Good Enough – Mother’s Day Message
May 8, 2022 Genesis 3
I don’t know about you, but there are certain mistakes I seem to repeat over and over … and when I do I feel like an idiot, and sometimes I can’t shake that idiot-feeling for a long time.
And there are things I did decades ago that I wouldn’t repeat in a million years, but I can’t shake that idiot feeling every time I think of them.
Obviously, we need to acknowledge our mistakes so we don’t keep repeating them.
But the idiot-feeling I’m talking about is shame … and shame beats down our soul.
Brene Brown describes shame as, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
Operating from the deep recesses of our psyche, shame is so powerful that it dictates its own story to our mind, spirit, and body – a story telling us who we are and what we’re worth.
Our shame story is so intimate and familiar that it keeps us moving in the same unhelpful direction.
Emotions have little sense of time … we experience them in the present much as we did years ago.
That means that when something triggers my shame, I am again that skinny fourth-grade kid sitting alone at recess.
I am again that high schooler humiliated by the rejection of my awkward attempt to date a girl.
I am again that young father stuttering to defend himself against the judgement of his in-laws because he hadn’t finished college or gotten a real job.
In a perfect world we would accept that we are created as finite, limited beings, that we each have inadequacies as part of our nature.
In a perfect world we would know that God loves us regardless of our shaky finances, our body weight, our less-than stellar career … regardless of all the mistakes we have made along the way.
You are not defined by the biggest mistake you ever made.
The problem is that we’re immersed in the world’s ideals of beauty, success, and competence, so as we desperately try to hold our masks in place, in our hearts we live with the nagging knowledge that we’re not measuring up.
Garrison Keillor once said that our problem is that we all have a backstage view of our lives.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor who has a large following of people recovering from strict evangelical childhoods.
She has a podcast called “The Confessional” that I can’t recommend highly enough.
She shares that when she was in seminary an older pastor said to her, “Nadia, I’ve seen you around for years now and you give off a lot of strength. I think that’s what people see when they look at you which is great – but who is the person under that thing?”
She says that was about the rudest question she’d ever been asked, but through the years she’s asked that rude question a lot: what’s the thing under the thing?
She’s found that often we spool all our energy into trying to override our internal narrative.
We cover the truth of what we don’t want to admit with bravado, confidence, and grandiosity and we hope no one notices.
The thing under the thing we are trying to hide is our less than perfect, floundering, self-doubting self.
But facing and embracing the thing underneath is a necessary step toward healing.
Shame got its start in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve tried to become like God.
Of course, they failed and were awoken to the knowledge that they were less than perfect.
Unable to accept that fact is what created their feeling of shame that led them to cover their exposed selves and hide from God.
But God already knew all about their naked self and it was for them – their naked imperfect selves – that He created the Garden of Eden in the first place.
Ultimately, it was their feeling of shame that separated them from God and paradise.
Likewise, our shame can separate us from God, our family and community from whom we hide or mask our imperfect selves.
One of the casualties for people raised in strict religious communities is that they are often left with shame about their sexual feelings.
In those circles, spirituality is separated from the physical and so bodily feelings are considered unspiritual and therefore mistrusted and even ungodly.
In the purity culture, people are taught that God disapproves of their passions outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and so they are taught to repress their natural feelings.
But those deadened or distorted passions don’t just suddenly get the green light on a wedding night after a couple of decades of being repressed.
James Joyce famously wrote, “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”
How many people have spent their lives living a short distance from their body?
Joshua Harris’ 1997 book Kiss Dating Goodbye was #1 on the Christian best seller list.
He was homeschooled in a very strict evangelical household and became deeply conflicted about his preoccupation with girls.
When he was 19 or 20, he wrote the book that argued that dating distracts a young person from becoming a mature, godly adult and therefore they should put all their attention into school and career development until they are ready to begin a courtship that will lead to marriage.
