So I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with perfectionism and not feeling good enough. Recently I’ve had the chance to remember that I got these traits honestly (along with a whole host of good traits).
My dear mother had knee replacement surgery recently. She has just made it through her first two weeks of recovery, which I think is HUGE. But Mom, however, is not convinced. All along the way, in fact she has been a little hard on herself.
Take the moment her physical therapist taught her how to transition from using a walker to a cane. When mom took those first few steps with the cane, I was like a proud parent, clapping with joy at what the baby accomplished. Mom just looked at me like I was weird and kept trying to get her gait just right.
Yesterday Mom and Dad spent their first day without any outside help. I was a nervous wreck. Would they be okay? Could they make it on their own? After a day and half of wondering, I came to the end of myself and popped over at lunch to check on them.
“How did you do yesterday?” I not so casually asked. “Okay, I guess,” Mom replied. “I washed my hair. Did some laundry. Then your Dad and I went out and picked up Chinese to go.”
“Okay?” I’m thinking, “That’s AWESOME.” I guess I thought it so loudly it came out of my mouth. “Mom, that’s really awesome! I’m so proud of you.”
“You really think so?” she asks. “Everybody keeps saying I’m doing great, but I just don’t know.”
Now part of me totally gets where she is coming from. She is used to being a very active, on-the-go woman and now she is laid up at home. She is still limited in what she can do and she still doesn’t feel great most of the time. Knee surgery definitely takes its toll. She probably wishes the whole recovery was behind her and she could move on with life as normal.
But recovering from knee surgery doesn’t work that way. It’s a process. It a journey where you take two steps forward and one step back. You have good days and bad days. And this goes on for WEEKS if not months. No immediate results here.
Much the same is our spiritual journey. When we set out upon a time of healing or growth such as Lent, we have great expectations for ourselves. We want to get from our place of perceived lack to the place we think we should be and we want to get there FAST. Without any delays or missteps, please.
But of course that is not going to happen. Like any recovery or growth, it will be slow and sometimes painful. We will have good days and bad days. There will be two steps forward and one step back.
We may get discouraged or begin to beat up on ourselves.
But there is another way.
I had a chance to meet the beloved, brilliant Phyllis Tickle a few years ago at a conference. As she signed my copy of her prayer book for summertime, I was telling her how we used her daily prayer books at breakfast with our kids. A proud mother herself, Phyllis was intrigued. “Do the books work well with the children?” She asked. I got kind of sheepish and admitted that we didn’t say ALL the prayers or read ALL the scriptures for each day since the children’s attention spans didn’t allow for it. She said something in response I’ll never forget:
It is not the prayers you don’t say that are important. It is the prayers that you do say that matter.
Oh, Phyllis. Thank you. Thank you for knowing how I beat myself up for all I don’t do and fail to celebrate what good there is in my life.
As you journey through Lent, I pray that you know this in your bones. It is not the things you neglect to do or mess up on that really matter. It is the small steps you are taking each day to grow into whom God made you to be.
And please know that God is not sitting around checking a watch wondering when you will get it together already.
On the contrary, God is cheering and clapping like crazy for every little new step you take like a proud, giddy parent.
So during this season of self-examination, let’s all be a little easier on ourselves, why don’t we? None of us is perfect, but we are all doing good work. Even when we can’t see it.
But God can see it. And loves us relentlessly no matter what we do or don’t do.
And at the end of the day, that is what matters.