I schlep a diaper bag over my shoulder as I navigate my daughter’s wheelchair down the aisle, doing my best to inconspicuously herd four children from the church lobby into the back of the sanctuary. I can see the heads turning and feel the eyes on us. Wiping the sweat from my brow, I whisper, “excuse us” and “pardon me” as my circus scoots into the last row. After morning feats I can only describe as acrobatic, I’ve finally gotten everyone to church.
I glance at my watch. We’re four minutes late, but it feels like a victory all the same. My six-year-old son is ready to perform with the choir for the first time. (They’re called the Church Mice. Yes, it’s adorable.)
I fan myself with the church bulletin as I whisper “good morning” to my parents, who are there to cheer on our budding singer. I wonder where he’s supposed to find the rest of his micey mates. Aren’t they supposed to be gathering toward the front?
I realize something is off. My eyes dart around the sanctuary, and I spy children dispersed among the pews, already sitting with their families. I remember my husband (the newly-hired pastor) sharing that the kids would sing first thing. My heart drops. I whisper, “Have they already sung?” My mom gives a gentle nod.
I fight tears.
Why can’t I be more put together like everyone else? I wonder.
Another question lingers beneath it: Why am I failing?
It’s easy for us to assume that everyone else has their stuff together. To believe the lie that nobody else is ever late, or misses a deadline, or that not one single other soul is as much of a hot mess as the one you see when you look in the mirror.
A few days after my Church Mice fiasco, a friend told me something over coffee that made me do a spit-take: “I don’t know how you get everything done. You’re so put together.”
Once I was done wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes, I reflected on a hard – and honest – truth:
I’m too hard on myself. And my guess is that you are, too.
As women, we constantly fight external pressure to be the ones that hold things together and present ourselves in a certain way. If we’re not careful, we can even feel the pressure to perform our way into God’s love. This pressure can often lead to deep self-doubt and self-criticism that lures us into the trap of comparison.
Whatever season of life you’re in, chances are you’re holding a lot of things together. You’re doing your best, and if you’re honest with yourself, you feel like it’s not enough – that when you look around, everyone else seems to have cracked the magic code, and you’re still stumbling around, sweaty, and showing up late.
Whether you’re comparing yourself to a neighbor or a stranger on the Internet, it’s all too easy to compare yourself to another (without knowing their full story) and heap all sorts of shame upon your shoulders – the weight pushing you down until you can barely stand.
If you feel like you’re not measuring up, I have good news: You don’t need to.
God’s grace tells us we don’t need to perform our way into belovedness. We do not have to get everything right all of the time. (Spoiler alert: nobody does!) We do not have to present a sheen of perfection. As beloved children of God, we are freed from those trappings.
In Colossians 3:12, we’re told that we are “holy and dearly loved.” And that in light of this, we should clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
What would life look like if you had compassion for yourself? How would it reorient your days if you approached your imperfections with kindness and humility? What if you were gentle and extended patience to yourself?
No one is perfect. We all fall short sometimes. But when we hold ourselves up to an unattainable standard and tell ourselves the story that everyone else is nailing it while we’re flailing about, we’re not honoring the truest thing about ourselves: That we are holy and dearly loved.
The next time you realize you’re being tough on yourself, take a breath and consider what God says about you. There is nothing that you could do that would make God love you any more or less. You do not have to hit any certain achievement or spin a billion more plates to gain the love of Christ – His love is a gift freely given.
The next time you look in the mirror and start silently listing all the ways you’ve failed, remember that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are a child of God.
The next time you’re marveling at how “together” someone else is, remember that everybody struggles. Nobody is immune to the aches of this world, to the groans of humanity.
And if you’re feeling really brave, maybe you can sit with this question: God isn’t demanding you to perform your way into being loved – so why are you demanding it from yourself?
An interesting phenomenon happens when we stop being so hard on ourselves. We start having a lot more grace and understanding for others, too.
I’ll likely be late to church again. Our family life is filled with chaos and unexpected shenanigans – and sometimes I fail as the ringmaster. But when I am gentler with myself, I’m gentler toward my kids. When I remind myself that the truest thing about me is that I’m holy and dearly loved, I remember that truth about others around me, too.
You don’t have to perform any certain type of perfection. You are already holy and dearly loved.