Sometimes I worry that I’m not doing enough. Or that the things I am doing, I’m doing all wrong. There is this inner voice that doubts and criticizes – You let the kids have sweet snacks too often after school. or You don’t make the kids a special snack, like cookies, often enough after school. or You should have helped him more with his homework, then you would have known he wasn’t finishing it! or How will he ever learn to do his homework on his own if you sit beside him and help so much?
You see, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, the inner voice doubts and criticizes and fusses that it’s not the right thing or the best thing. If I’m too strict, this nagging voice suggests I may need to give more mercy. If I show grace, this voices whispers in my ear that I’m probably spoiling my children and not making them responsible enough. When I forget to send in the canned foods for the school food drive, when I let my sons stand in the freezing rain to wait on the bus (because they wanted to!), when I let the chores be good enough instead of perfect, when I forget to make the doctor’s appointment, or when my kid’s mouth is full of cavities, this inner critic tells me I am blowing this whole mothering thing. Her refrain of Not enough, not enough, not enough echoes through my head.
And if the inner voice comparing me to an imaginary ideal mother isn’t enough, there are actual, real moms all around me who are better at some things than I am. This mom always reads to her children at bedtime; that mom cooks healthy, nourishing meals and never makes her kids heat up cheap pot pies and corn dogs for dinner. This family takes fabulous vacations every year; that family serves in the homeless shelter together. This mom organizes fundraisers and travels to every game and works in the concessions stand almost every time and goes to all the booster club meetings. That mom sews costumes and clothes and hand-makes gifts for all the teachers.
When I am at my weakest, I let this inner voice, this competition I always lose, beat me and bruise me and leave me feeling defeated.
But on my good days I remember that no other mom, no other woman, has my exact circumstances. Nobody else has my strengths, my weaknesses, my interests, my passions, my six children, my challenges, my husband who travels so much, and on and on. And I don’t go to all the away games or work the concessions stand several times a season because I have other children in other activities (and nearly 50% of the time a husband who is out of town). I don’t sew; I don’t organize fundraisers; I am not in charge of the PTA or any booster club. But I do what I can. I go to as many games as I can to cheer for my kids; I invest a lot of time in ministry; I make the most of dinner conversation when we sit down together around the table. I am intentional about connecting with my children and pouring into them and helping them develop their gifts and strengths. I volunteer when I can, from a place of my strengths whenever possible. I do what I can.
I like to remember the story in the Bible (Mark 14) about the woman who came to Jesus in the town of Bethany. Jesus was having dinner at a man named Simon’s house, and the woman came in with a fancy jar of expensive perfume. She broke the jar open and poured it over Jesus, anointing Him. Of course, it didn’t take the critics long to point out that she was wasting perfume, that she could have sold this expensive stuff and given the money to the poor, that she was messing it up. Her way of serving Jesus was all wrong. But Jesus told the critics to leave the woman alone. Jesus spoke up for her. He saw the beautiful intent of her heart. Jesus said, She did what she could.
Sometimes I think those are some of the most beautiful words Jesus ever spoke. She did what she could. Jesus knew the woman was doing the best she could with what she knew. Jesus knew she loved Him and wanted to serve Him and honor Him, and she was giving Him her best. He silenced the critics, the cries of She’s not doing it the right way, the roars of She’s getting it all wrong. Jesus told the critical voices to hush, to leave her alone. Because She did what she could.
My service, my time spent, my hours in the day, my life – is not going to look like anyone else’s. I cannot compare myself to the mom next to me on the soccer sidelines or the mom behind me at the PTA meeting. And I certainly cannot compare myself to the imaginary, ideal mom inside my head.
At the end of the day, when I lie down in silence and my mind rehearses all that happened throughout the day, when the nagging, critical inner voice tells me I’m doing too much of this or not enough of that or getting it all completely wrong, I am learning to take a deep breath and let the Jesus-Spirit within me tell those voices to hush. I imagine Jesus saying to that inner critic, Leave her alone. She did what she could.