Resting without Apology

Ever since my TEDxTalk in September 2017, I entered a season where public speaking was a regular thing, a thread I had to figure out how to interweave into the rest of my life without letting it overtake the entire pattern. I was invited to present keynotes at various nursing conferences and also teach workshops in smaller contexts, and there was always what felt like some big thing(s) on the schedule that I had to prepare for (and feel anxious about). It was exciting and in many ways hugely affirming of strengths and giftings, but the general public doesn’t realize how much effort and intense squeezing of time it involves to prepare well for public presentations, while still trying to maintain other primary life roles and obligations.

It can be intoxicating to hear people tell you that you are gifted, that you have so much to offer, that you’ve made such a difference in the world. Jackie Hill Perry, a well-known author, speaker, artist, and mother, addressed this in her interview with the Risen Motherhood podcast when she said it’s a challenge to put that affirmation from the world in its right place while wrestling with daily faithfulness in motherhood, where your work can feel mundane, repetitive and very much taken for granted. We’re all looking for a sense of significance, and what an internal battle it was to go back and forth from public to private life and try to guard my own sense of groundedness, security and contentment regardless of where my work landed me each day.

There’s a lot of energy that goes into producing what is hopefully worthwhile material for the general public, and energy that goes into the growing and struggling with the process. My last speaking engagement was in May and there is nothing else on the calendar for now, outside of what I choose to pursue by way of blogging for AJN on my timeline, working on my own writing at my leisure, and starting the online Narrative Medicine Certification program with Columbia University this Fall, which can be at my pace. It’s a season of rest (though life with family certainly remains full), and there’s been a considerable amount of detoxing that has come with the transition into rest from the public work for the time being.

What I am realizing is that very few of us know how to rest well, or at least how to rest without some sort of apology or justification attached. The burden of guilt stifles the very freedom, joy and restoration that true rest is supposed to bring about. What is that about? Can we be more kind to ourselves and each other in this hyperproductive world we find ourselves spinning in?

I’m looking to be faithful to what God has put before me, to still serve others well, to still pursue God-given dreams. But I’m also looking to learn how to rest without apology or shame. I haven’t quite found my way in that yet, but I’m convinced that the freedom and joy that come with true rest – both on a spiritual level in Christ and on a practical level in the world – are not altogether elusive.

When an Over-responsible Caregiver Learns a Life Lesson from a 5 Year Old

I have in recent weeks come up against my limits at times of what I can give to others and accomplish in the course of a day, and it hasn’t always been a graceful acceptance of those limits. I have instead resented them, and then learned the harder way to heed them and their inherent God-given wisdom rather than slam myself up against them to see if they will budge (they won’t, not much anyhow).

It can be a double-edged sword, this tremendous pride and meaning we caregivers find in being so good at seeing the needs of others and going to them with openness to help meet those needs. This characteristic is both its own reward and its own potential enemy – precisely because we are so good at it and there is always more need. When I find myself holding too tightly to my caregiver persona to be my personal motivator and satisfier, there always inevitably comes a point where I am hit with my finitude, and either become embittered or humbled by it. Which response I choose will set me on a trajectory one way or another.

Choosing to become embittered may initially make me seem stronger and tougher, but in the long haul my heart only grows empty and hard. Digging my heels into the role when I have in fact hit my limits has only led to resenting others, and ultimately judging myself rather than listening to myself when I feel my own needs emerge. I become more a shell of a caregiver than true substance.

Choosing humility frees my identity from the need to always be (perceived as) the strong one for others. It allows me to value myself in all my strengths and limitations, and gently voice rather than demand what it is I need. It allows me to rest, allows me to receive help, and most importantly allows me to love and receive love based on who we all are, not what we all do or need to do.

My 5 year old daughter showed me in one simple exchange how much I had lost sight of what’s most important in my perspective as a caregiver, and invited me back into the beauty of it.

