“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” Frederick Buechner
It’s a beautiful day in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I’ve got my 7 month old strapped to my front, one 2 year old sweetly holding my hand and walking, and one 2 year old holding my hand but screaming while collapsing onto the concrete into a toddler sized pile of mush. He was given the choice of holding my hand or his brother’s and he chose neither. So, I made the choice for him and held his hand. He didn’t agree with that choice apparently.
Ah yes, here we are. The 4 headed dragon spectacle braving Wal-Mart and I am right in the middle of one of every mothers favorite public outting moments. Yep, this is gonna be good.
I politely tell him to stand up and walk while ever so gently trying to assist him in the standing process because I do in fact still have his hand in mine. He refuses and folds himself further down to the ground, now being dragged slightly. Now we have an audience. We’re in the middle of the parking lot, cars coming both ways and I have to make an executive decision. Let him work this tantrum out disregarding the cars and people watching, or scoop him up kicking and screaming and throw, I mean place, him in the cart. I made a compromise and sort of did both.
I smiled at the people gawking, continued walking with my child dangling from my hand like a rabid monkey, and once we got across the main traffic area, allowed him to dramatically throw himself on the ground, screaming like a banshee as I put his brother in the front of the cart (as a victorious reward for being so cooperative and sweet). I then gave my son the choice to stand up and dust himself off with dignity or be shoveled into the cart. He again chose the harder road so, let the shoveling begin. I continued to smile and nod at the passersby and stroll through the doors of Wal-Mart with (outward) pride as though this was a completely normal, every day success. Luckily he calmed down within a few minutes and I was able to distract him in the produce section.
I can gratefully say this scene is not the norm for us, but we certainly have our moments. My focus in this post, however, is actually not this lovely tantrum, but rather the judgmental thoughts I had about myself before, during and after the event…. one event among thousands (not all parenting related) that have led me to think harder about the thoughts in my head.
Here lately there seems to be a theme of comparison and condemnation. Who am I comparing myself to you might ask? Good question. I think it’s no one in particular, and it’s everyone. Its the idealized, perfected version of myself I’ll never be able to be. A failure that I berate myself for on a daily and constant basis.
The theme of my thoughts, in a nutshell, has been: “A good _______ would/wouldn’t ________.”
A good mother wouldn’t lose her patience over something like that.
A good mother wouldn’t let her kids watch so much tv.
A good mother would have a schedule planned out and have more activities to stimulate their brain.
A more organized person would be able to get everything done.
A more driven person would workout and stick to a fitness routine.
A good daughter would be more helpful around the house.
A good sister would figure out how to see her brothers more often.
A good granddaughter would call more often.
A good Christian wouldn’t struggle so much.
A good Christian would have more faith.
A good Christian would get up earlier in the morning and actually do the bible study as it’s laid out.
A good person wouldn’t have those kinds of thoughts.
A self respecting person wouldn’t be in this position.
A stronger woman would be working right now and figuring life out on her own rather than accepting so much help from family.
For every minute of the day, I have at least 5 of these kinds of thoughts. I’m no mathematician but if we added those numbers up, I bet it’d end up equaling a big pile of self condemnation.
Where do these kinds of thoughts come from? I think we all know, it’s the pit of hell. I bet a stronger woman or a better Christian would be able to fight them off better. 😉
Here lately, even my attempts at bettering myself seem to become just one more thing to beat myself up over because of my less than adequate performance.
A few weeks ago I started a bible study with a friend from church. It’s a 10 week study with 5 days of homework each week. It’s created so that you have 2 days off, leaving room for a missed day here and there allowing you to still stay on track week to week. Good Christians are able to maintain this without a struggle. I, however, am struggling. My friend is one of the good Christians. Although she has 2 young children, a husband who is off work due to a work related back injury, a part time job where she often works 16 hour days, and all kinds of other personal things going on, she still somehow manages to wake up earlier than her kids (who wake up by 5 am everyday) and faithfully do her bible study.
