Is it just me or does it seem like everyone wants to be told how to live? We want principles for everything. We want the best how-to advice money can buy. We devour books with titles like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and 30 Life Principles. There are countless bestsellers that instruct us on how to live our best lives, be our best selves. We are told that we need to have zeal and passion. We need to eat right, pray more, work more efficiently, take our fitness to the next level, practice mindfulness, raise amazing kids, reduce our carbon footprint, AND declutter our homes. (Forgive me if I just rolled my eyes.) The list of things we “must” do is never-ending. Many of these well-meaning books are directed at a Christian audience, and I’m sure some of them contain nuggets of wisdom that have been a catalyst for life improvement.
But I’ve come to a place in my life where I’m done with self-help principles. You see, I’ve spent most of my life living from my head. I’ve always wanted to “get it right” and have it all figured out. Self-help books are great for that. But the problem is that I no longer want to “figure it out.” I’ve spent far too much energy making sure I’ve checked all the right boxes to be a good mom, a good wife, a good Christian. But following Jesus has absolutely nothing to do with checking boxes. He doesn’t ask us to have it all figured out, and our mental assent is not really what he’s after. He’s after our hearts. Period.
Sure, our thoughts matter. Dwelling on the negative is never a helpful practice. Scripture tells us “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) Of course, I agree. But in my experience, my thoughts are something over which I have very little control. One moment I can be patting myself on the back for cooking a dinner that everyone in the house will eat (Now that is an accomplishment. Am I right?) and the next moment I’m beating myself up for forgetting to schedule my kids’ physicals and there are no appointments available for six months. Have you been there? Bad mom accusations are particularly easy to hurl at ourselves.
But a good parent, citizen, spouse, friend, teacher, chef, rocket scientist…(fill in the blank) should be more organized, supportive, assertive, creative, badass, awake…(fill in the blank). Blech! I’m never going to be perfect, and neither are you. But I AM enough…and so are you!
So how are we supposed to live? Humor helps. And so does love. When we become secure in our identity as beloved children of God, so much of that other junk begins to fall away. Do you think God is really judging you because you got frustrated with your kids and ate an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s? Nope. We may need to ask for forgiveness when our frustration boils over toward our loved ones, but God’s grace is a lot bigger than our weaknesses. And if God doesn’t judge us in the messiness of life, we shouldn’t judge ourselves either.
God knows I’ve tried…to be the best. The best student, musician, employee, writer, boss, event planner, mom…and on and on. All I ended up with was an obsessive-compulsive disorder. No joke! And living by someone’s helpful principles didn’t help me escape from that living hell.
Let me set the record straight. No amount of striving is ever going to bring you peace. You can’t fix problems that are rooted in your own heart. But God can! So give yourself a break. Go easy on yourself and go easy on others. Most of us are doing the best we can. Give yourself and those you love space for God to enter into the cracks. Let love come into the dark corners. That’s where change happens. That’s where our minds are renewed.
Your worth has nothing to do with your accomplishments. Your true identity is rooted in another who is perfect, and he knows you better than you know yourself. You are completely unique, which is why no blueprint of what solved someone else’s problems is ever going to solve all of yours. Only God knows the right path for you. But you have to trust him. The more you let him take hold of you, the more healing you will receive — the more you will begin to exude his love. And in the meantime, just take a breath. Let your journey be your own. It’s okay to sit in the mess. Love takes time.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Shay Mason