Thursday, July 10, 2014

for the days when you feel like a failure {thoughts from a recovering perfectionist}

Just now, I turned around and walked out of my kitchen, leaving behind a mountain of dirty dishes and my second enormous batch of apricot jam in two days.  I just can’t face the stickiness yet, which is why I’m sitting writing this post.

I’ll just be honest.  I don’t like talking about my bad days.  (Notice there aren't any pictures of my sticky kitchen in this post... I don't like showing you my messes, either!)  I guess I want you all to think I’m the one with the answers, the one you can come to when you need encouragement and wisdom… Being honest about my failures - here - feels like a big risk for me, because I’m one of those people who compulsively likes to look like I have my act together. 

But the truth is?  I don’t.  Have my act together.  At all.  

And today?  I’m feeling like a total [gulp] failure.  

photo credit: I. Winsley
I really don’t like that word, that f-word.  I hate thinking about it, I hate feeling it, I recoil and cringe whenever anyone else has to use it.  

But since I’m being honest, there’s a moment or two every day (ok, a lot of moments) when I’m flailing wildly, grasping at straws, yelling desperately at Jesus for an emergency injection of patience or wisdom or love for someone proving particularly un-lovable at that moment.

I’m slowly learning the art of giving grace to myself, of appropriating every day the incredible endless grace I’ve already received in Christ.  I want to let that river of grace flow freely in my life, drink from it all the time.  

photo credit: I. Winsley
But… I still define my own “failures”.  I set my bar high, jump with all my strength - and don’t always hit my own mark. 

The low point of today’s “failures”?  My sweet baby girl followed her brothers out our front gate, promptly tripped and fell and cut her cheek on a sharp stone.  Even though I know in my brain that accidents can and do happen to every kid at some point, I still feel in my heart like a woefully negligent mother.  Somehow the sight of blood seems so much worse when it’s a little girl after two rough-and-tumble boys. :(

A bandaid and some ice cubes and she was back to normal, running around unfazed, but I sat there trying to push away horrible visions of her wedding day in a lovely white veil, trying unsuccessfully to cover up a scar on her cheek with make-up… (Yes, my mind leaps frantically ahead like this!  Doesn’t yours?)

The bottom line is (in my own opinion) I “failed” to protect my child.  I know it’s impossible for a parent to protect their child all the time from everything, but I still require it of myself.  Hmm.  Does that strike you as odd?

photo credit: I. Winsley
There are other felt “failures” too, staring me in the face.  I feel like I’m failing to meet my second son’s emotional needs, and my first son’s creative ones.  Today we ate the same boring food for lunch and dinner because the jam took over the kitchen.  Even with a house helper (who cut up all the apricots for the jam this morning), I still can’t make everything happen on time, and excellently. 

Every day, I desperately try to cover up, push away, deny, rise above, overcome the dreadfully uncomfortable fact that I. am. not. perfect. 

But today, I couldn’t escape it.  

I know we all get made perfect in heaven, but today that perfection felt eighty years away, and meanwhile my floors are gritty and my toilet bowl desperately needs to be scrubbed.

I feel like Jesus is giving me a test, right now, as I sit here gasping in front of my computer screen, ignoring my sticky kitchen and my kids who need their teeth brushed:  

Will you finally depend on My strength, now that yours has run out?

“I’m trying!” I want to shout.  “I really am, but do please tell me how I am supposed to get all of this done!  My daughter just peed all over the floor and is currently running around the house with nothing on her bottom half!  The kitchen is covered in sticky!  I’m exhausted and cranky and sick of potty-training a stubborn 20-month-old!  I’m tired of gardening and canning and all the other work that goes along with this rural, primitive life!  I’m just tired!  Period!”

I can dimly see Jesus, vague in the distance beyond my screen.  He’s nodding slowly.  Smiling a little.  Patiently waiting for my diatribe to finish.  

I’m not done yet.  “I’ve had to cancel three Skype meetings in two days,” jabbing the words at Him with my finger, “which I was really looking forward to, but because of our incredibly unreliable Internet - fast, slow, up, down - those calls are on hold indefinitely, and I am so frustrated.  I could really have used the encouragement this week, too.”

He’s still nodding, looking at me.  Not turning away.  Holding me with His eyes.

