Just before the end of the year, I listened to Beth Davis talk on “Teachable Tuesday” about choosing a word for your year. This word would inspire you in 2018, serve as a theme for the year ahead, and help bring you closer to God and His plans for you. I immediately knew what mine was supposed to be. CREATE.
I was going to be a maker in 2018. I was going to allow my great Creator to work through me. I had so many plans, was so excited and motivated. I was going to WRITE a book, WRITE TWO BOOKS, write in my prayer journal, EMBROIDER all the pretty spiritual bouquets I could dream of, plant all the things I love in my GARDEN, paint and draw and color with my little girl. I was going to do ALL THE THINGS!!!
All my life my expectations have been high. This has sometimes served me well. It meant I held out and waited for my one true love. My high expectations have helped motivate me while working at home and forced my fingers to hit the keyboard when I might have preferred to stay in my pajamas and snuggle in bed with the baby.
But sometimes these overinflated expectations—these great desires to do all the things I love and master all the new things for which I hold great curiosity—have been a hindrance. I’m left realizing I have a limited amount of time, energy, and resources. After all, there is only one of me. Reality sets in, and then I feel defeated. In fact, this post itself doesn’t seem to be taking shape into what I envisioned, and I feel frustration brew as I struggle to compose some coherent lines with Daniel Tiger singing in the background, my daughter tugging on my sleeve, and my son crawling with a single-minded determination toward the fireplace.
As if on cue, the negative self-talk sets in. I compare myself to everyone else around me. They seem to be able to accomplish so much. They seem to have unlimited energy and nicely curated lives. In fact, I bet they have clean houses and reliable childcare and an abundance of free time. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I manage the way they can?
Then I’m not good enough. I’m not enough. I’m weak and lazy and a mess. It took hearing my daughter say, “Mama is a hot mess,” to know that things were not okay. I realized that she doesn’t actually think I’m a wreck. She’s just repeating words she hears me say about myself. She is learning from me what’s of worth, what to value. And I don’t want to steer her wrong.
Because I am a “hot mess,” there were no Christmas cards sent out this year. This was our Christmas card Facebook photo, in all our imperfect glory. And perhaps illustrates why I really need to be working on compassion for myself!
At about the same time, I listened to a podcast about being compassionate to yourself and your children. I opened my planner and noticed that, inspired by Karen Schultz’s reflection in the Daily Devotions about a reading from St. Paul, I wrote down a virtue to cultivate for each month of the new year. January’s was compassion. I decided it wasn’t a coincidence.
Reflecting over our Christmas plans, I noticed that I had a far better time than I had expected in a situation I normally do not enjoy. I realized that instead of approaching some people in my life with negativity and criticism, I truly embraced compassion for them and discovered new feelings for them and a connection I did not think possible. I had been praying for compassion toward these individuals for a long time and had almost given up the effort. Yet finally my heart was moved to compassion and opened to them. So often it’s when you want to give up that things finally fall into place. Strangely, this newfound compassion for them led me to approach my own failings and flaws with compassion. I finally arrived at the realization that while my struggles may be different from theirs, we both struggle and can find communion in that. I had been judging them harshly and looking at them through a critical lens. The same lens through which I viewed myself.
When I judge others through the eyes of the world instead of viewing them through the eyes of Jesus, I turn away from compassion and forget that they are children of God, deserving of love. And I can say the same for myself. When I judge myself, my home, my accomplishments, my life through the world’s eyes, I will always fail. When I approach my own life and the lives of those around me from the perspective of the values of this world, no one will live up to my expectations, not even myself. When I see myself, my family, friends, and neighbors as children of God, the expectations fall away and all that remains is love.
So my focus shifts from doing to being. This doesn’t mean I won’t create this year. I plan to write every chance I get! I can’t help but think that anything I create will be so much better coming from a place of compassion.
Compassion has already transformed my life in the short amount of time I have truly focused on practicing it. I can’t wait to see what this year holds.