The other day, I mentioned one of the highlights of my spring—speaking at a MOPS meeting in Boulder.
I was given freedom to teach anything I wanted. I threw out a variety of ideas to Jeff before I started writing. “No, no, no,” he said. “All good ideas but I think you need to tell your story of being a recovering perfectionist and how that connects to motherhood.”
So I did.
I even added in a passage from the gospels that I have been wrestling with for many years. I had so much fun writing the talk and also sharing it among some amazing mamas on a snowy Tuesday morning in April, I thought I would take the time to adapt the story into a two-part blog here.
Here is Part 1...
My daughter Kyla is learning to play the recorder at school and a couple of weeks ago she came down the stairs distraught because, despite her best attempts, she just couldn’t get a low D to play.
I touched her hand gently and urged her to take a deep breath. I let the tear remain on her cheek as I carefully told her that she could do it. It would be okay. And it was. Within a few minutes, she had it figured out.
I hate to admit this but that was one of those moments when I could have been looking in a mirror. I remember standing in the bathroom of our house when I was about the same exact age, watching to make sure my lips were positioned correctly so I could to get a low note to play on my flute. In tears and nearly crumpling to the ground, I exclaimed, “That I can’t do it but I’m not going to stop until I have mastered it.”
You see, the message I’ve sent to myself over and over for most of my life is to try harder. Be more. Do and do and do. Be perfect. At everything.
It doesn’t help much that I grew up in a faith environment that celebrated this mentality too. From an early age, I had no idea that the weekly activities I was attending were actually working me into a faith frenzy of mastering checklists. The attendance sheets I filled out and fancy pins I wore on a uniform proved I was willing to work hard for God. I tried hard to be a good Christian girl. I was determined to be righteous and holy. That’s what God demanded, right?
I went to all the church meetings. I practically ran my youth group. I read my devotions every day. I said all the right things and memorized oh so many verses. I had a defense for every possible anti-Christian argument. I took notes in Sunday School like a crazy person. I observed mothers and internalized that the best thing I could ever be for God is a mom.
By my senior year, I actually took a class from my Christian high school titled “The Making of a Godly Woman.” We planned our weddings and took purity pledges. I was sure that this was the way, as Matthew 5:48 says, “To be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect.”
In college I met a handsome guy. We dated and got married. I was continuing my track record of living up to what I had been told and what I believed was the way to be the perfect Christian woman.
In premarital counseling we discussed having children but decided to wait for a while so my husband could pursue a Masters degree. Well, all of the lovely plans I had got tossed aside when I found out, after two months of marriage, that I was going to be a mother shortly before our first anniversary.
I was actually quite devastated at this news. This was not what I had planned. How could I be the perfect mother when I hadn’t had time to master being the perfect wife?
We made our plans to welcome our daughter. For my husband this meant obtaining a camcorder to record our little bundle of joy. For me, this meant gathering stacks of books on motherhood so I could quickly figure this thing out before the birth. I read a few books on health and safety but I primarily read books about what God wanted for me as a mom.
The tension built, as did the internal manual I was creating for myself. There were practically volumes by the time Kyla arrived. I was overwhelmed and overcome by the expectations, by my desire to be a good mom. I was also gripped with fear that I wouldn’t do it right. In so very many different ways, I was sure I would mess this motherhood thing up and I just couldn’t fail. I couldn’t. For I believed that if I messed this up, if I wasn’t perfect, that I was really disappointing God.
And it’s a terrible burden to bear. Feeling for years on end that you are a disappointment or that you might not be measuring up in so many areas. But, you see, these standards are often lies we believe about who we should be and what we should do. We internalize the lies as truth. Then, we attach them to what God says or believes about us, when they really have nothing at all to do with what He truly desires for our lives.
A Journaling Moment:
What are some things you believe about being a Christian mother/wife/woman?
When I started out as a mother, the internet was still catching on. There wasn’t the barrage of mommy blogs and Pinterest boards there are now. But there were articles and books. So many authors have a good intention of encouragement. But there are also a host of these resources that can serve a purpose in our life of producing the kind of fear and unhealthy standards I experienced.
I read one of those books about being a godly wife, in those early years, when my first daughter was still young. I couldn’t even get through the first few chapters because a wave of panic ran over me. Even though the author was a Christian, I wondered how she could deduce such harmful rules for me to follow, all in the name of Jesus. I stopped reading. Then, I threw the book in the trash. I couldn’t even bring myself to donate it to Goodwill.
I truly believe that day was a turning point for me. I started asking God, “What do you want from me? Am I a disappointment to You?” And no, I didn’t always ask in a kind and quiet voice because I was frustrated. I was desperate for a change. I needed to know if there was another way.
I'll post Part 2 later this week. Update: You can read Part 2 here.