist. Instead of fighting to figure out the balance, they stuff their dreams in a box marked “Motherhood.”
Other women never identify their purpose before having children. Parenthood sets in and can unknowingly become the excuse to stop cultivating their dreams. Instead, they place their quest for significance on the lives of their children (as we see played out on Facebook every day). But this suffocating pressure is too much for anyone to bear, much less a five-year-old.
In either case, the displacement of a mother’s purpose (beyond child rearing) becomes a huge loss to our communities. If women aren’t empowered to cultivate their uniqueness, we all suffer the loss of beauty, creativity, and resourcefulness they were meant to inject into the world.
Can a mother chase the dreams that stir her heart and simultaneously raise her children?
Can a woman chase the dreams that stir her heart when life gets in the way?
The masks need not remain. The fading is teaching us to turn from try- ing to prove to each other that we have everything together to letting our wounds show. We speak words that ring out in the air and just sit there. Moments of sharing and pain and desperation. Desperation to be heard, to be understood, and to know we are still in this life together. The years give us new perspective and freedom to be honest. In these settings, an echo keeps surfacing. Struggle, responsibility, pain, and in the midst of it all, faith.
Aging is paradoxical: the older we get, the less we are sure of. All we hope for is the courage to keep walking. And our understanding of God’s grace takes new shape for us. Our hearts stumble into unknown territory as our lives twist and turn. Yet we aren’t sure how to respond.
We thought we had faith figured out before, when life was a negative in black and white. But now that we see in full color, the image has faded. Clarity left long ago when we were held in the tension between seeing how things ought to be in contrast with how they really are. We freefall because we never figured out what makes us fly.
We stopped dreaming.
I’m riveted by the scene in The King’s Speech when Prince Albert, Duke of York, delivers a discourse to a large crowd on a dreary London day in 1930. He stutters conspicuously, and the crowd squirms in their seats. Out of desperation to defend her husband’s reputation, the Duchess of York travels to a dilapidated part of town to locate Lionel Logue, a speech therapist. He has Bertie (his affectionate nickname for Albert) wear headphones and listen to blaring classical music while reading Shakespeare’s well-known soliloquy from Hamlet. Lionel records Bertie’s voice as he stutters through the famous first phrase—“To be or not to be”—but Bertie’s final frustration drives him out of the room, recording in hand, shouting, “What’s the use?”
Bertie hides the vinyl recording in his desk drawer. Just out of reach. But he knows it’s still there. After a week passes, Bertie pulls out the record and listens. As his smooth, liberated speech echoes out of the speaker, he is dumbfounded, amazed by the gift he possesses. He hears words of conviction soaring without stutter. Beautiful like music. His wife bears witness. An epiphany. They promptly return to Lionel in secret to continue working. Too often we live with our talents hidden in the desk drawer. Just out of reach. We’ve tucked them away. Refusing to listen. It hurts too much to hope. So we go on with our lives, not allowing ourselves to go near that drawer.
“We arrive in this world with birthright gifts—then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them,” Parker Palmer writes in Let Your Life Speak. “Then—if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss—we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.”
Rebekah Lyons is a mother of three, wife of one, and dog walker of two living in New York City. She's an old soul with a contemporary, honest voice who puts a new face on the struggles women face as they seek to live a life of meaning. As a self-confessed mess, Rebekah wears her heart on her sleeve, a benefit to friends, and readers alike. She serves alongside her husband, Gabe, as cofounder of QIdeas, an organization that helps leaders winsomely engage culture.