"My public speaking skills are getting rusty. It's been a long time since I've used them, and so I prepared notes for today. It occurred to me this morning that the last time I had such extensive notes for a public speaking event was in eighth grade.
Several weeks ago, Glenna, Dukkie and I had a long conversation during Sunday School. It was a very good discussion, during which we spoke of a little bit of everything related to church - from our likes and dislikes in worship services to parenting in the church to what our needs and hopes were. It was a very good conversation, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity I had to share that morning.
As we prepared to go into the worship service, Glenna asked me to speak today. She said that she would like me to perhaps speak of the things we had shared. I, loving an audience, of course said yes.
And then she gave me the theme for the day....Giving Your All...and I had to laugh. Why? Well, I've spend the better part of the last year trying to let go of old expectations of perfection...in a way trying to teach myself that I don't always have to give my all. It felt like a cosmic joke...but it also felt like something I needed to do.
I've been a perfectionist since preschool. Ask anyone who knows me, and I'm sure they will confirm that simple fact of my personality. The perfect storm of nature and nurture wreaked havoc in my life, building to a point where my expectations for myself - and the realization that I could never achieve perfection - paralyzed me with fear. I've been essentially 'stuck' for years now, failing to recognize that perhaps this wasn't quite what God had intended for me.
So clearly, I'm a work in progress. Thanks to some excellent love and support over the last year - and to be honest the help of some excellent qualified professionals - I'm beginning to learn to live differently.
Which leads me back to that conversation during Sunday School. Part of my reeducation has involved reevaluating my relationship with the church and what that means to my family. With that in mind, I sat down to consider what the theme of Giving My All means to me now - especially as it pertains to my family's connection with the church.
So I made a list.
I like lists.
When it comes to the church and my family, Giving My All boils down to two major expectations.
- That I am to raise my children in a Christ-centered home which places the church as a touchstone. I was raised in a family that held this truth as it's heart, and I believe fully that this is the right way to keep a family.
- That our responsibility is to regularly attend services and participate fully in the life of our congregation...and that in order to do that it is my duty as a parent to teach my girls to be respectful and quiet during services while giving them the opportunity to fully participate. While I haven't fully figured out my mother's trick of nailing a child to the pew from across the room, I do have high expectations for my children so that they might benefit from the service...but also so that those around them can enjoy the service in peace.
With that in mind, I now turn to what I've learned over the last year, and what I've learned is that a healthy dose of compassion and flexibility are also needed to Give My All. So what does that mean? Well....
- It means that our family should - and does - take advantage of outside opportunities to help our children grow in their relationship with Christ. That's why we have used a Lutheran preschool. Just this year my littlest came home from her very first day and proudly announced that, "Jesus lives at my school." We also take the girls to a Vacation Bible School at a friend's church because they follow a traditional daytime schedule that works better for our family..since our kids are in bed by 7.
- It means that I need to forgive myself for not always being able to live up to my personal expectations. I could be working on this one for quite a while.
- It means I need to develop a sense of humor to help cope with the embarrassing things that sometimes happen when kids are kids. For example, when my oldest was 2 or 3 she stood up and announced very loudly that it was time for everyone to go home about 2/3 through the service. I'm still working to laugh about that one, but apparently it's now church legend as just this morning when we came in the door some of our friends were talking about that story. And incidentally, that day a few of you came to me and told me that she had been right. One day I'll laugh!
- It means saying yes to volunteer opportunities that come up within the church community...but it also means saying no when those responsibilities might be detrimental to either myself or my family. Sometimes we stretch ourselves too thin...and there will always be other opportunities waiting when we have more time and energy.
- It means wearing jeans to church, accepting that that's just what my lifestyle dictates of my wardrobe at the moment - no matter what I was taught about the proper dress for church.
- Next - and this is a big one for me - Giving My All means stepping away for a while when the stress of managing my strong-willed children by myself most Sundays begins to create serious cracks in the foundation of my faith - because church should never leave you feeling angry and sad, and for a great long while it did. I know that many of you took the time to tell me that it was ok if my kids weren't perfect, but it wasn't acceptable to me and emotionally it was just too much. Leaving for a while allowed me to let go of the negativity, and I do think it was necessary. BUT, Giving My All also means knowing when to come back and it means creating a way for my children to readjust to the church schedule so that they come to it peacefully. We've been doing this for the last couple of months, and I'm quite happy to say that now I leave church feeling renewed and uplifted...which is how church should make you feel, don't you think? Plus, my children are now old enough that they can easily live up to my expectations, and I am very, very proud of them for their recent behavior.
- It means recognizing that I am human and that I should accept help when it's offered and needed. There have been some wonderful times when some of you have stepped in to take one of my children from me when I needed a break, and I thank you for that.
- Finally, it means cleaning up my own emotional messes that might be interfering with either my or my family's relationship with the church. For example, my beloved grandfather passed away very suddenly during World Conference when I was in college. Because of that - and some of the mess that surrounded his passing because of the timing - I still can't even speak of World Conference without getting a bit upset. This is MY mess, though, and it's something that I don't want coloring my children's view of the church. I wish this was the only example, but it's not, and I do have to work really hard to make sure that my children don't learn anything negative from me.
In the end, this is where I've chosen to raise my family and I want them to fully experience the loving community that comes with a church home. That's why I feel that I must continually Give My All so that my family has every opportunity available within the church...and hopefully we can also help to make our church family a bit better as well."