This weekend I made a critical error and ended up on a play date I didn’t want to be on. I’m sure this other mom has her good points, but I wasn’t in the mood to hang out with a stranger, and it wasn’t what I had in mind when I texted this kid’s dad to see if they wanted to go on a hike with me and my son. He said the kid was with his mom and he wanted to forward my invitation to her. I paused, unsure how to say NO, THANK YOU. So, I ignored that little voice inside and said, “Sure! Sounds great!”
I should have known right at the beginning to cut it short, when I said, “I just did a million dishes,” and she answered, “Oh, I would NEVER live in a place without a dishwasher.” I wasn’t in any place to deal with that sort of thing.
I should have given myself a break and just cut it short, let the kids play for a little bit and then left. But I can easily get into a groove of “just look at the ground and try to get through this” whatever the “this” is, and so instead of cutting things short, I tried to be friendly and get to know her when I had no business doing that.
I was already resenting her for being thinner than me, for having long, beautiful hair, for her ex-husband being so good looking, for having more money than me, and a fancy, successful career. I was being judgmental and felt less-than – poor, chubby, plain, with my no dishwasher home (an apartment that I usually love, when I’m not comparing it to everyone else’s house). (“Do you OWN your apartment?” Um, no that’s basically not a thing anywhere except New York. Also: it would be called a CONDO if we owned it. ANYWAY.)
I wasn’t in the place to learn, in the moment, how to be a better person, so I did what most of us do when we feel like that. I pretended.
My main problem was: I didn’t want to be there in the first place. I certainly didn’t want to be there on a Saturday. But I found myself sitting on this woman’s couch – a stranger – watching her drink tea, listening to what felt like a lecture about someone else’s successes, thinking How did I let this happen? How is this what I’m doing with my Saturday afternoon? THIS IS THE WORST THING EVER.
I am a deeply flawed person, obviously. I am terrified much of the time, and racked with jealousy at anyone who is thinner or prettier or has more money or more success. The problem is, this includes much of the world.
But part of the problem too, is that people tend to hide their imperfections and their struggles. It’s easy to feel that I don’t live up to someone else’s standards, or even to my own, when I am in a situation where we are all supposed to report only our successes. Because I know the truth about myself. My life is full and deep and has included fantastic failure and earth-shattering mistakes, as well as success.
Letting our flaws show -- being honest about our shortcomings and our struggles -- is a form of generosity. Complaints keep us honest, at times. And we have the right to the full human experience.
All I feel is terrible and lectured when someone only tells me about their successes. Like, Oh, I guess it’s just me that struggles with dirty dishes, and student loan payments, and caring enough about Pokemon to feign interest in my child’s obsession.
But Jesus didn’t heal his own wounds from the cross. He left them there, in part at least, to show us how this honesty is achieved. We are not expected to be perfect. It’s not our job to go off and shine ourselves up – to dye our hair and lose weight and make some money – and then spread our message of success.
No, the wounds are part of the message.
I often feel like I just need to put on some lipstick, and some cute earrings and look REALLY PRETTY and REALLY SMART and be REALLY FUNNY and then I’ll have a good message. That then I’ll be a legitimate human being. That if I’m doing my life RIGHT, it will be one of victory after another. Or that the only story I can tell is of a problem solved, but not of the problem itself.
In some families I know, you can only report how you’ve successfully solved a problem, but you can never tell about a problem in progress. Never tell about your life in real-time, only tell about it in retrospect, when you can report a success, or a lesson, or make it into a clever story.
I see this tendency in positive thinking circles – cheerfulness bullying – an assertion that it’s just “negative thinking” to tell what feels like the truth about the painful parts of your own life. But we all struggle sometimes. Struggle is part of the human experience.
Even Jesus got angry in the temple. Even Jesus was afraid in the garden and said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.”
This is important because we can easily feel that if we’re struggling, it’s because we’re JUST NOT DOING IT RIGHT. If I was doing my spiritual practice CORRECTLY, I would never feel sad, or overwhelmed, be frustrated with my kid’s teacher, or feel lonely and afraid.
It’s easy for me to feel that if I was just a better person, I’d FEEL BETTER.
But no. To feel better also means to FEEL MORE. All of our feelings are part of the human experience. If even Jesus got mad, if even Jesus felt afraid, then how am I supposed to get out of it?
We have the right to feel all of this. Joy and faith and connection are our birthright, but so are sadness and loneliness and fear.
All of these feelings are part of the internal GPS system we come equipped with. All of these feelings give us feedback about our lives and the choices we make and what we might want to do instead.
So I can forgive myself for not knowing how to say no this weekend when a new friend asked to forward my text to invite someone in his place, and I can forgive myself for losing two hours of my Saturday to watching someone’s victory tour.
I got more information. Next time I can say NO, or even, HEY, I’LL LET YOU KNOW or MAYBE -- LET ME THINK ABOUT THAT.
And I know that this probably isn’t a good fit for me, this particular mom relationship, because I have enough problems in my life without feeling shamed for not having a dishwasher. Life is hard enough.
Instead, I can listen for the messages of my own spirit inside. When it tells me GET ME OUT OF HERE I DON’T LIKE THIS, I can listen. There are plenty of things I will need to “get through” in my life. A play date’s not one of them. I can forgive myself and know that God wants more for me than this. God doesn't mind my imperfections. I am ok with my no dishwasher apartment. I can do my dishes and pull my hair into a ponytail and enjoy this Saturday that God has provided with my son and my husband and love the people who I love and who love me. I can do my best for today, imperfections and all. Jealousy and pettiness and all. I can try to love myself as I am and be grateful that God loves me, no matter what.