Tuesday, February 1, 2011

be gentle with yourself.

I have these two bruises on my left thigh, tinted various and unpleasant shades of darkness, and I have no idea where they came from. I assume I ran into something, or, more likely, two somethings, which is not all that shocking, although I have no recollection of it.

But watching them turn a sickly shade of green, I thought, you ought to be a bit more gentle with yourself.

One morning last week, I attempted a new and, I hoped, shorter route to work from the Y downtown. I embarked on my journey in high spirits, poised to reach my office in a timely manner with my run for the day finished, a much-diminished feeling of wrath toward running around the indoor track acquired and my mittened hand holding warm coffee from the little kiosk at the Y (people! if you bring a mug, the coffee costs just fifty cents!). I had positivity in abundance, which, the previous week considered, was quite a feat. I got on the first highway of my new path going in the correct direction, patting myself on the back for knowing my city so well. (I recognize that this was, in actuality, a teeny tiny accomplishment at best. But I take happiness on winter mornings pretty much regardless of its source.)

However. My positivity was short-lived.

I will abstain from relaying the details, but in the end, I learned that 96 and I-96 are not, in fact, the same highway and that simply "going west" will not necessarily take a person from downtown Grand Rapids to Grandville. Terrifying little flakes fell persistently from the sky, making the highway slick and treacherous. First, I thought I might die. Then, I just felt like an idiot.

I arrived very late to work.

I apologized to the appropriate parties, who were nowhere near as upset as I had assumed they would be (perhaps because they don't have to pay me when I'm not there) and made my way to the safety of my desk. Throughout the next several hours, I mentally reviewed my laundry list of latest offenses: I have a very long to do list at work; surely I could be accomplishing things more quickly, and probably better. Though I think I handled a recent professional situation as well as could be expected, I'm afraid I didn't, or, at the least, that I left a destructive wake behind me. I recently overslept, late that day as well. Running hasn't felt great lately. The image in the mirror is not meeting my demands for perfection. I keep having emotional breakdowns, imposing my weepy self on the poor folks who care about me...

And on and on I went, crafting an ugly composite of every flaw, shortcoming, mistake and bad morning...until I felt a gentle whisper rising above my inner tirade:

Be gentle with yourself.

I paused. Are you sure, God? I questioned.

Honestly. Of course he's sure.

But behind that question, I realize, lies another one, a deeper one: Do I really deserve gentleness?

Most often, instead of seeing the very best of who we are or, even better, a healthy, realistic mixture of the good and bad, we see only the worst, and we think that's appropriate, because we don't believe we deserve gentleness anyway. And, frankly, that much is true: we don't deserve gentleness. But it's given to us, and who are we to argue with God?

It is one thing to be humble, to work to strengthen our weak areas, to improve and grow and strive to be more loving and more like Christ. But it is quite another to truly dislike ourselves, image-bearers and much-loved children of God. It is quite another to refuse the gifts of gentleness, grace and mercy.

I recently spoke with a woman who goes to my church and who I've long admired. We were talking about life and balance, how we get into a really great rhythm for, oh, six seconds, and then it all falls apart once again. Even though she has, you know, a husband and small children and probably many more commitments than I and also great hair and excellent style, she seemed much less fazed by this aspect of life than I have been feeling--though she had clearly experienced it, too. She shared the simple words that God has given her:

This is enough.

What we can give, what we can do, the coffee dates we have time for, the errands we check off our lists, the work we accomplish in a day...whatever it might be, it is enough.

That seems like gentleness to me. That seems right.

And so, when I do something less than brilliant, when I'm confronted with my not-favorite aspect of myself, when I gaze at a long to do list, when I fail...I will try to be gentle. I urge you to do the same. Perhaps we'll impose less bruises on our fragile souls.

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