I learned persistence from my mother.
Like some children learn to fold a fitted sheet or bake a perfectly flaky pie crust, I learned how to put my head down and persist.
My third-grade vernacular included the words “effective effort” and, before every spelling test or group presentation, my mother would say, “Good effort.”
She never wished me, “Good luck” because my mother doesn’t believe in luck, she believes in EFFORT. Her life’s motto is a Marian Wright Edelman quote: “Whoever said anyone has a right to give up?”
My mother taught me about grit, endurance, commitment, and fortitude. I learned to set goals, make lists, and cross off accomplishments. I believed that, with enough will-power and sheer determination, I could achieve anything.
Persistence paid off for me in substantial ways: I earned a major and two minors in 3.5 years, I obtained a Master’s degree before age 30, I trained for and ran two half-marathons, I had a drug-free home birth. Each accomplishment affirmed for me that I was strong, capable, and powerful.
Which is why it devastated me to find myself in the depths of postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of my third baby.
I tried everything I knew to climb out of the deep, dark hole on my own.
I popped placenta pills, I found a therapist, I became a vegan, I drank green smoothies, I took iron supplements, Vitamin D, and a supplement to support my “adrenals.”
I tried massage, “energetic unwindings,” chiropractic care, and acupuncture.
I tried going to bed at 8:30 p.m., taking more naps, and squeezing in a walk around the block before work.
I tried prayer, meditation, and yoga.
Everything I tried made small improvements but I was still drowning; underwater life was heavy and cloudy and there wasn’t enough air.
Why couldn’t I make this better?
What was I doing wrong?
What did I need to do differently?
Why was I such a failure?
I could not “effectively effort” myself to wellness.
Deficient, depleted, defeated, and depressed, I showed up for my monthly appointment with my massage therapist, Gillian. (Gillian is my personal hero in yoga pants, and I will write more about her, but the short story is she is a magical healer.)
My time with Gillian is usually relaxing and enjoyable, but this time I was restless and irritable. She rubbed an oil on my feet and the scent wafted up to my nose, filling my lungs with citrus and woodiness.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Humility,” she finally responded.
I immediately bristled and stiffened.
Humility is for people who don’t put forth enough EFFORT!
Humility is powerlessness.
Humility is victimhood.
Humility is failure.
Humility is the OPPOSITE of persistence.
Sensing my thoughts without my speaking them, Gillian retorted, “There’s strength in softness and surrender.”
In that moment, a small voice inside me whispered: You don’t have to live like this.
You don’t have to persist.
I told my therapist at my next appointment that I wanted to pursue medication. I had resisted medication for 13 months because medication felt like weakness.
But I was tired.
I was ready to surrender.
Every morning at 7 a.m., an alarm in my phone reminds me to take my medication, and it feels like God loving me.
It feels like when the doctor places your first pair of perfectly prescribed eyeglasses and you look around, blinking, and wonder, “Is this what the world really looks like??”
It feels like tuning the radio and finally hearing sharply and without static.
It feels like exhaling.
Life as a working mom with three young kids is still hard, but I’m swimming, not drowning.
I’m not a medical professional or qualified therapist; I don’t know if medicine is right for you. This post both is and is not about taking medication.
What I DO know, is that you will encounter The Thing Which is Bigger Than You.
Perhaps infertility, miscarriage, a birth plan that doesn’t pan out, or breastfeeding struggles you didn’t expect.
Perhaps it will be a strong-willed child, a marriage you can’t fix, or a diagnosis you can’t escape.
You WILL receive an invitation to practice humility, not because you are too big, but because you aren’t the biggest thing in the universe.
There WILL be a moment in which you must discern whether it is time to persist or time to surrender. Because, sometimes, persistence doesn’t pay.
Is it time for persistence?
Or is it time for humility?
Only you can know, but here is what I know for sure. Strength is valuable, and so is softness.
Also, grace is more likely to meet us in our humility. In our softness. In our surrender.
Grace is what happens the minute we wave our white flag.
Like blood that rushes to the point of trauma in the body, Grace rushes in, rolls up its sleeves, and says, “Let’s get to work.”
And then Grace does what Grace does best. It heals.