“The parenting never ends, the housework never ends, the laundry never ends, the stress never ends, my own pressure to meet every need excellently all the time, to cook food my kids want to eat for every meal - it never ends!  When can I get off this ridiculous hamster wheel?” I splutter, stabbing my open palms in his direction.  (I don’t add the rest of the truth He already knows: that the hamster wheel is of my own making.)

Eventually, I run out of steam.  I stop for breath.  I let the pause lengthen, wait to see what He has to say.  

photo credit: I. Winsley
For a minute, He doesn’t say anything.  

I start thinking of my sink full of dirty dishes and the mountain of unfolded laundry sprawling all over the veranda table.

Finally, He says just one simple phrase, quietly.

“Come to me.”  Silence.  I don’t know what to say.

After a minute He repeats it again, hands held out.

“Come.  To me.”

I gaze at Him, almost with disbelief.  I know what He’s inviting me to do, but my gut just can’t believe it’s that easy.  What about all my housework?  What about my failures?  Am I supposed to just leave it all behind?  Ok then, tell me who will do all this stuff?  Because it has to get done sometime!

Come to Me, and rest,” He’s beckoning.  Almost beseeching.  As if He’s longing to save me from myself.

I hesitate.

I close my eyes.  

I picture myself getting off the wheel, walking forward slowly, then more and more quickly towards His open arms.  I picture Jesus enfolding me; I breathe in His scent of cedar wood shavings and sweat and sunshine.  I take a deep breath in, and let it out.  In.  Out.  Deep, slow breaths.  

“I know I just need to come to you straightaway when I feel overwhelmed,” I admit, my head still burrowed into His chest, “but some days it’s just too overwhelming and I’m just too flipped out.”

“I know.”  Jesus is rubbing my back with a warm, comforting hand.  “Believe me, I’ve felt everything you’re feeling: overwhelmed, exhausted, pressed in upon.  Imagine crowds and crowds of needy people, and you have the power to heal and help them all, and the daylight hours only last so long, and you also have a responsibility to teach and train twelve hand-picked men in the ways and truths of God… Remember, I had all the same physical limits you have.  But - I had the same Holy Spirit, too.”  

I nod, still nestled against Him.  I could stay there forever.

“I know the work never ends,” He whispers in my ear.  “But - what about the joys?”

As I type the word “joys”, Ruby is sitting next to me on the couch, reaching her little fingers into the armhole of my sleeveless shirt to tickle me.  She grins, then chuckles, showing her dimple.  Her soft, round belly peeps out from under her nightshirt.  She smells of toothpaste.  She is utterly adorable.

photo credit: I. Winsley
Two minutes ago, my six-year-old came to find me, toothbrush in mouth - obviously my wonderful husband is picking up the bedtime slack tonight, while I write this - to sing me a random song he just made up: “Luggage in the morning / Luggage in the afternoon / Luggage in the evening, too…”  

When I asked quizzically, “Why luggage?” he replied, with typical logic, “Well, someone’s always got luggage somewhere… in the airport, in taxis…”  

photo credit: I. Winsley
Just now, as I was tucking my four-year-old into bed, he said to me, “Mom, I know why you call us ‘honey’…” he broke into a grin, around his thumb in his mouth, “because we’re soooo sweet!”  I laughed and tickled him and he chuckled and burrowed into his pillow with his blanket.  

I left their room with a lighter heart. 

Joys, indeed.  With joys like these coming my way daily, can’t I can weather a bit of “failure”?  Let’s re-define “failure” anyway.  Let’s quit setting these high bars for ourselves, since Jesus has already done all that is necessary.  My measuring stick is small, self-imposed and most of the time wrong.

Besides, it’s not about us anyway, or what we can do.  

It’s all about Him - and what He’s already done.

Take My yoke upon you.  Be Martha, if you must, but be Martha with a Mary heart.  Never stop sitting at my feet.  Never stop depending on Me.  

Keep drawing out of my well, deeper, deeper, all the strength and patience and stamina you need.  I never run out of joy, or courage, or peace, or long-suffering.  

A good friend of mine (a fellow recovering perfectionist) gave me a mantra to remember, whenever I’m pushing myself too hard, not giving myself enough grace: 

I can’t do it.

He can.  

I think I’ll let Him.

When have you felt like a failure recently?  How did you deal with it?  What does it take to make you run to Jesus and give up striving on your own strength?


Post a CommentBest Blogger Tips