I have been a doer all my life. I’ve been a mover and a shaker, a get-things-done-because-I-can-do-them-because-they-need-to-get-done kind of person, for as long as I can remember.
When I was little and someone tried to help me, I was known to say “my do it myself”—a charming set of words that I’ve unintentionally passed on to my oldest son. I worked hard to make things happen, whether that was a game, a friendship or my grades. I did my best to make sure I was doing everything the right way. And if the results of my efforts earned unsatisfactory results, I counted the thing a personal failure.
This aspect of my personality extended into my Spiritual life as I took very seriously a decision to follow Christ, to do good things for Him. I believed that he’d taken care of my sin and had forgiven me, that after I died I’d go to Heaven, but I also held very religiously to an idea that I needed to be as good as possible until then—not for salvation, but in order to prove I was worthy after receiving the gift.
One evening recently, after putting the boys to bed, I realized I’d forgotten a crucial detail in schedules for the next week… I had scheduled two meetings and a long to-do list in a time slot when the boys would have no one to watch them. I left the room of people and crumpled and cried to myself. Most of the time, maybe, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But to me in that moment, it meant that I had failed. I was thinking about other things more than about my own children. I was not living up to what I needed to be. I was not “enough.”
And the thing is, the counter-cultural thing that doesn’t make me feel good immediately but gives me deeper cleansing and fuller healing, is that I am NOT enough. I can’t “do it all.” I long to be able to do and be all the things. But I can’t, and the truth is that I may be able to get most of it done sometimes, but I’ll never be completely enough. I’m going to let my friends down. I’m going to let my family down. I’m going to let my children down. I’m going to keep letting myself down… as long as my focus is on “my do it myself” and my list of personal expectations is long.
It is so stressful to feel like I need to do it all myself. My burn-out rate is getting faster and my fuse is getting shorter. Sometimes I turn to someone around me or even take a good, hard look at my list to see if it’s even possible… sometimes I ask God for help. If I’m honest, I use the “try harder” approach way more often than I’d like to admit. At this point I generally become sort of like a mad woman dashing and darting in an uncoordinated way. The outcome is usually unpleasant, where I’m either in a pile of frustration with myself or desperately lashing out to find someone to blame for not “just knowing” and helping me.
The crazy thing is that really, when I really think about those times when I simply couldn’t do anything, it was actually okay. I’m surprised to remember that the sky did not fall, the earth continued circling the sun… everything did not fall into pieces. In fact, in those times when I let someone help me, either because I asked or because they insisted, our friendship grew, and my thankfulness deepened. God taught me something valuable about humility, that accepting help means acknowledging my inability to do it all on my own. It’s very hard to do, but it’s like working a muscle and getting stronger over time. Humility grows with exercise, and that doesn’t have to mean getting to a place of falling on my face in a crowded room.
Plenty of the things on my list of things I’d like to accomplish are things I don’t necessarily need to do. Many of them are items that don’t relate directly to my top priorities… like sending out those pesky Christmas letters that should’ve been sent out a month ago, or popping the corn on the stove instead of in the microwave, or organizing my sweaters in a neater way, or… when I step back and breathe, when I take a hard look back at my priorities, I’m getting better at letting go of attempting control over the non-essentials. I’m getting better, slowly, at accepting that I’m not enough, and humbly asking for help. I can cross off some things because they don’t need to happen. I can trust other people to help me with more of my list. And best of all, my breathing gets deeper and easier and a few bricks come off of my shoulders.
I’m not calling a ceasefire on getting stuff done on your own. I’m not advocating for codependence on other people. I’m way too independent to expect myself to let others do all my stuff for me. Neither am I saying stop or tell them “no” or call it off because you know you don’t have enough to do it alone. You might be in a season of life where every second of your time is spoken for, where you’re the only one who can do the things in front of you or take care of the responsibility that you hold, and that does not mean you’re doing it wrong.
As a single parent, I’m the one to whom my children look for nearly everything. They need me. I’m very blessed in my current situation, that I’m surrounded by many others who lovingly care for, feed, clothe and entertain the boys. However, there are some things that only a parent can help with–some hurts that only mom can comfort, some questions that mom needs to answer, some reassurances that are my privilege and responsibility to give. With their father gone, I’ve caught myself thinking that God can fill in the hole where Daddy is missed, but Mama needs to be Whole. I’m acutely aware that I’m broken and can’t be all, and it’s important that I remember in those times that God can and has and does and will continue to take care of us.
He has called us to the mission he’s set before us. For me, today, that’s mothering my boys. I am the mom that God chose for the toddlers I get to call mine. This call on my life is intense. It’s challenging and it’s messy and it requires a ton of discipline. And I’ll admit, I can’t do it. But God can. He’s called me to be “mama” and he hasn’t left me without help.
God has not left nor forsaken us. He never will. He’s right there in the trenches with us. He sees the dishes piling up, and the toddler scribbles on the wall. He hears our exasperation and our silent wishes to quit. And he reaches out with his hands to wipe our tears and hold us away from our fears.
Grace means getting something I don’t deserve. I don’t deserve to have help when I’m lacking. I don’t deserve the patience I receive when I’m stress-talking at my family or the kindness my coworkers extend when I miss another thing. I don’t deserve forgiveness and hugs from my boys when I’ve yelled at them again. I don’t deserve the freedom I have in knowing that I can go to Jesus with anything because he ended the separation between us when he literally died instead of me. Because of the grace of God, I can acknowledge that my mistakes don’t mean failure, but rather an opportunity to recognize my need for God’s help. I can realize that we I am not enough without throwing myself into deprecation and I can rest because God is enough.
AMAZING GRACE | John Newton
- Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
- ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
- Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
- The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
- Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
- The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
- When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.