*Editor’s Note: I wrote these words two years ago as a newly minted (working) mom of two boys, experiencing the weight of perfectionism and the depression that naturally follows. Sharing them here in hopes they bless someone who needs to hear this message: fail at trying to do and be it all. The sooner, the better. xo
It is 8 a.m. and we are already late. Not really, but we are. My oldest son’s school starts promptly at 9 a.m. each morning. On a normal day, when my husband is home, we divide and conquer. Man to man defense. He takes care of dressing and feeding the threenager (three going on teenager … this is a thing), while I handle our wild thing of a toddler. With a little teamwork and a lot of grace, our motley crew makes it out of the house with not a minute to spare.
On a normal day, I drop my husband off first at the train station so he can take the hour-long ride to work. Next, we head to Pre-K, where the threenager will eat breakfast, and then finally it's off to daycare, where I spend at least 15 minutes nursing the “baby” who won’t take a bottle before trying to slip out unnoticed. Then I run back home to my home office, which, until a couple months ago, doubled as my dining room table, to work for a few hours before the pickup routine begins.
If it sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. Our one-car situation is honestly not ideal (mostly for me), but despite the inconvenience, I’ve learned to treasure our family carpool in the mornings. For better or worse, we’re all together before the day begins. There is time for prayer and discussion of the day’s activities and maybe a meltdown or two.
On a normal day that is.
Today, unfortunately, is not a normal day.
Today, I am on my own. My husband had an early morning meeting, which (to my chagrin) is common in his line of work as an A/V engineer. That means today, it’s zone defense. Me against the boys.
And we are late.
Even as I shuffle tired bodies from beds to the bathroom to the breakfast table, I know we will not make it to school on time. No matter how much I plan the night before – everything from bubble baths to neatly ironed clothes to packed lunches – I can never make it out the house on time when I’m by myself with the kids. It’s Murphy’s Law, after all. Inevitably, there will be an accident or a diaper blowout, or a meltdown over lackluster breakfast options. Or worse still, no breakfast options at all, in which case the Chick-fil-A run will add an extra 15 minutes to our itinerary, and I refuse to feel shame about the fact that I am on first-name basis with the Chick-fil-A staff.
Sadly, the odds are not in our favor this morning. Not now and not ever actually. Still, I moisturize my oldest with urgency, grab the pre-ironed shirt off the ironing board, and am forcing it onto his 125th percentile head (my husband’s genes of course) when I am interrupted by the familiar sing-songy whiny voice that makes my blood curdle.
“Mooooooom! I can do it myseeeeeelf!!”
On a normal day, I might sweetly explain in my most patient and understanding “mom voice” that we are running late and if we don’t hurry, he will miss breakfast at school. I might assure him that tomorrow he can put his shirt on unassisted. I might even resort to a bribe. (I am only ever two gummy bears away from compliance at any given point).
But today is not a normal day. In fact, today is his lucky day, because I could care less right now about his head being stuck in his uniform shirt. Not when I am still in pajamas and in danger of looking like frumpy mom at school drop off. Always.
“Okay, great.” I hear the words escape my lips flatly and apathetically before I practically run out of the room. Today, he will get his wish.
It’s mama’s turn. I am full-on wrestling my dense, tightly coiled hair into a ponytail next door when I hear the first signs of frustration from his bedroom – a solitary grunt – followed by exasperating sighing, then full out whimpering and finally a soft sob.
“I can’t do it,” he tells himself over and over in between tears. “I can’t do it! I can’t! I can’t!”
I can see his face even though the walls separate us. I have seen this very scene a million times, in fact. He has managed to poke his head through the opening in his shirt, but try as he might, he can’t seem to find the holes for his arms. They flail under his white uniform shirt as he tires himself flipping and flopping hopelessly. It’s pretty hilarious, actually. The kind of thing my husband and I laugh over for a few minutes before intervening, because we’re those kind of parents. Judge if you must.
