This past Sunday (on Mother's Day) our pastor shared a few thoughts especially for moms. In short, he said most moms he knows regularly feel like they have failed in some way and that if he could relieve us from that pressure he would. He also said that God has designed us to perfectly fit with the kids He's given us.
I found myself being deeply moved by his words, even though this wasn't the first time I've heard a similar kind of message. I remember resonating with the way Jen Hatmaker described motherhood guilt in her book For the Love:
"What could be crazier than a woman who wakes children up before dawn, feeds and waters them while listening and affirming all their chatter, gets them dressed and off to school with signed folders, then perhaps heads to a job to put food on the table or stays home to raise littles who cannot even wipe, completes one million domestic chores that multiply like gremlins, breaks up forty-four fights, intentionally disciplines 293 times a day, attends to all emails/correspondence/deadlines, helps with math/writing/biology homework, serves dinner while engineering a round of "High-Low", oversees Bedtime and Bath Marathon, reads lovingly to lap children, tucks them in with prayers, finishes the endless Daily Junk Everywhere Pickup, turns attention to husband with either mind or body, then has one last thought of the day: I am doing a terrible job at everything."
I also once read some author in some book (I know, very specific and helpful) talking about how quite a lot of us, even if we are Christians, feel a low level of guilt all the time. All this being said, I have to wonder if the struggle with being hard on ourselves isn't limited to moms raising kids. For some reason I feel like we may all fall prey to this common problem of being our own worst critics.
I remember one time serving on a summer missions team we spent 4 weeks living in Queens, NY. On one particular day, I was having a bit of a rough time. I don't recall the exact details now, but I know I one major element was that I was the last one out to the van as we were leaving for somewhere, and I got this idea in my head that I had really messed everyone else up by being late. I then remember sharing with my team later, saying how I had felt really terrible that I made everyone else wait, and one of my team members surprisingly shared with me that he didn't actually think any of them were that upset by me being late.
How often does this kind of thing happen to us? We beat ourselves up, thinking we failed other people, when sometimes other people don't even have any idea we did. Or at least they aren't nearly as upset at us as we are at ourselves. Could it be that other people tend to be much better at loving us than we are at loving ourselves?
Most of us are familiar with the two greatest commandments from Jesus - love God with every part of you, and love your neighbor as yourself. I wonder about that phrase "as yourself." Why is that even in there? Why not just "love your neighbor"?
I guess for a long time I figured we are told to love our neighbors as we love ourselves because the assumption is that we naturally love ourselves. So then the implication is that we should simply treat other people the way we already treat ourselves. But what if instead the idea is more about doing both of these things - loving my neighbor while at the same time loving myself? Maybe somehow the two things actually work together. And maybe the part where most of us tend to fall short is actually the loving yourself part.
As the saying goes, "hurting people hurt people." Perhaps if I'm not loving myself well, the hurt I am causing myself is going to spill out and keep me from loving my neighbor well either. But then what? Obviously if I beat myself up for not loving either myself or my neighbor, I am just going to perpetuate the cycle of continuing to live in guilt and not loving. On the other hand, if I try to work harder at loving, is my own willpower really going to get me there?
It seems like the only way for me to break this cycle has to do with deepening my understanding and experience of God's love for me. Really both of the greatest commandments only make sense when you realize that they are a response to God's perfect, unfailing, and infinite love for us. "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19)
The minute I dig in and try harder to love - whether God, my neighbor or myself - I'm setting myself up for failure. I can't love out of my own human strength. And yet, somehow even through the experience of trying and failing, God can teach me. When I come to Him and say, Lord I can't do this or, God, I really messed that up, I wonder if He smiles and says, I know. That's why I'm here.
I would like to learn how to be kinder to myself. How to grow in loving my neighbor as I love myself. As I thought about what it would look like to live more aware of God's love, I was reminded of the words of that very familiar children's song, Jesus Loves Me. I wonder what might change within me if these words were the ones running through my head, rather than the criticizing, why-can't-you-do-better ones. What if we all took these words and let them become our source, our theme song, for loving?
Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones (couldn't we all be considered little?) to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.
Pray with me...
... that God will help all in the BCS/WCA community to experience His love anew
The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3
... that we could love each other out of the overflow of God's love
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7
... that BCS and WCA would be beacons of light to our communities, revealing the love of God to everyone around us
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 2 Corinthian 2:15
Soli Deo Gloria To God alone be the glory
~ Carrie Warner, BCS/WCA Prayer Team Coordinator
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