Feb 13, 2023

Loving Within Your Means


Jen Laffin

The pursuit of life’s most essential calling

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Jen Laffin

As a young person, I was a long-time jealous skeptic of people who had strong passions and talents, with clarity to the degree that they referred to these things as their “callings.” Whether by divine appointment or genuine love for something, these friends just knew what academic field they should pursue, what geographic region they should move to or serve in, or even who they should or shouldn’t date or marry.

I was curious about this mystery of knowing your true place in the world, but also felt jipped. I, too, had searched and asked for guidance, but heard no booming voice from God in reply telling me what to do. So I decided early on that loving people was a noble enough calling. Religious roots or not, it’s a virtue we societally hold in esteem, name it “kindness” or “empathy” or some friendly variation.

Since that decided purpose, every few years, my life has seemed to change drastically and wonderfully in a moment’s notice. In these whirlwind seasons, I found myriad opportunities to act on this simple mission to love and connect with the people around me, wherever I was for that moment.

. . .

I worked at a grocery store during and after college, during which I had ample time to connect with and intentionally love all kinds of people, sans many weighty responsibilities occupying my mind. I had long accepted by this point that I didn’t actually care for my Public Health degree, or care to pursue it as a real career after graduation, and I clung to the idea that some of the hardest and most important work was right in front of me—my college peers who grew into friends over textbook marathons, my co-workers with whom I shared early mornings. Wherever I was, I was with people—the exact people who I needed to love well and build relationships with, regardless of who they were or what they believed.

Amidst stocking shelves or studying for exams, my days were spent turning everyday interactions into meaningful engagement, strangers into friends, and an attentive heart into my version of a calling. It felt more valuable in a lot of ways than the job I was doing or degree I was pursuing. I was young and energetic and optimistic; I had the capacity for this many conversations, this many faces, this many people to extend care.

But then, that whirlwind I mentioned... It went like this—

In 2017, I dated this sweet, sweet guy. He exceeded all my expectations about men, so in 2018, I married him. The day after our wedding, I moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Lexington, Kentucky, to be with him.

In 2019, we got pregnant. Six weeks into pregnancy and so sick, we found out we were having twins. At 30 weeks pregnant, I stopped working at my beloved grocery job, where I could just be with people.

In March of 2020, I delivered our boys by c-section, and by midnight on their first day breathing air, America had entered into its pandemic lockdown.

By 2021, we decided to return to the northern Kentucky area to be closer to our families.

Our little world revolved completely differently than it had before, and my mind and body felt unfamiliar, as did the wider world and the ways it was changing. It was all one big change after another, with barely enough time to process all of it in a productive or healthy way. The years 2020–2021 were the most jolting—and truthfully, not in the beautiful and wondrous way I had been taught to expect from marriage, moving, and motherhood. We had two infants to take care of as first time parents, and we were clueless as to what to expect of each other and these new, small beings. Not to mention the simultaneous uncharted and painful territory of the cultural growing pains we all experienced in that span of time.

. . .

Within these years began a kind of social anxiety and emotional turmoil I had never experienced. I was distanced from community because of the pandemic, and reality slowly dawned that despite having quit my job, raising children is its own full-time job. I was physically exhausted, and when I had time for people, I didn’t have the energy for people. Or I was scared to be around people for fear of contracting this mysterious illness.

Not to mention, the divisive cultural issues our country faced caused me to dislike people at a glance. Before, I had happily embraced someone who thought differently than I did. In fact, I welcomed and cherished that privilege and challenge above all other things. Yet suddenly, I really didn’t love anyone. Opposing viewpoints brought pain, and my anger leaked onto loved ones, friends, and strangers alike.

What began as a season of grieving what the world had once been, became a grief over who I once imagined myself to be. I thought I would always love people without a second thought, no matter who they were or what they were about. I thought being a mother would come naturally, and I assumed the outside world would remain the same while we transitioned.

More often than not, I found a distaste for the world around me that stood in contrast to the purpose I adopted for myself years before. I was annoyed and angry. Along with being disappointed in the collective population, motherhood and marriage had simultaneously shone their lights on the worst parts of my being. Gone were the days of carefree, plenty-of-time-on-my-hands, “love as many people as possible.” I had big spiritual and personal things to work through, and I had children and a marriage to tend to, first and foremost. My time, my health, my emotional capacity—they had all changed. These seasons were a wake-up call that “loving people” is actually incredibly hard and does not necessarily come naturally, especially when we are faced with some blend of overwhelming hardship and our own emotional immaturity.

But wasn’t this the only thing I ever felt truly “called” to do? Was this still a noble goal, now that it actually, frankly, sucked? I had changed so much, and the idea had lost its sparkle, ease, and delight. Yet I felt the ask had not changed: Love your neighbors, love the people who need it most, love even the people who have hurt you.

. . .

Presently, I’ve come a long way from the raged-out, perpetually disappointed, overstimulated woman I was. Continually and forever, I will be a work in progress. But I’ve learned one important thing throughout this healing: I can still love people, just at a different capacity than before. That calling where I once found purpose is not lost, but it looks new.

It looks like loving people at a smaller range in a bigger way.
It looks like adjusting my expectations of myself and what I thought I could handle.
It looks like prioritizing my spiritual and emotional health so that the love I give is genuine.
It looks like focusing on my family first, and then seeing where I can give more of myself.
It looks like fewer friends, but closer friends.
It looks like choosing two or three neighbors that I can check on consistently.
It looks like an encouraging interaction with another mom at the park, that doesn’t always turn into a friendship.
It looks like buying someone a coffee instead of buying them a whole meal.
It can look like refusing to engage in an argument where you know you don’t have anything kind or productive to say.
It can even look like saying no, or setting a boundary, so you don’t disingenuously or resentfully give more than you feel capable of.
It looks like being on the other side of the checkout lane, taking the time to smile at the person across the register.

Loving within your means doesn’t make the love you give any less meaningful. It simply means you have to trust that it's not all on you to split your time and devotion in a hundred ways. Or it means not comparing your life stage with anyone else's, even your previous self. Or appreciating the ways other people use their gifts and their own current capacities to love people, and not thinking less of your own. Whatever your situation, acknowledge your strengths and your limitations for what they are, and work with them.

I’ve settled in contently, without a burning-bush-specific profession or passion. My decided “calling” and purpose is still genuine and rich, though it can often be overlooked in pursuit of something clearer or grander. Loving our neighbors—including people in need, or people we don’t even like—is a noble call, and we don’t need to go far to fulfill it. Your light may shine far out, or it may shine to the house next door. What matters is that it’s shining at all.

Jenny Laffin lives in Northern Kentucky with her husband, twin boys, one dog, and seven chickens. Alongside her full-time mom role, she is an avid reader, a lover of jokes, an abstract painter, and finds the utmost joy in making the people around her feel welcome, comfortable, and cared for.