I stay put and decide to let him struggle. (Clearly not winning any Mother of the Year Awards over here.) I’m fighting my own losing battle with my hair and after all, we are late.
“MOOOMMMYYY!” he cries at last, stomping and sobbing down the hall, then into our room. It is all I can do to keep from breaking into full-on laughter when the adorable pie-face finally emerges in the doorway, uniform shirt wrinkled and backwards, the outline of his little shoulders and arms protruding under the now stretched cotton. He might as well be wearing a straight jacket.
Despite the sheer comedy of his predicament and my power to immediately change his circumstances, I still feel his pain. The tears already welled up in his big, beautiful brown eyes threaten to fall at any moment. He looks straight at me, then down at the floor before confessing in a small voice dripping with shame, “I can’t do it.”
I say nothing for a moment and let the silence do its work of forcing his now shamed gaze to mine.
“Don’t say you can’t,” I say slowly, so he can not only hear, but also feel the compassion in my voice. “You can do it. You just need a little help.”
A couple tugs later and his arms fly through the shirt with ease. I pull the now wrinkled polo down over his belly. It is over in an instant and he smiles up at me with relief.
“It’s ok to ask for help,” I reassure him. “I know you’re getting bigger and you think you can do it on your own, but mommy is here to help you. And guess what? Mommy asks for help too. Actually, I need a lot of help. Do you understand?”
He nods at me flashing his signature grin. Not even a millisecond later, he is scampering down the hall, off to the next thing. The struggle? Mere memory.
I know my words are likely lost on him in these tender years, but they certainly are not lost on me. As I resume wrestling the mop on my head, I can’t help but think how much we are alike, him and I. I think I am big enough far too often. I think I can do it on my own. I think I can handle all the things and manage all the responsibilities. I try in my own strength and end up with my head stuck in one million commitments, arms flailing.
Instead of running to the only person I know can help me, I try harder. Boy oh boy do I try. I work myself up and create lofty goals and read books and try to fix myself. I exhaust my energy on trying to figure myself out – figure life out. And it is only when I have come to the end of myself that I finally reach out to the one I know can help me. The One who has been there all along.
What would it take for me to come to Him first? Not just when I’m stuck and spent, but every single day? How much frustration and anxiety could I avoid? How many breakdowns could I forego? How much depression and depletion could I miss altogether by focusing on Him instead of me? How many therapy appointments? How many ugly cries?
If I’m honest, the thought of being still, of trusting God with my life, of waiting on Him and resisting the temptation to go ahead, scares me to death.
It is not how I’m wired.
From the moment I put my feet on the floor in the morning, I am fighting the temptation to go and do and be. In this season of littles, there is no time to practice being still. Every moment is bursting with noise. There is constant talking and laughing and requests (my goodness, endless requests) for food, entertainment, encouragement, help … the list goes on and on.
It’s not that I don’t feel God tugging me to slow down. It’s that I don’t think I can.
Not when there are details to be remembered. Groceries to be purchased. Kids’ dentists’ appointments to schedule. Chores to finish. Bills to pay. Home repairs to plan. A business to run. Deadlines to meet. People to call and text back. Coffee dates to schedule.
I don’t have time to be still.
I don’t have time to stop.
The world is not going to stop for me.
If I stop, who will do the things? Who will take care of the kids? Who will manage our home? Who will buy the things?
In my mind, I would love to be the kind of disciplined, organized person who wakes up an hour early in the morning to pray and spend with the Lord. But in actuality, I’m tired when I lay my head down and tired when I wake up. My 17-month old still isn’t sleeping through the night.
I am not exaggerating when I say there is no time.
So I do it my way. I charge forward. Onward. Upward. I spin my wheels. I do all the things. I schedule and work and clean and work myself into a sweat (literally). And I end my days exhausted, depleted and overwhelmed.
It is never enough. You think I’d know that after so many failed attempts, but I’m foolish and stubborn.