Compared to this, I feel I have no excuse. Yet here I sit, supposed to be on day 2 of week 4 and I am still on day 4 of week 2!
Each week we try to meet to discuss that week’s study and/or watch the accompanying video for that week. Because I am so behind and so that I don’t slow down a good Christian’s progress toward freedom, we’ve decided to watch the videos independent of each other and simply discuss what we are learning each week.
Yesterday, before the Wal-Mart episode, we met up at a playground to let the boys play while we discussed the bible study. We sat in the mulch to be in the shade from the 95 degree sun. Let me just say, I am,not afraid of dirt. I sit on the ground and play with my boys all the time, but for some reason yesterday, it was like all the monster sized ants called a district meeting and it was being held right under my feet. I was distracted. My friend sits down and says, “So what has the Lord been saying to you through your study this week?” My first thought was, “Well, He’d probably be saying more if I was actually doing the bible study everyday like I’m supposed to.” All the reasons why I suck flooded my brain as I swatted at the army of bugs around my legs, wiped my sweat, and threw out an “I see you!!” to my sweet son asking me to watch him play. My brain is spinning. As I’m searching my head and my heart for what God is teaching me about myself this week, my thoughts are rampant with condemnation.
My friend noticed the struggle to verbalize my insight and offered up what she is learning through the study. She shares that pride is an issue God has been dealing with her about for many years, but particularly lately. She says, “I am just tired. The other day I worked an 18 hour shift, I had a patient who cussed me up and down, we were way understaffed, my relief didn’t get there til after midnight, i finally got home and my son woke up at 4:30 and refused to go back to sleep, then his brother was up shortly after and they were both screaming all morning. My oldest son won’t nap and I’m just frustrated and tired. I know this is all pride and I’m not supposed to feel this way. I know God is teaching me to have patience and be a better servant, but my pride is definitely present.”
Enter comparison and condemnation.
I said, “Now, maybe I’m a little too liberal with grace for myself, but I’d say given the circumstances there’s no human way to do or be any better than what you’re doing and being.” She said, “Well I did give myself a little more grace yesterday and asked my husband for extra help so I could get a little more sleep, so that was good.”
Let’s take a comparative look at our situations, shall we? I am not currently working; I live with my parents; and though I am a single mother of 3 in the middle of a nasty divorce, my boys are generally extremely well behaved and sleep VERY well. Yes, I have a few difficult personal issues at hand right now, but for all practical purposes, my load is much lighter than hers appears to be. YET, I find myself running out of grace for the world and operating from a selfish, prideful place more often than I’d like to admit. AND, in those moments, my first thought is not typically to pray for someone else or to realize my behavior is an issue of pride and immediately repent and seek forgiveness and improvement.
Now, pride is certainly one of my bigger issues. God shows me this on a regular basis. Typically for me, pride doesn’t show up in a boastful, “look at me” kind of way. Pride for me is more subtle, hiding itself in my self condemnation and my “I can do better” attitude. Pride in my life represents itself in the lie that my badness somehow outweighs God’s goodness. That I am somehow so damaged and broken, so disobedient, so flawed, so lowly in the eyes of God that He can’t possibly like me or be proud of me. I’ve discussed this before and my perfectionism is no secret to anyone but it continues to be a thorn in my side and a hindrance to my complete freedom.
As I sat there with my friend who I am sure God enjoys much more than me, and who is certainly doing much better than me at life in general, I realized how big of a boulder this comparison and condemnation thing has become. I am learning in my bible study, though I’m learning slower than scheduled, that my behavior reveals the truth about what I believe, and I either believe that God is who he says he is, or I don’t. While my heart says I believe, sometimes my behavior and my thoughts don’t align. My belief in the lie that a good _______ would ________, not only creates tension and turmoil within me, it also creates a blockage between me and God.
Comparison and condemnation has become a perfectly honed art in our society. Everywhere we look we are flooded with how we could be doing it better and how that person actually is doing it better. There’s always more. There’s never enough. We live in a culture of doing. Striving. Yearning. Seeking. Slaving. Spinning.
