“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” ~Bernice Johnson Reagon
The last five years of my life involved a lot of self-inflicted stress and tremendous spiritual growth.
In 2003 I made a decision that would have a major impact on my life without realizing my true intentions.
While knowing the financial safety net was not securely in place, I decided to remain at home with my daughter instead of returning to work. Previously, when I left our first child in the care of someone else at ten months old, I felt anxious the entire time I was away from him.
I didn’t want to experience those feelings of discomfort again, and I didn’t wanted my children to feel as alone as I did as a child, so I ignored all external factors and decided not to place our daughter in childcare.
I wanted to be the primary caregiver for my children and to show them that, above all else, they were the most important parts of my life. I wanted my daughter to experience maternal bonding and the consistent physical presence of someone who absolutely adored her.
However, this wasn’t my only motivation; I just didn’t fully understand my complete intentions.
I explained the obvious motivations to my husband, but I did not explore the hidden pain that lingered beneath my unyielding position.
I didn’t explain this aspect because, simply put, I couldn’t. I didn’t yet realize there was a subconscious emotional need underlying my decision—that a deeply wounded part of myself was guiding me in an effort to be healed.
This moment was the catalyst for what would become one of the most difficult periods of my life, and yet the most profoundly liberating and healing.
Two years later, my husband was hospitalized due to the onset of conditions for a stroke. He was thirty-three years old, and the primary provider for our family. Since he couldn’t return to work for a few months, we depleted our savings.
We were unprepared for this loss of income, and the situation became very dire, very quickly.
It got so bad that I swallowed my pride and asked for loans from my closest friends. I never anticipated being in this position. To be educated and destitute seemed like the most dreadful oxymoron one could imagine.
I never thought I’d create a situation so desperate and humiliating that I might potentially jeopardize my closest friendships.
I constantly asked myself, “How could anyone who is relatively intelligent be in a predicament where basic needs are difficult to meet? How could we, or I have made so many bad choices? How could I have been so selfish?”
I now see that I’d dug my heels deeply into the abyss of self-pity, and these were the wrong questions to ask. This was a limited way to view the situation.
By asking questions that perpetuated my role as the victim, it prolonged my feelings of helplessness.
I sat with a continual state of contempt for myself and the conditions of my life. I quietly panicked. I hid from everyone. I remained in a perpetual state of worry. I stopped calling family and friends and stopped laughing. It was like I stopped participating in life.
Dealing with the extreme stress of financial hardship, I felt completely alone and misunderstood. So in September of 2006, I returned to work.
Since I’d been a stay-at-home mom for a few years, my hourly pay was shockingly reduced. The bills were now so out of control that the thought of paying them seemed like a fantasy from a previous life.
One afternoon, during yet another prolonged session of feeling sorry for myself, I lay on the sofa aimlessly flipping through the channels. I came across Elizabeth Gilbert speaking about her book Eat, Pray, Love.
I wasn’t in the mood to hear yet another story of how wonderful life is coming from someone so far removed from where I sat.
As I listened, I began to feel simultaneously excited to read the book, yet saddened. After a few minutes, I realized I was no longer listening to a word she said. It was as if the television was on mute.
I couldn’t help notice the radiance in this woman’s eyes. It was like her entire spirit was beaming out from her eyes and piercing the television screen!
How could it be that I was sitting thousands of miles away, in another part of the country, yet I knew that this woman was completely filled with absolute love and inner peace?
This sent a disturbing wake-up call through my system. I tried to recall a moment, any moment in recent times when my eyes shone with joy of this magnitude. The truth was that there wasn’t a memory when I displayed such happiness, because simply put, I wasn’t happy.
I had become unrecognizable to myself. I was wandering aimlessly through my life while feeling overwhelmed with work, the financial situation, the strain on my marriage, the lack of direction in my life, and the immense shock of it all.
I felt lethargically uninspired, angry, and simply put off with the entire deal. With the weight of all of this on my mind, I wanted desperately to feel relief, to feel inspired. So, I started saying aloud, “I just want to be inspired,” over and over again.
Without realizing what was happening and by voicing aloud that I wanted to feel inspired, I made a proclamation to the universe that I was finally ready to receive help.
A few days later, my mother stopped by our house with a book—The Power of Intention, by Dr. Wayne Dyer.
This book wasn’t the answer to all of my problems, but asking for inspiration and then starting to receive it opened me up to new way of thinking, a new way of perceiving life and a new approach to living it.
I was ready to acknowledge that I had orchestrated a mess. I was ready to understand what intentions brought me to the chaos that now encompassed every aspect of my life.
As I continued to read The Power of Intention, I began to understand the following:
- If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.
- Before any action is taken, decide what it is you really want and set the intention.
- Be reflective and stop all judgment of yourself and others.
- Meditate consistently to re-connect with yourself.
- Be appreciative. Showing gratitude begins the internal shift that allows you to see love and connection to all things.
Considering these ideas, I realized that I hadn’t been completely genuine in my decision to stay at home, and that doomed it from the beginning. What I really wanted was to force my husband to take care of us so I would feel loved.
This ultimately left me feeling powerless; pushed me into fear-based decision-making as I clutched to regain control in my life; and left me feeling angry with my husband since I questioned whether I was lovable.
It was very easy to blame all the problems I experienced on my husband, my family, and my situation—all things outside of me. It was, however, extremely difficult to accept that I really needed to take a deeply thorough look at myself and my role in creating the ugliness.
I subconsciously created an experience in my life that felt so bad that the only place I could go was within—exactly where I needed to go.
I needed to stop looking outside of myself for love and to release my fear of abandonment by clinging to a stay-at-home situation that we could not afford.
I was forced to begin to ask the more profound questions:
- What is the lesson in this? And how can I grow?
- How is this perceived problem an opportunity for spiritual growth?
- What is my true intention behind this choice?
- Is the dominant belief that motivates my action healthy, or one of self-sabotage?
Only in examining my true intentions did I realize that taking care of my family meant setting my intention to benefit everyone, not just myself.
Over the next few years, I quietly devoted myself to emotional healing. I quieted my mind through meditation and prayer, I found a spiritual support system, I journaled to observe my spiritual progress, I cleansed my physical body with water, and I read more than 100 books related to spiritual growth.
I now feel immense gratitude for the adversity that led me to a place of humility and compassion for myself, as well those around me; and I commit myself to helping others find opportunities for growth in everyday struggles.
To know your intentions is to know yourself. When we remember that life’s challenges provide us with an opportunity to do that, suddenly they seem a lot less paralyzing and a lot more valuable.