If you’re anything like me, then you spend a lot of time thinking about ways to improve yourself. Be less judgemental, more patient. Kinder, wiser, skinnier. Eat less junk, more healthy food. Spend less money. Be more generous. Face it–there’s always some character trait we’d like to dispose of, something more desirable we wish we could add. It’s just part of being human. As a Christian, I recognize “sin” in my life, recognize my inability to completely eradicate it, no matter how hard I try, how many lists I make, how many books I read. It’s always going to be there. I’m going to die wishing I’d done this or that, wishing I’d been more like this, less like that, knowing that there were just some things about myself I could never “fix”. Even if you don’t subscribe to the idea of sin, I think I’d be hard pressed to find a person who was 100% satisfied with everything about themselves, who didn’t recognize that there are dark places inside them that they hope and pray no one ever finds out about, things that they just couldn’t shake in spite of all their best efforts.
The other night I was lying with Xavier as I was putting him to bed, and saying his prayers. I had prayed for him to be “wise and kind and brave and strong”…and I realized that in some ways, I think, we do the same thing with our kids that we do with ourselves, except that where we have given up on ourselves to some extent, we think we have a whole other chance with our kids, a chance to create a more perfect person, perhaps even a more perfect version of ourselves. The self we wish we were.
I know I do that…I try to provide my kids with opportunities that I didn’t have, sports or ballet or whatever. I look at things I don’t like about myself and I focus on those in my discipline of them, the things that I absolutely will not tolerate, the things I lecture them about. I’m sure that in some ways, I think that if I do it just so then they will come out better than me, more whole, less broken, more…worthy perhaps?
It is hard for me to accept grace. Hard for me to believe that God, or anyone else, would love me just as I am, just as he created me, flaws and all. I just can’t (or don’t want to because it’s kind of scary) grab hold of that and own it. So I work really hard to try and be better, and I fail gloriously and constantly. Apparently I can’t even accept it for my own kids though. And yet…I love THEM no matter what. Whether they get sassy with me or are mean to their sister or make terrible dumb mistakes in math or neglect to be kind to someone…I never, EVER stop loving them. They are my life. Why can’t I believe that God would be like that towards me?
Of course, just because I can’t make myself perfect doesn’t mean I shouldn’t continue to try and be better. It’s a fine line between giving up and being gracious towards myself and totally giving up and giving in to mediocrity. And with my kids too…it’s not wrong to want them to be better, to not make the same mistakes I did growing up. But I guess recognizing…and somehow teaching them too…that expecting perfection from yourself is only going to lead to many hours of self-flagellation and frustration…that’s the trick, right? Maybe though that’s one of those things…one of those things we will never quite be able to let go of.
Cause if we could do it all ourselves, if we could perfect ourselves…well, what’s the use of God then anyway?