In past seasons of my life, I filled notebooks with goals, to-do’s, strategies and techniques for getting things together. From a fundamental place inside of me came the constant, relentless message: Be Better.
I wanted to be better at everything and somewhere inside I believed that every other woman out there was accomplishing all the things I couldn’t manage, an entire lifestyle of doing it all with grace and effortlessness. I saw myself as failing in some level at just about everything, not only everything in my life but everything in the world if you counted all the things I wasn’t doing. (And I counted.)
If I spent five hours cleaning the kitchen, I felt bad about the state of the pantry. If the house was neatly picked up, the carpet stains screamed loudly at me every time I walked into the room. If I’d baked a fabulous dessert for my family, I berated myself for the mediocre dinner they were served just prior.
But somewhere along the line, something within me broke and I saw that part of myself from outside eyes, like an out-of-body experience. I learned to be kinder to my heart and treat her like a friend of mine and not just an abused little girl who couldn’t live up to anything. This was all unfolded, I’m sure, as my depth of understanding unfolded about grace, about the God who loves so purely and completely that His heart for me cannot be changed by any amount of my goodness or lack thereof.
At some point, I stumbled on peace and self-forgiveness.
I started a Things I Don’t Do list in my head and began to check off, one by one, the things that would creep up on me and tell me lies. I thought hard about the things that tormented me and decided whether I really needed to make space for them in my life, whether I really did believe my call was to be better in that area. Sometimes the answer was yes. Sometimes, I added them to the TIDD list, and breathed a little easier.
The Things I Don’t Do are mostly good things. They are things that may be sacred and creative and might beautifully enhance another person’s life. But for me, they are things that would take the space I have to give the other things in my life, the ones that give me life and joy and serve a higher purpose than to simply be better. As I have let things go, I have learned that with less effort to be everything and more effort to be the uniquely created me, I am a little bit better by proxy, and that is the ironic-flavored icing on the cake.
Here is a portion of my list:
I don’t go to the gym. My body is not perfect or even necessarily pretty but it is the body that has bore three children and held tightly to a dozen more. It sags in areas it shouldn’t and bulges in places I wish it didn’t and has erupted in a terrible case of adult acne, but its scars and stretch marks reflect its purpose. I love to see old Bibles, worn from years of use and tears, notes scribbled in the margins and pages bent back. I’m beginning to see my body in this way too, an open book, a love story, in which my life is written slowly into laugh lines and chipped nails, tan lines and chronic illness and chapped lips and birthmarks, calluses and tattoos and scabbed-over wounds that I am beginning to love. My exercise comes in the form of wrestling t-shirts over squirmy kid heads and games of hide-and-seek, hiking to waterfalls and the thousand leg-lunges I do every single day while picking up Matchbox cars. I don’t count calories and I eat more chocolate than is good for me but I’ve decided I’m basically okay in my size 11 jeans because this body has been awfully good to live in despite its many flaws.
I don’t garden. I grow children well, pets poorly, and I kill most other living things. I admire and respect those who find gardening to be a spiritual experience, but for me it is dirt and thorns and grub worms, and it takes all the beauty and mystery out of nature. If I manage to keep alive a rose bush, I resent it for the creative time lost in its cultivation and therefore, gardening makes the TIDD list.
I’m not on the PTA. I’m not the room mother or the field trip chaperone or the teacher’s aide. I care deeply about my children’s educational experiences but this is not the outlet for that, for me. I admire that there are others who are so much more patient, more talented, more gifted with teaching children and I give them space to be positive influences in my kids’ lives, too.
I don’t pair socks. Laundry is serious business around here and I spend way more of my life than I care to in the act of cleaning and putting away clothing. We have a Sexton Sock Basket, and when I fold laundry, all socks go in the bin. When someone needs a pair, they Scuba dive for two that pass for matching, and we all live happily ever after, the end. Most people are seriously horrified by this. What kind of mother doesn’t even match their kids’ socks? Let me tell you. This kind of mother. The kind that has living room campouts with them for the heck of it and throws unbirthday parties every once in awhile and decorates a living room birthday tree for the special kid of honor. The kind who has decided to make other things a bigger deal than socks and does so without apology.
There are scores of other things I don’t do. I don’t eat organic or change my refrigerator filter as often as it needs it. I don’t do play-dates or mom’s group or homeschool (anymore). I don’t cloth diaper. I don’t vacuum every day or run marathons or cook from scratch or iron or dry clean. I am not against any of these things. They’re good. They’re great, even. They’re just not great for me, right now.
I am not totally guiltless over all of these things yet, but I’m getting there. The Things I Do list (I have one of those too) is getting shorter and shorter in quantity, but fuller and fuller in quality and I’m learning to see that as the better thing.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
(Matthew 5:5 MSG)