Years ago, when my husband and I were getting to know each other, we went for a four mile run together, and I kicked his butt because I was coaching high school Cross Country, and he almost never ran. When we finished, we jumped in the lake and took turns pulling one another around on the inner tube, and more or less fell in love.
So we got married, and had babies, and I took a loooooong hiatus from running. I guess I took a long hiatus from a lot of things, which has been on my mind lately because my life is so different these days. I'm no longer on hiatus, but it's only been in the past several years that I did anything other than wipe bottoms, clean-up, and moon about using my "potential."
My "potential" was a real thorn in my side for awhile. My husband would go out for a run, and I'd think, "I used to be able to walk out the door like that. Now I'm the static person."
I liked to talk about it, or at least let people know I 'd once had potential. And then I'd give people a "you know how it is" look as I blamed my kids, or the circumstances of being a mother, for not using it. And there have been times when motherhood really did prohibit me from running or other activities in very practical ways. I don't discount that.
But if I look back with honesty, I can recall offering my potential in lieu of actual work even before marriage and kids. One of my cello teachers in high school chewed me out for showing up to a rehearsal without practicing, saying something to the effect of: "I know you think you're pretty cute so you can get away with not doing the work that everyone else has to do in order to succeed, but you're not going to waste my time that way."
He was right, and thence forward I wasn't so flippant with how I used other people's time, but I continued to cute my way out of using my own time wisely. And then I'd keep mooning, because it was easier than working.
I complained to my spiritual director about my unused potential, wondering why God would put these desires into my heart, to write, to run, to make music--or whatever the object of dissatisfaction was for the day--and then not allow me to do them. And she kept saying, there's plenty of time for all that. You'll know when the time is right--because it won't be a struggle against your vocation as a mother.
I didn't believe her. I thought that my education had been a waste, that all the interests I cultivated prior to motherhood had been in vain. I'd overhear some Disney princess on the TV singing songs about having a dream and think, "Let me know how that works out for you, Rapunzel."
In a brief quasi-fundamentalist streak, I thought I might discourage my daughter from developing any interests that would later be a source of disappointment to her. You want to be a mother? Then why go to college at all? Why develop any sort of an identity that God will just wrench out of you?
But I don't think the wrenching came from God. I'm the one who put everything on the altar to say, "Look, Folks, at everything I gave up." Not for my kids because they would have been glad to have an athletic, musical or writerly mother, rather than a grouch on the couch. Not for my husband. He didn't fall in love with a weak, whiny woman, so I'm not sure why I thought he'd like to be married to one.
I did it for my pride, which is a really bad thing to treat like a god. Maintaining the myth of my potential was safer than addressing the like potentialities of failure.
When I meditate on scripture daily, when I pray, when I rekindle the relationship with God that I had when I was a younger woman, the confirmation I receive is, "Here's your life. Do the work. Let it take you where it takes you. Just remain in my love." It's so simple. There's no aching or yearning or conflict. There's time.
And all of it comes with the knowledge that it really could be taken from me at God's hand whenever he wills. If I follow in the footsteps of any one of my grandparents, my body will fail me completely one day as will my mind. Everything that makes me me will turn to dust. Time is not for wasting.
My daughter recently started playing soccer, and the girls on her team run around with pony tails and red faces, wisps of hair falling over their ears, and this gorgeous athleticism that already holds so many promises. Some coaches in the league are really encouraging and any time someone runs towards the ball, they say, "Nice try, Linda!" Even if Linda never gets around to kicking it.
It may make you a happier wife some day to be able to keep pace with the man you love. You may be a more effective Mother Superior if you've got a good education. And who knows if little Barbara isn't collaborating with God on something else completely unexpected.