For a few years now, in the midst of making my resolutions and goals, I’ve chosen a word of the year. In 2013, my word was “grow” (because, you know, pregnancy). In 2012, it was “abide.” I’m fairly confident I had a word for 2011, but I can’t remember what it was now, which is almost embarrassing. But I’ve never really done much with my words (beside, you know, having a baby) until this year.
My One Little Word for 2014 was “free.” When I started thinking about my 2015 word, I realized that I still had quite a lot to say about free and what it’s meant to me. First: the backstory. Because we can’t know where we are until we understand where we’ve been.
I got in trouble 3 times during my school career. One time in first grade, I had to move my card from green to yellow for talking to Lindsay Pikos, who sat in the desk to my left. In third grade, I called Jake Schwartz a cry baby and my progress report stated that I “needed improvement” in demonstrating respect to my classmates. Later that year, I was embarrassed about something I had done and lied to my mom about the circumstances, blaming it on the teachers who were supervising, and ended up writing apology letters to the principal and the group of teachers I had accused.
When I think back on these three stories (which I recall in almost excruciating detail, replaying them like a movie in my mind), I feel nauseous. All these years later, these very minor infractions make me feel so guilty that I actually want to throw up.
If you talked to me in middle or high school, I would have repeated the church answer I heard growing up: Christianity is not about religion; it’s about a relationship. Yet it was very much a religion to me: a set of rules and rights and wrongs and behaviors to engage in or not engage in so that people would love me and I would get to heaven. I was not in love with Jesus, but I was terrified of hell and not earning the approval of others. So, those times I messed up? Wrecked me.
That pattern continued into adulthood: a desperate clinging to the rules, to accomplishments, and to accolades as a manner of securing the approval of man and the approval of God.
I came to a point that when I looked around at the end of most days, I felt liked a failure. I failed to do enough cleaning or enough work. I failed to respond appropriately in a conversation with a friend. I failed to spend enough time in the Word or in prayer. I failed to cook well-balanced meal for my family. I failed to spend enough time with Ian. I failed to publish a blog post and failed to write much of anything at all. The dishes remained piled in the sink and the appointments left unmade. Failure all around.
My poor husband was left bewildered by all this–at the end of the day (many more days than I care to admit), he would hold me and hug me while I cried, trying to assure me that I had done enough and been enough for one 24 hour period. Yet, I couldn’t believe him. “Who said you have to do all these things?” he would ask. “No one,” I would sheepishly reply, “but that’s not the point.”
I couldn’t justify or explain why I felt this way, but I knew that it was perfectionism at it’s finest. My pursuit of perfect was suffocating me, sucking the joy out of life, and making it incredibly difficult for me to connect with my husband and with my friends and with God.
So you see?
Freedom is hardly a concept I’ve resonated with.