“Mommy, what is a privilege?”

“Well, it’s something that you are so lucky to be able to do, something not everyone gets to do. It’s different from a responsibility, which is something you have to do.”

“So… a privilege is like how you get to be a Mommy to me and Kayla?”

She stopped me in my tracks and showed me the change of heart that I needed. She wasn’t looking at an incomplete checklist of all my responsibilities. She was looking at our relationship.

“Yes honey. It is a privilege to be a Mommy to you and Kayla. It is a privilege.”

 

Four Lies of Perfectionism that Rob You of Joy

We all want joy and contentment. Much of that desire is God-given; before things in the world went terribly awry, we were created to live in perfect peace and harmony with our own selves, the world around us, our role in the world, and our relationships with others. It’s a longing for heaven, which means it won’t be fulfilled until we get there. Living in a broken world, there is then a danger in pursuing forms of perfection as a means to joy in the here and now. If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself exhausted, frustrated or discouraged from this pursuit time and time again. It’s important to recognize the lies about perfectionism so that we don’t sacrifice our hearts pursuing what will never deliver; instead, we learn to look to and rest in the Perfect One who alone can be our sufficiency when all else fails.

1.) Lie: The reason you lack joy and fulfillment is because you have not achieved as much as those “ahead” of you. Attaining to perfect life achievements is what will bring you joy.

Truth: The place where you believe you will feel you have “arrived” is an illusion; it will never be enough.

We live in an age where the charmed life seems to be all around us. Even for Christians, we can fall into a subtle trap of boasting about “blessings” without realizing we’ve simply thrown a Christian label on our charmed life posts. The result is the same: falling for the “best life now” illusion, hook, line and sinker. Once I achieve that level of success in my career. Once I become that Instafamous. Once I move on from singleness to marriage. Once I enter into (or get out of!) that season of parenthood. Then I’ll feel fulfilled. We don’t realize – or fully believe – there are challenges and new issues of discontentment tied to the role “ahead.” This is why Ecclesiastes tells us,

“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, 24-25

As I wrote in an earlier post about experiencing restlessness in the pursuit of our dreams, nothing is owed to me, but grace is given for today to enjoy what is before us here and now.

2.) Lie: If people around you sing your praises with enough quantity and consistency, you will find lasting joy. Being perfect in the eyes of others is what will bring you joy.

Truth: The praise of people really isn’t all it’s cut out to be, and it can’t keep up with the neediness of your ego.

When we fall for this lie, we are always looking for something new, something better, something funnier, something flashier, to keep the stream of praises flowing our way. We should sense a red flag if we feel unsettled when there is too quiet a pause in the praise. The praise of people can be addicting; beware of placing the weight of your self-worth on its shoulders. It can rise and fall with trends, attention spans, moods, and others’ own insecurities and issues. Its supply often has more to do with others and less to do with you. Truly, the only One who is more than able to bear the weight of all of your self is Christ.

3.) Lie: Having perfect harmony and avoiding conflict in relationships will bring you joy.

Truth: We have to come to grips with the fact that healthy relationships, particularly the closest ones, will inevitably include conflict. It’s learning to work through the conflict – while guarding a safe place for one another – that brings about deeper love, a fuller experience of grace and forgiveness, and stronger character.

While it’s true we need general health in our relationships, we need to be careful not to equate “healthy” with “conflict-free.” I’ve never felt so much ongoing ‘conflict’ in my relationships as I do now that I am navigating the parental authority role with two toddlers whose job it is to constantly challenge me as they grow into themselves. It is impossible to avoid a clashing of will or personality, and for this peace-loving people-pleaser, it can be relationally confusing and exhausting. That is, until I come back to the realization that it’s not the absence of relational conflict that will bring me true joy. Because in my core, what I really want in my relationships is not to be conflict-free, but to be loving, patient, godly, self-sacrificing, renewed in spirit. These attributes are gold, but they only come about one way: Through the often-painful refinement experienced in working through the relational conflicts, big and small.

