A gentle whisper in my ear broke through my early morning dream. I sat up quickly when the sunlight filtering through our red paisley curtains cast a crimson glow across my son’s face. The unwelcome light accused me and immediately my self-berating thoughts began:
"I did it again. I promised this day would be different. I would get up while it was still dark and spend time with God. I know I need it and it is a new year. I can’t do anything right."
“Play with me, mommy?” My six-year old's big brown eyes danced with hope as I was caught up in my inner dialogue of despair. My first instinct was to decline his request and send him on his way. My husband and daughter’s snores told me I could hand my son an electronic device and still have time to hit my yoga mat before they woke.
In the split second between his request and my response, there was a war raging inside my head. I thought back to the previous day when I sat at the dining room table with papers scattered all around. My half filled out bullet journal from last year sat there mocking me. You failure, the uncompleted to-do lists said. The daily gratitude page was half filled out, telling me I was ungrateful. You're lazy, said the books I intended to read but hadn’t. The pieces I needed to have already written because deadlines were looming, calling me: Procrastinator. And worse of all, the scriptures I hadn’t memorized, the devotional I was reading that I was weeks behind on said: Bad Christian.
I ripped out the accusing pages one by one. I stared at the crumpled mess on the floor and wanted to shout at them, "You don’t define me. I am going to change. This time will be different." After over three decades of living with this inner dialogue, I know my tendencies by now. I’m all or nothing. If I can’t follow through with every stroke of my schedule, the whole plan is abandoned. If I say I am going to get up and workout, read my Bible, and pray every morning and instead oversleep (again), then I will go the whole day without doing any of those things. I’ve already failed, so what’s the point in trying?
All those stories so ingrained in my early upbringing in the faith run through my mind. Meant to encourage us towards spiritual disciplines, these stories set a bar of perfectionism I have been trying to attain every since. There was the one about a certain man of faith who never once missed a day reading his Bible. When he got sick towards the end of his life, his wife sat by his hospital bed and read it to him each day. There is the man praised because he didn’t miss a single Sunday of church even when his child was sick in the hospital or the woman who showed up to rock babies every weekend for decades. I was always told faithfulness to a task proves faithfulness to God…thus I am unfaithful.
This bent towards perfectionism has been killing me for years, snuffing out a fire of intimacy with God that used to burn brightly. And I’m so tired of it...
There is a moment when a lie takes root in our hearts and begins to grow. We often don’t know it at the time; can only look back on the other side and see the evidence of the beginnings of our shame.
That dirty word that we believe about ourselves, that F word that we let define us – You are a failure - it always starts somewhere.
I have come to picture this progression as if I were on a boat, set out to sea.
At first I was headed to a beautiful destination but got stranded somewhere. I felt lost and alone.
Then, I felt like the boat was going under, me with it – until I was drowning.
Finally, I found a lifeline that I cling to whenever I am drifting.
Maybe your story is very different from mine. But perhaps you have felt this same way. Have you found your lifeline or are you still searching?
Some days I have to search to find it all over again. Just like it takes time for the lie to begin to grow, it takes a long time to uproot it.
I had spent six years dreaming of this. Ever since the moment I sat in that Arabic class, felt God calling me out of my safe, homogonous life – I had dreamed of moving overseas.
God finally opened the doors for my husband and I to move to Egypt and years of a nebulous dream were becoming a reality.
We were newly married so it wasn’t difficult to pack up our two-bedroom basement apartment into boxes we would store until we retuned. Leaving family and friends, the roots that went deep in our lifelong hometown, was altogether another story. Our church and family rallied around us with support, yard sales, prayers, and love.
We found our new home to be the fulfillment of dreams we imagined it would be. That isn’t to say it wasn’t difficult. Culture shock and homesickness were real. Arabic was a language difficult to acquire. Normal life was more of a chore in a land we didn’t know.
But we loved every minute of our time there…until the news came.
My father had been sitting in church when he had a massive heart attack. They called it a widow maker because most do not survive it. He actually died sitting in the church that day.
Several doctors and nurses rushed to his side and were able to resusitate him, getting him to the hospital where my mom learned he needed a quadruple bypass.
That is when a crushing weight settled in on my soul.
I wanted to run home to be with my family but had a life in Egypt, responsibilities. We had worked so hard to get there and so many people had struggled along with us, were counting on us.
I couldn’t breathe anymore in this place I loved but also couldn’t imagine giving up and going home. What would everyone think? We had only been there six months and leaving then felt like a failure.
Two months after my dad’s heart attack we unpacked those boxes back into our apartment and did what we believed was right. We felt God saying our family was the most important assignment at that moment.
But life did not go back to normal. I felt like I was floating through a shadow of the life I knew before.
It was then that I began to feel like I was stranded at sea. I was between two worlds and that crushing weight I felt back in Egypt had followed me home.
I couldn’t name it then, couldn’t understand it for years. Looking back I realize that was the moment I started believing the lie that I am a failure.
The enemy who comes to kill, steal, and destroy pounced on the confusion in my spirit and whispered to me about my failure to finish what I had started, about all the people I had let down.
I started to question my choices and God’s faithfulness. I imagined people looking at me with disapproval. Every question about why we left was an indictment. I feared their judgement. I feared I had let them down, had let God down.
I found myself drifting away from Him, distancing myself really. I was so afraid I would learn the worst about myself when I spent time with Him – that I really had failed Him.
The beginnings of my feelings of failure started seven years ago and I am still wading through this. When I felt like I should write about this, every other story I read or message I listened to spoke into this subject.
Everywhere I turn, God is still speaking to me and helping to dislodge this age-old feeling that found it’s way into a new heart.
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