There are some things that are so powerful they can destroy you. So sneaky that they can enter your mind so quietly that you don’t realize it until you struggle to set your mind on anything else. Let me paint a scene for you.
It’s 8:03am and my daughter is sitting in her highchair while I prepare some breakfast for us both. I haven’t even been awake for an hour or had a sip of coffee and these are all the things running through my mind:
“I wonder if she got enough sleep – it’s so important for her development and I’m probably missing her signs of tiredness, so I will try and get her to bed earlier tonight.”
“GAH. This banana is not organic.”
“I should have really thought about making that second appointment today so she wouldn’t be in the car for so long – she needs to be moving around so she can practice her walking. I hope it won’t affect her too much…”
“Oh my gosh her journal! I haven’t written in it in a month.”
“Did I even pray for her yesterday? Or the day before? ”
“What do we have in the fridge for lunch? Beige food. I really need to be feeding her more of the rainbow.”
“Nikki, stop chopping and interact with your daughter – she’ll think you’re ignoring her!”
(pause for a second to smile and sing to daughter)
“We should play with other kids today – she hasn’t seen another person in like 2 days.”
“Am I stimulating her enough?”
(put on music)
“Is this music too stimulating?”
“I should get some new toys – she’s probably bored with these ones.”
“Is she getting too attached to her soother? I should take it away more often.”
“What stage of development is she in again? Why isn’t she going from crawling to sitting? What am I missing?”
“I have to buy bubbles today – I heard that kids love them and I feel like she needs some new experiences.”
“I should get her a probiotic.”
“Am I reading to her enough? Maybe I’ll do that before dinner.”
“Ok – put your phone away and pay attention to your baby!”
“I’m so tired. I miss working.”
“Talk about what you’re doing out loud – it’s too quiet and she needs to hear lots of words a day.”
“Do you have any idea how lucky you are to be off right now!? Soak in every second.”
Etc. etc. etc. (Fill in the blank)
Then in a moment, I stopped and sadly realized what I had become a slave to:
Joy-stealing, disheartening, self-deprecating, you’ll-never-do-enough guilt.
My mind and my guts play this funny game. My gut says “ Bo cool, Nikki – who cares. Just love her and do your best – you know that’s all she needs!” But so often my mind secretly degrades every little thing I do or don’t do, and frankly, it’s exhausting. I had heard the phrase “mom-guilt” before, but until that moment I hadn’t been aware of the real-estate it was taking up in my mind, and therefore my life. I know that many of these thoughts are common for first-time moms, and they obviously begin with the love and care we have for these human being that we adore. But guilt is not love. And it is a monster that is bred over time, out of even the most noble of intentions. What starts as “I want to be and do my best for this child that deserves the very best!” ends with anxiety, fear, shame, comparison, and crippling perfectionism.
This whole concept is not new to me. When I was 18 years old I heard the story of this man named Jesus, and it changed the course of my life forever. At the time I had a laundry list of things to feel really, really guilty about and since then the list has not gotten anymore impressive. But Jesus is irresistible. God Almighty, yet closer than my breath. Holy and perfect, and yet desperate to be with me. Betrayed by His own children, and yet laying down His life for them. The paradoxes of my faith continue to amaze me. They draw me deeper to this God like no other and in every new experience of life He becomes clearer and clearer, brighter and brighter. The author C.S Lewis wrote “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not just because I see it, but by it’s light I see everything else.” And yet I find myself still scrambling and struggling to be and to do instead of being with. The battle between guilt and grace rages on. The more I see God for who He is, the more aware of my never-enoughness I become. And the more I am aware of that, the more in awe I am of God’s unconditional love for me. Then the cycle repeats, and in the midst of it we can find panic or freedom.
It’s a strange thing, isn’t it? Freedom from guilt for the guilty. I’ll probably never really understand it but you can bet I am forever thankful for it. It’s what I want more than anything for my daughter. And as it turns out in this motherhood journey, it’s what I want for myself. And we can blame Pinterest, or social media, or the mom-blog we follow, or the friend who always seems to have it together with her kids, but the issue of guilt fueled by works is a problem of the human heart that has been going on since the beginning.
Jesus Himself says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”(Matt 11:28-30)
I keep thinking of my daughter I love – contemplating what I would do if I saw her frantically running around wondering if she’s ever doing enough, or being enough – in school, her relationships, her talents and gifts, and worst of all, for her Saviour. And I am moved to repentance regarding my own life. To turn around and ask for forgiveness for being that girl and modelling that kind of slavery for my daughter. Now if you, like me, suddenly feel guilty for feeling guilty – have hope. We, like our children, are works in progress, and our heavenly Father invites us to keep close company with Him as we learn.
So as we celebrate this Easter season I am being challenged to live out the truth of my faith in the sphere of my parenting. Not just by one day explaining to my daughter about the death and resurrection story of a Saviour who gives freedom from guilt, but by living as a free woman. To recognize and reject each accusatory thought and begin to live freely and lightly. And like many spiritual disciplines and difficult concepts, this will take practice and perseverance to live out. Falling and getting up. Grace upon grace. And while I’m still working on what that actually looks like from day to day, I want to move forward, away from the consuming I’m-not-enough-all-day-long life, and into the here-we-are-being-and-resting-and-working-and-failing-and-winning-together life.
I long for guilt to not be something so synonymous with motherhood, whether in my own experience or in the fabric of our network and relationships. Because the reality is, I will never be perfect enough for my daughter no matter how hard I try; there is always more that can be done. But as we have learned in the gospel story, you can never be good enough. There is never enough you can do – period. The law leads to death. BUT, GOOD NEWS. Life and Freedom is in the free gift of grace from Jesus Christ. This is the motherhood story I want to tell; the story I want to live.
Thanks be to God that He sent His son so we wouldn’t die of guilt – or have to live with it either.
Happy, happy, happiest Easter.