There is a wonderful German phrase my family has used for generations: “Die vorfreude ist die beste freude,” which in essence means “the anticipation is the greatest delight.” I’ve always found it to be true, sometimes even more so in the waiting than in the fulfillment of my desire.
I talk about purpose and intentionality often in my articles, largely because it has been the saving grace for me when I am in a dark place. My fifth child is due to arrive soon and I have never spent a pregnancy in a place like this before.
There are many things I love about pregnancy — the emerging round tummy, the kicks and wiggles inside, finding friends in the same stage of life, the attention from relatives and friends and the prospect of meeting a beautiful, new combination of our DNA. These delights help to balance the nausea, fatigue and physical challenges that make baby-building a sacrifice.
But most of them have been clouded or snuffed out by the threat of this virus.
So much of these last nine months has been learning to cope with the new circumstances, restrictions and parameters of life with COVID-19. Yet when I am reminded of that familiar German phrase, I remember that there is always something to look forward to, even if you have to put it together yourself.
This season of life, building that sense of purpose and finding something to look forward to points me more toward desires for my children than for myself. I already homeschooled before, but this is a new year with a new baby and a toddler to compound the challenges, as well as schoolchildren who are older and need more investment from me.
I know a host of parents in tougher positions than mine. Many have to figure out how to work and educate their kids at home for some unforeseen amount of time. Some are single parents who have already lived through a long spring and summer renegotiating their jobs and relationship dynamics with their children. I know even that falls short of describing the challenges many parents are facing right now with no end in sight.
I can’t walk in everyone’s shoes and truly empathize with all situations, but I want to share a truth that has given meaning to every challenge and season and circumstance I have faced: this life isn’t about getting what we want. This life is about being present to the people around us.
Maybe you’ve decided to homeschool but don’t have many curriculum options or time to sift through resources or energy to give your kids while you also try to put a roof over their heads and food on the table. What you do have is the gift of your presence, even if it’s only a little every day.
You are a gift to your family. Every moment you spend just being with them, especially when everyone takes a break from screens, has an impact. Even when the moments aren’t fun and you deal with hard or uncomfortable things, your choice to be present — living in that moment rather than running from it — is a tool you give them by your example.
This pandemic has offered all of us some measure of retreat from the world that has kept us busy and distracted. It has interrupted the status quo of how we budget our time and we’ve already made choices about how to fill that space.
Have we found new escapes from the hard realities of life? I certainly have. But have we also found ways to be more present to the people around us? That is the measure of success for me: simply stopping to really see and hear my children, my spouse, my neighbors — whoever I encounter.
Being at home with my kids and free from the normal interruptions — and eventually realizing I don’t want to waste this time trying to escape from reality — I’ve noticed strained relationships that needed attention, places where the family dynamic has crumbled. And without the outside pressures, I’ve been able to tend to them and improve the dynamic in my home.
“Die vorfreude” is still “die beste freude.” This pandemic won’t last forever and someday, perhaps sooner than we think, we can go back to a more familiar lifestyle. Maybe with a few new tools to create a family dynamic that’s more intentional than our pre-COVID lives.
We are not powerless, even while these strange circumstances last. At a foundational level, the people around us want nothing more than to be seen and heard. So even if all we do is find one moment in our day to slow down enough to offer that gift to the people we meet, that is one of the greatest gifts we can offer.