Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hope for When You Fall Off the Wagon of Awesomeness

I mean, I just fell right off a few weeks ago and skidded to a screeching halt. Though these sorts of epic falls and crash landings happen from time to time, it's been a while. And to be honest, the thud startled me a bit.

The slipping and teetering, I had been feeling it for a few days. Though I tried to stand firm and prop myself back up, I succumbed to the gravity known as my failure and dashed expectations and finally hit the ground altogether. 

Truly, I thought I was ready for it this year. Prepared to be vigilant and keep first things first. The delights and distractions of the holidays were not going to get the best of me. And I tried, I really did. 

I took our Christmas devotional on our trip to Disney World. I even got in snippets of Bible study in the van on the way down. I scribbled verses on notebook paper to keep me grounded {and then promptly forgot to unpack them from my bag.} 

I made grand plans in my head to be Rock Star Christmas Break Mom and promised myself I would keep up with the laundry over the break and learn to love board games and bask in every moment of togetherness. 

But despite these valiant efforts to be who I wanted to be and focus on the most important things and make the holidays and our time together everything I'd imagined, I still managed to fall off the wagon of awesomeness.

And then I proceeded to do what I do best when I fall off the wagon: 

I wallowed in the shortcomings. I didn't even bother to brush myself off and get up out of the dirt. I just stayed there, defeated and tired. 

Every undone pile of laundry, every "we're having sandwiches again for dinner tonight," every moment of sibling squabble, every lapse of hanging out on the internet too long, every time I chose myself over my kids or my husband, every harsh word, every judgmental thought, every day that I didn't know how to prioritize anything really--it all piled up like courtroom exhibits and collectively pointed the finger at me, the defendant, issuing the verdict I already knew: guilty.

It gets worse. 

Because I know that self-loathing is in no way noble and is actually just a lesser-acknowledged version of pride {because it's still complete and total self-absorption}, I added insult to injury by further wallowing in self-loathing because of my proneness toward {wait for it} self-loathing.

It's laughable now that I'm writing it all out and can see it for myself. That's right, the cherry on top of the shame sundae is that I hated myself for hating myself. I've always referred to it as the "shame spiral" {though the shame sundae metaphor might be a better one.} I've perfected it over the years. 

We're all knit together differently and some of you reading this are probably shaking your head and saying, Honey, lighten up. You are crazy and way too hard on yourself. And you would be right on both accounts.

This thing of striving for my own approval, of not measuring up to my own standards of acceptability, is so hard-wired into my DNA, I wonder if I will ever fully be free.

My husband told me the most sobering thing a couple of weeks ago. I was depressed and weepy and confessing all of my crazy to him and he said, If I struggled the way you do with this inner voice of perfectionism and guilt and failure, I'd die. I literally wouldn't be able to live like that.

I felt a twisted sort of victory. Good for me, I told myself. My guilt-complex hasn't killed me yet. I'm alive and choosing to stay that way. Yay! 

So there's that. 

"Living. The one thing I haven't failed at yet."

{Who's glad they've tuned in for this uplifting New Year's message?}

I wish that I could share with you the 5 Easy Steps I Used to Pull Myself Up Out of Failure and Hating Myself and Jump Back on the Wagon of Awesomeness. That would be concrete and workable and we could all buy cute notebooks and pens and check off each step, right?

Honestly, I would give anything for that list, for a workable, fool-proof plan. But there aren't five steps. There aren't even five words. There is only one word and in the midst of tinsel and travel and effort and expectation, I'd lost it. 

It had become doctrine instead of daily bread. 


I'm going to tell you what I'm telling myself as I type it out in black and white. The bad news comes before the good news. We have to admit what we already know but would like to forget. 

So what's the bad news I know but would like to forget?

  • I fail. In little ways and in epic proportions.
  • I disappoint others.
  • I disappoint myself.
  • I will never measure up to my own standards.
  • I will never measure up to God's standards, not by myself anyway.
  • I'm selfish.
  • I'm lazy. 
  • I'm greedy.
  • I love the things of this world more than I love the One who created the world and created me and is redeeming both, even now. 
  • I'm an approval junkie.

And that's just the stuff I choose to tell you because I'm the boss of this post.

Do you know what all of that is? It's confession. And sort of like drinking green juice made out of kale and cucumbers and parsley, it's not super fun but it's good for you.

In a weird way, the "corporate confession of sin" that we do in church each Sunday has become my favorite part of worship. Because, like the green juice, I can't get to the good news until I swallow the bad news and the bad news is that the list up there? It's all true. Also? That's really just the beginning of all the badness. We've all got our lists so let's just agree on that.

But here's the part when the clouds separate and the sunlight streams in and the angels bust out their harps. Here's what I can say with confidence to God through salty tears and surrounded by a sea of Sunday-bested sinners:

My sins and shortcomings present me with a list of accusations but I thank you that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ.  
{an excerpt from our corporate confession of sin}

They will not stand against me. That's the best news ever when you've been in a pit of wallowing in how un-awesome you are. 

I wish I could cue a gospel choir to just carry on through the rest of this post while I grab a box of Kleenex and raise my hands to the heavens.

The Gospel is this simple and also this profound. This is that good news I was talking about. Jesus is both my daily grace and my saving grace.

I really need that daily part because I'm so prone to losing my grip on the Truth. Circumstances and emotions are distracting like that. I once heard a pastor refer to it as "Gospel soap." We grab it and then it's gone again. 

