In the midst of what was a Monday packed with accomplishments, I arrived at M’s school for pickup with soaking wet hair. This isn’t entirely unwarranted–I have naturally wavy hair that will, well, naturally wave if I leave it be. But as I walked up, I ran into another mom with which I have a budding friendship.
“Look at you, with your wash and go hair,” she said cheerfully. “I’m so proud of you!”
I wasn’t sure how to take such a statement, though I gracefully thanked her with an “I’m just glad I got a shower.” I’m certain that she didn’t mean it maliciously, and perhaps even grabbed the wrong word from her head, but still I wondered: was she proud that I was willing to come out in public with shaggy, fresh-from-the-shower hair? Was she proud that I was willing to look so unkempt in front of the other moms? It certainly couldn’t have been that I normally look put together, because that’s just not my style.
Whatever it was, the situation nagged at me later, not because of what she said, but because of how it made me feel. I was embarrassed, saddled with a sense of failure. And then, I was sad that I could such a little thing feel like a failure, especially on a day that included single-handedly moving nearly 3000 pounds of gravel and baking my own bread. In fact, it was a day filled with countless things for which I should have burst with a sense of accomplishment, except that I’d let the bubble be popped. I’d done everything, but clearly not perfectly.
Perfect is impossible, I know. But when I took the story to my bible study girls, they responded with a series of similar stories. Why is it that we all focused on our one shortcoming out of a mountain of successes? Why did we feel as though we had to be perfect, when perfection is so utterly and acceptably impossible?
I have no good answers for these questions. And perhaps there are other blissfully enlightened women who don’t face these same struggles. I certainly hope so. But I don’t find it coincidental that facing this truth, at least about my own perception, aligned with a week of bible study about resting in God’s peace, as opposed to working our way through life. I heard recently someone say, “Pray as if it were up to God, and work as if it were up to you.” But in scripture, I see something different: “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope” (Galatians 5:4-5). Perhaps the problem is that I spend too much time being “justified by the law”–trying to live up to all the impossible expectations culture foists upon women. Trying, even, to make my family and Father proud. They are all good things–even wanting to come to school looking reasonably presentable–but when they become the means to righteousness (as in wholeness in Christ), they separate me from the one whose sacrifice provides the wholeness I seek.
Await. Instead of tallying my day in accomplishments and deducting the inevitable failures, maybe I could await wholeness. I’m not good at waiting. The reason why I’m chronically late is that waiting feels terribly unproductive, since I can’t actually be doing anything else. Idle equals lazy, at least in my book. But in God’s book, we are called to await: “‘This is the resting place, let the weary rest’; and, ‘This is the place of repose'” (Isaiah 28:12).
I don’t think that means doing nothing. Rather, it’s a chance to be present, to be still, to stop trying so hard to achieve what is given freely by grace. Time to sit, rest, think, pray. Time to chat with a friend or play spontaneously with my child. Time to express my faith through love (Galatians 5:6), which requires presence before action. Time not to try quite so hard, and appreciate just being instead.
As a bonus, I might just find that I have enough time to fix my hair before pickup, or at least have time to explain to a friend why I didn’t.