4.) Lie: When you are at your worst, you cannot be truly loved. Being a perfect self is what will bring you joy.

Truth: When you are at your worst, it is the most profound time to realize how deeply, unconditionally, and perfectly loved you are.

This lie encapsulates all the others, because we tie up our life achievements, our public image, and our closest relationships, with our very selves. So fundamentally, the perfectionists in us will be tempted to pursue perfection of self in the pursuit of joy.

What then, when we have bad moments, as everyone does? I mean, really bad moments. I mean, your worst moments when you’ve totally lost your rational mind and you’re throwing the tantrum of a 3.5 year old, but you lack the excuse that this behavior is developmentally appropriate in any way. Your worst moments when you’ve given into that sin once again and the voices of shame and hypocrisy are deafening. It’s easier to think that God and any other human witness to your behavior are merely tolerating you, because how could this mess merit any love?

When we find ourselves in the shoes of the prodigal son, clothed in rags of unrighteousness and still a long way off from the God we at some point wished dead, that’s when we find He has already run to us and said, “Yes child, I died, and my death was for you – not for you to be free of Me but for you to be restored to Me for joy. The best robe has been prepared for you; welcome home.” When Jesus took the sin of the world upon His holy self and suffered the horrific consequences for them, the Father still loved Him, and eventually raised Him to new life. Now that we have received His forgiveness for all our sin, past, present, and future, and have been donned with the robe of righteousness, how could the Father love us any less? It is profound, and it is our healing.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

To pursue perfection in achievements, in the opinions of others, in our relationships, and in ourselves is to chase an illusion. When we can identify the lies of perfectionism for what they are, we can take our first step towards freedom from their entanglement and the subsequent exhaustion. As we run to Christ, the Perfect One, allowing Him to cover and fill us as only He can, He receives the glory and we receive the true and lasting joy.

Wearing Pajamas to Work Leads to the Most Schizophrenic Compliments

With my typical work attire being just slightly a notch above pajamas, and my standard work hairdo being the ever so ageless ponytail, I wouldn’t exactly say I dress up for work and dress down on my days off. I could swing through my nursing unit on an off-day for a meeting or a class, dressed in jeans and a decent blouse with my hair let down, and one of the most common comments I get is:

“You look really nice today! I didn’t recognize you at first.”

Haven’t we all either had someone say this to us, or said it to someone else? Somewhere in there is a compliment, but there’s something else there too. Something that consists of… well, not a compliment.

It’s curious, and rather revealing, the things we say without actually verbalizing them. Other unintentionally mixed compliments that leave me awkwardly scrambling to find a non-awkward response include:

“You’re really good at (some ability). I wish I could be as good as you.”

“Oh, so you’re a (fill in job title or some other specific role)? I could never do that.”

“You’re so funny” (in reaction to something you said that was not an actual joke).

There is a Bible verse that says, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” It’s true. We aren’t so good at not saying what we don’t mean to say. (How’s that for a brain-bending sentence?) We inadvertently end up saying it anyhow, somehow. It makes sense then that the responder to a schizophrenic compliment has a hard time knowing which aspect of the schizophrenia to respond to. It’s easier to just say “thank you” to the compliment portion, but somehow the other implied commentary lingers in the air and begs for our attention.

Somehow, I think there has got to be a better way to have these conversations. Either keeping the compliment in pure compliment form (which we still have struggles giving and receiving), or else shamelessly but ever so graciously delving into more honest discussions about what we’re actually thinking. Maybe what we have a hard time with is keeping that conversation going from a place in both parties that is full of grace and free of shame.

Why is that? Why do grace and shame exert such strong influence over the dynamics of these kinds of conversations?

****************

For reference and credit, Adam McHugh’s recent blog post, “Why I Sometimes Lie About my Profession” inspired me to write this.