I desperately want to believe that if I try harder and do more, I can keep all the plates spinning in the air and meet all the needs and do all the things. I can be the one who figures out the ever-elusive work-life balance. Perfection is just within my grasp, like a carrot dangled in front of me. And perhaps, if I go, go, go, I can grab it.
In reality, I am failing, and in truth, I think this is right where God wants me.
Head stuck. Arms flailing.
Failure has been a surprisingly good teacher. Far too often, it takes exhausting my own willpower, strength and resources for me to stop, like a child, and come ugly crying to the throne of grace for help. It’s only after I’ve given it my best try and realized that it wasn’t good enough that I try Jesus.
I want so badly to tell you that I’ve fought and won the battle with self-reliance. I want to give you the 10 principles that fixed my life and help you fix yours. I want to impart some great revelation or deep wisdom that will silence your anxieties, forever cure your depression, and give you the peace we all crave.
I can offer you none of that. This is not a testimony of how I’ve overcome. I am helpless to change my own situation or yours for that matter. In fact, it’s humbling and perhaps a bit ridiculous that you’d want to read anything written by me. I’m an obsessive, compulsive worker-bee with perfectionist tendencies. I Am writing these words precisely because they are the ones I need to read.
I can’t fix your life, but I can remind you that there is a God who sees, hears and understands you. I can put the savior of the world, Jesus Christ, in front of your eyes, and tell you the most amazing news - that He promises deep, satisfying rest for your soul if you will but only surrender your striving. I can point you to God’s living Word, written for you and passed down through the ages. And I can tell you that the supernatural power of the indwelling Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is freely available to all who confess their sin and turn from themselves to Him.
Oh friend. We have a heavenly Father, who with just a few tugs, with just a word, can pull us out of our every mess. And this same Father begs with us, pleads with us, invites us to come to Him daily. To get alone with Him. He is willing to bear our every burden. He wants to get us unstuck. He wants to give us rest. He wants to fight for us.
All we have to do is be still.
The sooner you fail, the better. The sooner you give up on doing life in your own strength, the sooner you come to end of yourself before you ever start to try, the sooner He can give you the true and ultimate joy that can only be found in Him. I don’t do it enough. You probably don’t either if you’re honest.
If you’re anything like me, you’re already failing at holding it all together. You don’t need 10 more principles to fail at and feel guilty about later. This is not about all the ways you need to get yourself together. This is a reminder, perhaps even a wake-up call, that you are powerless to get yourself together life. This is an invitation to fail.
Fail at your to-do list.
Fail at keeping all the plates spinning in the air.
Fail at working so hard and trying so hard.
Fail at trying to be everything to everybody, at trying to fix yourself.
Then let that failure drive you to the Savior who never meant for you to be able to do it on your own. Who created you with weaknesses, on purpose! Who loves you more than you could ever know and is just a whispered prayer away.
I know it sounds crazy. We’re logical people and that equation just doesn’t add up. Stop striving and God will just magically take care of all my worries??! I’m not great at math but even I know that equation doesn’t balance at first glance. Maybe you have the same questions as I did.
God, will do all the things?!!
Let’s consider the alternative. How has how you’ve been doing life been working for you? Has striving delivered what it promised?
We both know it hasn’t. It never does. I should know. One thing I know how to do better than anyone else I know is try really, really hard, and fall flat on my face. I’ve had more fails than I could ever keep track of: marriage fails, mommy fails, business fails, homemaking fails, cooking fails (serious cooking fails) and far too-many faith fails.
Maybe you have the same questions as I did.
God, if I stop, if I so much as slow down, who will do all the things??!
Oh, friend. There is so much hope for you. There is so much rest to be found in surrendering all to Christ. There is endless joy and peace available to us as we shift our eyes from the things, to the Savior.
My prayer is that these words, imperfect as they are, will be a North Star that lead you straightaway into the arms of the One who knows it all, who understands how tired you are, and who wants you to experience the amazing rest, joy and satisfaction of laying down your burdens, taking up your cross and following Him recklessly.
He can handle all the things.