My daily liturgy reads like the back of a shampoo bottle: Confession. Repentance. Joy. Repeat.

I don't know about you but I've lost the soap big time in recent weeks. Yes, even in the weeks we're supposed to spend celebrating Jesus. The irony has tormented me a little. Perhaps that's because the holidays and the hope for self-improvement that a new year ushers in are mingled with so much effort and expectation to get it all just right

But try as a might, spin as I might, accuse myself as I might, my hope and peace and success are not found in my own effort or expectation. They're found in Christ.

All of that failure over the holidays and every day, if I'm being honest? Not a surprise. 

God isn't wringing his hands over my failure so I don't have to either. Why? Because of Jesus. 

The One who came as a human baby and lived a perfect life and took on all the sin of humanity as He died a criminal's death. But He didn't stay dead. He rose again, victorious.

The penalty of my sin and shortcomings died with him just as the hope and power of new life rose with him. 

I'm not usually so forthright about Jesus in my posts. Not because I'm unsure or ashamed but because I write about life and faith in ways that are more implicit than explicit.

But this is all I've got. Jesus is all I've got. I'd be lying if I tried to spin this any other way. 

My hope, my center, my Truth, isn't found in boot-strapping or working the steps or positive self-talk or resolving to be awesome. I've tried all of that. 

My hope is the Gospel of Grace. 

My comfort is the Gospel of Grace. 

My power to keep going is fueled by the Gospel of Grace. 

And Grace exists because Jesus came and lived the perfect life I couldn't and when the Father looks at me He doesn't see shame and sin and sordidness like I see. He gazes upon the perfection of his Son that covers me from head to toe and He smiles. He loves me with an everlasting and unconditional love. And He knows that when I believe this, the good fruit of my life will grow and produce and add some sweetness to my little corner of the world. 

We live what we believe. 

And when we live loved, we live love. 

Change, progress, loving well, bearing real and lasting fruit with our lives--it begins within. Christianity isn't a list of rules. It's not goal-setting or the "power of positive thinking" or moralism or "living your best life."

It's believing who you really are in Christ and allowing that to change everything. It's inside-out, not outside-in. It's why Jesus tells us to make our home in him as he makes his home in us and how that's when the good and lasting stuff begins to happen.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  {John 15:4-5}

If you've been spinning wheels and struggling like I have...

If you're looking to resolutions won by your own strength or motivated by your own idea of what your "best self" or your "best family" looks like...

If you're too worn out and burned out to even try anymore...

There's Hope and Grace and Inside-out change. 

Acknowledge the bad news and honestly offer up your list. But by all means, throw a party that it doesn't end there!

Admitting our weakness and our need opens the door for a strengthening Grace and makes us grateful that nothing can stand against us. 

All has been laid on Christ.

And because of that, there's freedom. There's lightness. 

There's certainly no place for self-loathing and manufactured improvement. 

And there's definitely no room for the list. We travel light on the path of Grace.

I still have a lot of changes I'd love to see in my life this year. I've even written some of them down. And while that is fine and has its place, I'm realizing that when I abide in Christ and he abides in me, He gently brings about authentic change. He makes me mindful of things that cause me to stumble. He infuses me with the power to restrain or the power to be bold. He shows me my unique design. He provides opportunities to speak and shine and surrender, not for my own approval but for his glory.

My awesomeness is fleeting and finite and laced with all sorts of mixed motives. Not to mention that a good fall off the wagon has a way of quashing it altogether.

But the awesome grace and love of Jesus never fails. All has been laid on him. You can live wildly free and wildly loved and wildly forgiven. Because you are.


But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

P.S. Though God's Word is the primary means of grace and truth in my life {it's the plumb-line, if you will}, there have been a few books over the years that have fleshed out what living under the canopy of everyday grace really looks like. You may find some comfort in these good reads too:

A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel by Steve Brown

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  1. Thanks for sharing. I could relate to much of your post. Parenting with grace is not natural. I'm currently reading a book called Give them grace - Dazzling your kids with the love of Jesus by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson. I've also got Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel. I so want to give my kids grace and I so need it myself. Happy New Year - and thanks for the reminder that "the awesome grace and love of Jesus never fails." (Oops... Kevin's account was open and I accidentally commented using his account and then deleted it.)

  2. This is by a landslide my favorite "New Year" post. Thank you for your honesty!

  3. I am an approval junkie and addict to productivity so I get this. I am so glad to see more women put themselves out there, the pretty with the not so pretty.

  4. As a fellow perfectionist with a propensity for self-loathing, all of your post rings so true for me. I think the toughest part about being off the wagon of awesomeness (which I am currently :-) is that sometimes you need to be reminded that there's Grace. It's hard to impart that on ones' self when you're wallowing in the guilt. So thank you for this post, thank you for sharing your words, and most of all, thank you for the reminder that there's Grace.

  5. "And Grace exists because Jesus came and lived the perfect life I couldn't and when the Father looks at me He doesn't see shame and sin and sordidness like I see. He gazes upon the perfection of his Son that covers me from head to toe and He smiles. He loves me with an everlasting and unconditional love. And He knows that when I believe this, the good fruit of my life will grow and produce and add some sweetness to my little corner of the world."

    Beautiful gospel truth for preaching to ourselves in the times of inner manic and mayhem. Thank you for your honest and beautiful confession here. So common to us as women I think...

  6. My latest post could compliment yours...http://kathyschwanke.com/2014/01/07/real-power-for-real-change-managing-mondays-and-other-frustrating-forces-that-weigh-you-down/


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