“Jesse, you have a choice. You can use your time and energy in having a bad attitude and being upset that you have homework and you’ll still have to do the homework. Or, you can use your time and energy to get it done and when it’s done, you’ll probably be in a better mood and have more time to play. It’s your choice. If I were you, I’d rather use my energy to get it done and play.”
I have been repeating these sentences, 3-5 times a day, Monday through Thursday, for about two months. Sometimes, I can say it gently with compassion. Other times, I am gritting my teeth and balling my fists to hold in the steam that’s threatening to escape my body. Our fourth grader is struggling with the increase in writing homework assigned daily, and as the parent usually in charge of making sure his work is done, I am struggling too. I feel sad because the joy and love Jesse has had for school is gone this year. I am empathetic because, let’s be honest, who wants to do homework? I am annoyed because I am having the same conversation, multiple times a day with a 10-year-old who is not always making the best choice. I am frustrated because there seems to be nothing I can do to make things better for him.
Last week started the same way. Monday: writing assigned, and a super-sad face met me at pick-up time. Tuesday: writing assigned and angry tears in the car on the way home. Both days, the two hours spent on writing (and talking about all the feelings around writing) were just painful. Jesse and I were both tired, frustrated, and sad.
Copyright: Irina Schmidt / 123RF
Then came Wednesday. Because my days had been so stressful, Jesús and I worked together to make sure my morning would be freed up and I could use it to pray, journal, have some quiet and get some things checked off my list. I would help get them out the door at 8 a.m. and have until noon to myself—four hours! I was looking forward to this morning with excitement!
Morning came, and nothing went the way we planned. Everyone got up late, including the boys who are always up by 6:45 a.m., without an alarm—except this morning. So, instead of Jesús driving away with the boys at 8 while I sat in quiet by myself, I was taking the boys to school at 8:25. I could not stop fuming, My time is just wasting away. Now I will have 3 hours instead of 4. I am so mad. This is not what I wanted. I am so upset.
And then my own words hit me: Mary, you can choose to use your energy to be upset or you can choose to use your energy to let go and use the rest of the time as you want. It’s your choice.
I felt so empowered in that moment to make a choice for myself. And as I drove away from the school, I said out loud, “I choose to let go of what happened this morning and to make the most of my next three hours. God, help me to do that.”
That afternoon, when I picked up the boys, I shared my story of the morning with them. I told them it was hard to choose against complaining because I was upset, but I didn’t want to use my energy on being upset. I asked God to help me and he did. And I was glad I made that choice, because my morning went really well after dropping them off.
I think they were listening.
When we got home, Jesse started to complain about homework and I only had to say once, “How do you want to use your energy?” He went straight to work and finished in 30 minutes with a smile on his face. He was so proud of himself, and I was too. I was proud of him and proud of myself for making a good choice.
Jesse and I both experienced a victory that day. We both made a choice that was good for us and we felt the effects of it during and after. We both experienced the freedom and power that God has given us over the choices we can make in our daily life, in the seemingly mundane of homework, quiet rest, and tasks. And my hope is that we may better learn how to choose what is most helpful and good for us.
Mary Chong Carrera was born a friendly, fiery extrovert with a flair for drama. Growing up has brought a healthy dose of wisdom; she's learned to appreciate being still and quiet.
Mary attended Santa Clara University, where she cultivated great friendships, studied accounting, and fell in LOVE with Jesus (Christ, not her husband--that Jesús came later).
Mary has a passion for people and loves developing friendships, empowering leaders, and walking with others as they explore faith. She's wife to Jesús, mom to three adorable sons, basketball coach to middle school girls, and a human trying to engage with the world with love. Though her big Chinese family drives her up the wall sometimes, she loves them to pieces and knows she wouldn't be who she is without them. She recently retired from 15 years of college ministry and is exploring different ways to use her strengths to brighten the days of others around her.