BUT… we aren’t human doings, we are human beings.
Maybe there’s something to that.
It is very clear in the bible that God does not love us or accept us based on merit. He is not a conditionally loving God. Our freedom and salvation is not up to what we do. It’s not even completely up to who we are.
It’s about who HE is.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
We either believe what He says or we don’t. Either we believe He is enough, and therefore so are we, or we don’t. Either we believe nothing can remove us from the hand of God, or not. Either we walk in the truth or live bound by lies.
I have learned in life that many times the problem is not that it’s hard, it’s that we expect it to be easy. The fact that I expect my freedom, or feeling completely free, to come instantly and easily, is an issue of pride and unbelief. If I pray in a moment of struggle and my pain is not immediately lifted and then my thoughts become, “Well if I was a better Christian this wouldn’t be so hard. I’d feel more free. I’d feel more grace. I’d have chills or a revelation or something would tell me my freedom is real,” essentially I am saying two things. 1. That I don’t believe God’s truth to be true for me, and therefore, God is not enough for me. And 2. That I deserve instant healing and freedom, and if it isn’t coming it must be because I’m bad, not liked, a disappointment, not worth saving, etc. This ultimately boils down to a great big pot of pride.
It’s hard to accept that I, someone with such self doubt, insecurity, and clear weakness could be so filled with pride that I struggle to even hear God’s voice, to see God’s grace, or to accept God’s mercy.
I don’t know how to fix this thing that is broken about me. But I do know that trying to do God is the wrong approach.
I also know that living in this self created hell of condemnation and comparison has me on a fast train to nowhere good. It also stands in direct opposition to my stance and approach to life for the rest of the world. Why I feel I can’t apply grace, forgiveness, celebration, joy, freedom, and mercy to myself while so readily handing it out to everyone else is beyond me. There’s no explanation for it other than that a big ugly pride monster lives inside me and takes over my brain like a life sucking amoeba.
Or that I’m human and this is one of my many flaws. One of the many reminders of my persistent need for God.
What I do know for sure is that I do not want to live my life separated from heaven by a wall of guilt and shame I built myself. I do know that I get one chance to live this life. One chance to teach my sons how to live their lives. One shot at being an example to them, teaching them about God and His perfect love despite our human failure.
This is not the dress rehearsal right now. This is the real show.
Luckily, God is the director, not me; although I continue to try to take over His role in my life. I guess what I’m being shown through my less than mediocre attempt at this bible study is that the lies I’m believing are doing me no favors. The condemnation and comparison are adding nothing positive to my life and in fact, are actively sending me the other direction. God shows me daily my need to surrender and let Him take the wheel. He is showing me where the lies come from and what His truth actually is. He continues to remind me of His never-ending grace and love for me, even when I argue with Him and try to prove to Him how unlovable and unworthy I really am.
I have figuratively bowed down to the work of my own hands, allowing things or thoughts/lies to become bigger than God- bigger even than His capacity to remove them or help me cope with them. I now have to fight the temptation to continue the condemnation after realizing the fault in my faith and feel shame about my shame. I am so far from where I want to be, but I am closer than I was yesterday.
“I began to understand with a terrible sureness that we teach what we need to learn and write what we need to know.” -Gloria Steinem
Though I am better to others than I am to myself, and though I fail to live out the truth of my writing some days, I believe God is teaching me what I need to learn and helping me write what I need to know. He is revealing himself to me through the beauty of my imperfections and reminding me that the only person I need to compare myself to is Jesus, and that condemnation does not come from Him. Now let me say, comparing myself to Jesus is not a relief of any kind, but at least He’s a more steady focus.
There is a redemptive need in all of us, a need for what falls to at a minimum be given a chance to be restored. I believe that need comes from heaven because that is the business of God. He didn’t put us here to be perfect. He put us here to find Him. As long as I do that, there is some purpose in it all, and I believe it is in that truth that I will find freedom.
Maybe that’s all a good Christian really needs to do.