“Our brokenness reveals something about who we are. Our sufferings and pains are not simply bothersome interruptions of our lives; rather, they touch us in our uniqueness and our most intimate individuality. The way I am broken tells you something unique about me. The way you are broken tells me something unique about you. That is the reason for my feeling very privileged when you freely share some of your deep pain with me, and that is why it is an expression of my trust in you when I disclose to you something of my vulnerable side. Our brokenness is always lived and experienced as highly personal, intimate and unique.”
Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved
When I used to babysit, as a teenager and college student, for many different families, I sometimes wondered about their disarray. They were lovely and wonderful people, and smart and interesting, and good parents. But I thought, “how can you leave stacks of mail around unopened and unread?” And I thought, “how can you feed your kids chicken nuggets so frequently?” And I thought, “how is everything such a mess here?” I wasn’t judging, I swear. I was just curious. Not that my own family’s house wasn’t often messy, but I guess when you’re a teenager and a college student and you think you know everything and you really only have yourself to look after (or at least that was the case for me) it seems improbable that other people’s households are chaotic, because it’s easy enough for you to keep on top of your little existence.
Now, as the parent of a six-month-old and a six-year-old, I have just finished going through a week’s worth of mail collected from different spots in the house. There are pretzels on my desk. There are perpetual stacks of laundry waiting to be put away and piles of laundry waiting to be washed. There is all kinds of crap all over the place. I have no idea how it got there. Oh wait, I do. It takes ALL OF MY ENERGY and my husband’s energy to make sure our children are loved (illustrated by keeping them fed, clean, and healthy, among other signs) and to do our jobs. Especially when we’re having a medical crisis or any kind of crisis or just a bad day, things get overlooked. Bills don’t get paid, library books don’t get returned, mold grows. This is what happens. And my life is not even that hard, compared to most people’s lives most places. We live a comfortable middle-class existence in a friendly, walkable suburb with good schools and health care and nearby family and plenty of friends. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel impossible at times. Sometimes often.
I was raised to strive for perfection. These days, I struggle mightily–sometimes I feel like Jacob wrestling with the angel–with imperfection. I feel so far from perfect so much of the time. Part of me knows that I am human and that’s the way it’s always going to be. But then another voice says, “but you’re still supposed to try. And try again. And try harder.” And I can never seem to reconcile the recognition of my brokenness with the compulsion to fix. I am a fixer. That is my nature. Often that drive comes in handy, but sometimes things can’t be fixed and you just burn yourself out with the effort.
Lately I’ve read a lot of Glennon Melton, whose whole thing is acknowledging that we’re not perfect and loving ourselves not despite that but because of it. And I hear that, but it just sticks in my brain and I can’t quite believe it. I want to, but it’s a struggle. Here’s what she wrote recently.
And so- when I talk about this stuff- this messy stuff in my life – I have a PURPOSE. I’m not “wallowing in brokenness.” I’m trying to suggest that maybe THE BUSTED UP STUFF IS THE GOOD STUFF. We resist that idea because we really, really suck at being judges of things. God didn’t ask us not to judge so we’d be nice people. God asks us not to judge for the same reason Craig asks me not to cook- because We just plain SUCK AT IT. So we should just leave that tree to God.
I’m trying not to judge my own life by the world’s standards because my suspicion is that often – our bad is God’s good and our good is God’s bad. The last are first and the first are last. When we start seeing clearly- we learn that it’s always opposite day. In my life- the brutal ALWAYS transforms into the beautiful. And so after thirty eight years I have learned this about what life is offering me: IF IT’S EASY AND SHINY- BEWARE. IF IT STINGS A LITTLE – SIT TIGHT, GET CURIOUS, AND THEN LEAN IN.
I used to say: I’m broken. Fix me. Then I grew up a little and said : WAIT A MINUTE. I’M NOT BROKEN. And now I’m a real grown up so I say: Of course I’m broken. And I love, love, love myself that way. If you’re comfortable with that – come sit with me and we can laugh and cry and be broken and beautiful together. But don’t try to fix me- I didn’t ask for that. I just asked for some good company in which to be human.
Glennon Melton, Momastery [See more at: http://momastery.com/blog/page/4/#sthash.o2iDZl9i.dpuf%5D
Another way of looking at it is what Henri Nouwen wrote in the quote at the top. I read Nouwen many years ago when I took at class at the Servant Leadership School in DC. I remember that his writing opened my eyes to this idea that my imperfections were not problems to be solved, but just part of who I am. Yet, I still always want to do better, to be better. Some part of me feels that if I accept my imperfections I’m saying to the world that I don’t care, that things don’t matter. But then another part of me (there are so many parts!) knows that isn’t true. If I decide NOT to criticize myself for getting Zoe to school late, that doesn’t mean I will stop trying to get her there on time. There are a lot of things I’m not that good at. But some I am good at too. I’ve struggled with trying to get my baby to sleep. My husband can do this better than I can. So can our wonderful day care provider. The tools in my belt are nursing and driving him to the airport. If those don’t work, I just get really exasperated. But I am good at feeding him. I have really worked hard to keep nursing him for the past six months. And I just discovered all these new kinds of baby food that I don’t think existed when my daughter was a baby, or if they did I was ignorant of them. But I bought a ridiculous number of them at Babies ‘R’ Us because I was so excited. So far this week I’ve fed him one that was banana, rice, and quinoa. And today he had oatmeal with blended fruits for breakfast and spinach and pumpkin for lunch and dinner. Plus he was still hungry and had some peaches for dessert. A lot of my friends make their own baby food and say it’s easy and awesome and I wanted to do that and even bought the supplies, but it didn’t happen. You say, “you still could!” but I won’t. There are too many other things to do and too many awesome little pouches of baby food out there. So I have decided to stop feeling bad because I’m not making the food and instead feel thrilled because I am giving Zeke awesome food. If you want my baby food making stuff, it’s all yours.
Last week when it started to get cold I got Zoe’s winter coat out of the closet. I made her try it on. It still fit! Yay! The next night I was hanging it up and discovered one pocket FILLED with rocks and other bits of nature. Last year in kindergarten we had many talks about not bringing home so much nature in our pockets. I said, “Zoe, I thought we talked about this.” She said, “that’s from last year.” Oh. So I am not one of those moms who washes the winter coat before putting it away for the spring and summer. At least it was rocks and not an animal in there, right? But she has a winter coat. It fits. And now it’s clean.
Admitting these things is a small, small act. These things are trifles. But every step counts. I am working toward finding myself in Glennon’s revelation: Of course I’m broken. And I love, love, love myself that way. If you’re comfortable with that – come sit with me and we can laugh and cry and be broken and beautiful together. But don’t try to fix me- I didn’t ask for that. I just asked for some good company in which to be human.