“I don’t know,” one of the women said, pausing. “So far, I just don’t really relate to this book.”
Nodding, smile frozen, my placid surface agreed. But inside, my heart cried something very different: Really? Because this is pretty much the story of my life.
It was the first week of our Sunday night study, and we were combining three of my favorite things: books, wine, and chocolate. Except for a few friends, the dozen or so women who ringed the edges of my living room in crayon-marked chairs dragged from my dining room were more or less strangers to me. And although I was technically one of the leaders of the group, the idea of revealing my heart on the first night seemed like an impossible, insurmountable leap.
The premise of Emily Freeman’s book, “Grace for the Good Girl,” was simple: A small town girl lived a life that, on the outside, seemed blameless, perfect. She grew up a “good” girl – it was easy and she was praised for it, so she came to rely on her “goodness” rather than on Jesus’s grace. And then she realized that there was a better way – that the extravagance of grace meant that she could stop living a try-hard life.
In some ways, it could be a script for my own life.
As the youngest of three girls, I saw what my sisters got into trouble for and determined to avoid those things. Doing my homework and getting good grades was second nature to me, getting involved in Student Council and heading up the National Honor Society obvious outlets. Quite honestly, it was easy to be the good girl. There was safety in staying within the boundaries.
And although I had moments of rebellion – when I dated an older boy in middle school, when I omitted details of bad-for-me boyfriends or dubious outings in my early twenties – for the most part, it was easy to play the role. And somewhere along the way, I lost the line between where the role ended and I began.
Who was I?
When my oldest sister — someone I idolized — died at 28, there was a part of me that unconsciously decided to emulate her. She wasn’t perfect, but she seemed darn close. Stylish. Kind. Funny. Creative. A great decorator and hostess-with-the-mostest. As I grew older, married and had my daughters, there was a part of me that tried to live up to the person I imagined her to be, a better version of myself.
How much of what I do is because of who I really am, and how much of what I do is me trying to achieve an ideal in my head?
On one hand, my control-freak and perfectionist tendencies insist that I could be “better.” I could be an endlessly patient mom who never shouts at her children and doesn’t dread bathtime. I could be a mother who wouldn’t dream of bribing her kids with popcorn to get them to go to bed or telling her oldest daughter that the ice cream in the freezer has gluten in it when it doesn’t just so she’ll stop asking. I could be the wife who always greets her husband with dinner and a smile instead of dirty dishes piled haphazardly in the sink, some unidentifiable remnant of lunch on the floor and children that just colored orange marker all over their hands, a wife who is always loving and patient and never feels the urge to pitch her husband’s phone out the window when he looks at it instead of focusing on his children.
But I’m not. I’m not that person. I’m not “good” — but I’m not “bad,” either. I am just myself – imperfect, broken, resilient, lovely. Me.
And if you’re feeling the weight of your own expectations – if you secretly wear masks, if you ever fashion yourself to fit your circumstances, hide your true feelings or wonder if people wouldn’t love you as much if they knew the real you – recognize the lie inherent in seeking to be good, better, or best.
Experience has taught me that none of us are exempt from the ugly brokenness of this world, but there is a matchless beauty to be found in authenticity.
It’s ok to be you. Who you are, today. Saint Augustine once said, “This is the very perfection of a man: to find out his own imperfection.” After all, these were the people Jesus sought, and loved without reserve: The imperfect. The broken. Beauty among the ashes.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30