When the Dream Is Less Than Dreamy
By Marianne Stewart
I am, as the saying goes, living the dream. I’m married to a wonderful, good-looking man who loves Jesus Christ more than he loves me. We have two young boys who bring smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts every day. Two years ago, we bought the house my parents built, a simple but sturdy home on five beautiful acres in the country, a short ten-minute drive from town. My husband has a steady job with great income and a promising future. When our youngest was born three years ago, I left my graphic design job at a book publisher (a job I really loved) and started working for myself—my dream job. By no stretch of the imagination, life is good!
So why is “living the dream” so…well…stressful?
Living the dream doesn’t mean the dream looks exactly how you expected. All the years I dreamed of working for myself, my imagination had a distinct way of highlighting the “glamourous” and glossing over the nitty-gritty, day-to-day details. When I started my own design company three years ago, the stress level that came with this dream job caught me off guard. For a long time, I pondered why.
For a while, I thought it was simply the stress of welcoming our second child and working from home at the same time. Talk about an adjustment! At a family reunion, when our youngest was two months old, a cousin (with three grown kids of his own) told me the days of newborns and small children are the absolute hardest, but to savor every moment purposefully. I believe him. These years have been hard. Even after two “practice” years with our oldest, the logistical challenges of going from one child to two threw me for a loop. Things didn’t take twice as long; they took four times as long!
I grossly underestimated how much time I’d spend preparing bottles, cooking chicken nuggets, picking up toys, wiping up spills, and changing diapers—so, so, so many diapers. It was purely the grace of God that enabled me to complete any income-producing work on top of mothering. After pulling a couple of desperate all-nighters to meet press deadlines, I promptly vowed never to do it again. All-nighters are for college students and barn owls—not for older-than-average moms of newborns. Three years in, some things are getting easier and others more difficult, but I expected as much. Still, these ongoing life adjustments can’t quite account for why “living the dream” is so stressful.
For a while, I attributed the stress to an excessive workload and poor time management. I’m a textbook procrastinator, particularly irritating because I often produce my best creative work under pressure. A full-time workload squeezed into irregular, infrequent, and irritatingly short pockets of time between mothering and housekeeping tasks caused my stress levels to soar. My work primarily consists of designing magazines and other large-scale print projects, and I was rarely able to work in long enough stretches to find a creative flow. Throw a global pandemic into the mix. My husband, manager of an “essential” auto shop, worked much longer hours than normal, and for a time, it was socially irresponsible to visit grandparents (a.k.a. the regular babysitters). I found myself at home, mostly alone, trying to juggle it all. Proverbial balls were dropped, the kids watched too much television, and I wasn’t as proud of my work as I wanted to be.
Thankfully, things have improved considerably in recent months, though I still have 30-or-so extra pounds clinging to my midsection to remind me exactly how stressed I was. Yet, juggling work and home still didn’t seem to be my primary source of stress. I mean, working moms everywhere deal with these same issues, right?
Over these years, as I’ve pondered the stress that comes with “living the dream,” I’ve decided pressure is a more appropriate word than stress. With that word, I think I’ve arrived at the heart of the matter. The bulk of the pressure stems from knowing the magnitude of what’s really at stake: the eternal souls of two little boys. No, it’s not my (or my husband’s) responsibility to save them. Jesus already did that through the cross and resurrection. Nor is it our place to convict them of their sin. The Holy Spirit takes care of that. However, it is our responsibility to demonstrate lives spent loving and following the Savior. It is our job to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and might. It is our job to teach His commands to our boys, to talk of them all day, every day, no matter what we do or how challenging our workload might be (see Deuteronomy 6:4-7).
I don’t claim to write from a place of success or having it all figured out, but rather from the “messy middle.” Our family is comfortably blessed with material goods and provisions, and it’s easy to settle into daily routines and rhythms devoid of intention and purpose. However, Jesus didn’t save me to make me comfortable—not yet. I’ve got eternity to rest comfortably in His presence. He saved me because I was lost in sin, and He loves me dearly. And with His saving work came His command to go and make disciples.
In this season of life, my most important mission field is our children. I must intentionally make the most of every opportunity to talk about God and how much He loves them, to show the love of Christ to them and those around us, to demonstrate obedience to God’s commands, and to practice stewardship of His gifts. Some days we read Bible stories together. More often, it’s casual conversations about all the things God made and did as we explore our world.
Our boys are five and three, so they’re still learning the basics of God’s beautiful creation. Some days, when I’m working extra-hard to meet a deadline, I rely on Bob and Larry of VeggieTales™ fame to help reinforce biblical virtues. (I will forever be grateful to Phil Vischer.) Other times, I play Sunday School songs in the car, joyfully listening to the unprompted five-year-old belt out, “Sing hosanna! Sing hosanna! Sing hosanna to the King of Kings” as we push our cart through the grocery store. It thrills my soul that my husband taught our boys, who both struggle with communication development, to say “Jesus loves me” before they could say anything else.
It’s comfortable to rely on others to pour the knowledge of God into our boys, but it’s our responsibility to be their primary teachers. It’s comfortable to plan my days around my to-do list, but it pleases God to give my attention to Him first and foremost. It’s comfortable to rely on social media and YouTube for snippets of the Word to (attempt to) fill my cup, but it’s eternally profitable to study the Word itself deeply and commit it to heart and memory.
Yes, I write from the “messy middle,” and many days I fall wretchedly short of the goal. Thankfully, God’s mercies are new every morning. Each new day I press forward, striving to be a better steward of the opportunities and time given to me.
About the Author: Marianne Stewart is a self-employed graphic designer. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University in 2005, she spent two years as a secretary, five years designing for a small printing company, and six years designing for Randall House Publications, before starting Stewart Art & Design. She and her husband, Patrick, live in Lebanon, Tennessee, with their sons, John and James.