By his early twenties he was getting standing ovations on the national speaking circuit and pulling in big royalties from book sales – he’d become the poster boy of the evangelical purity world.
The promise of his book was that if you stay pure, then when it is time to marry, God will reward your discipline with a fabulous, thrilling and intimate relationship.
But a decade or so later, he began to allow himself to hear the voices of people badly damaged by the purity message.
At first, he blocked out the growing chorus of critics who described the damage his book and the purity culture had done them.
Eventually he read one post that somehow spoke to him but he didn’t know how to respond – so he just typed back, “I’m sorry”.
Instantly the blogosphere lit up – Joshua Harris has apologized.
Actually, he wasn’t quite there yet, but over time he began engaging with people whose repressed sexuality was beyond repair, whose shame prevented intimacy, whose marriages had gone dry because of the nagging notion that God frowns on free sexual expression.
He also got into dialogue with LGBTQ people drowning in self-contempt because of their evangelical upbringing.
His reversal of position is rather astounding … he went so far as to unpublish his famous book (something an author can do with the eBook version of their work).
And just to be clear, this is not only a sexual issue … shame distances us from all aspects of life.
Shame is a dream killer, a passion killer, a life killer.
How many of us live a diminished life because of shame?
How many of us are distracted from life by the insistent voice of shame?
How many of us are propping up a mask of bravado to cover up our shame?
I recently had a bit of a health scare – I’m fine, it was just enough to force me to take stock of whatever life I may have, and to again realize how precious each irreplaceable day is.
It forced me to realize that I can either distance myself from the fulness of life because I’m dragging around the humiliation and shame of some mistakes or immaturities of the past, or I can release them and fully live whatever life I have.
For many of us, that must begin with forgiving ourselves.
About 40% of Jesus’ ministry was healing physical diseases, but he did many of them in unexpected ways.
For example, in Mark chapter 2 Jesus was teaching a crowd packed into someone’s house when a paralyzed man was brazenly lowered through the roof by friends who hoped Jesus would heal him.
How did Jesus heal him?
He said, “Your sins are forgiven.”
As we often say, sin is separation from God, from our true self and from our community.
Jesus seems to never tire of reconnecting us with God by forgiving our sin and healing our shame.
Not long before she died in 1988, in a moment of surprising candor on television, well-known secular humanist Marghanita Laski said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.”
Mother’s Day brings up a mixture of feelings in me.
Don’t get me wrong.
This is a wonderful holiday that gives mothers recognition for the love and sacrifices they’ve given … things that we’ve often taken for granted.
But at the same time, with all their Hallmark card sentimentality, the holiday puts our mothers on a pedestal of impossible standards.
So, while I look at my own parents with deep love and appreciation, and with renewed respect for how they lived with integrity through quite difficult lives … if I am honest, the child in me also harbors resentment for the ways they failed me.
For years I recited a litany of reasons to blame my parents for why I had trouble launching my life and establishing healthy relationships.
For years I blamed them for all the struggles I was going through … until one day I faced the fact that to blame is to “be lame”.
One day I got that I could choose to keep limping along, seeing myself as a victim of my parents’ problems, or I could forgive them and become an adult responsible for my own life.
Our parents may have left us with some rough edges, but we choose whether to let those grate against us forever, or to see them as sandpaper refining our own rough surfaces.
When Jesus came across the adulterous woman who had gone through a series of marriages and relationships, he neither cursed nor ignored her behavior.
What did he do?
As with so many before her, he forgave her and sent her back to live freed from her sins.
As I receive forgiveness, I am empowered to change my thinking and so change my life.
I choose what thoughts and memories to recite to myself throughout the day.
I choose to learn ways to change my interpretations of life.
I choose whether to release resentful thoughts so I can walk away as a free man.
To forgive we must step away from the two-dimensional caricatures we drew of our parents, and appreciate them for who they are or were.
Not only that, but I had to realize that my parents were young – I mean, give them a break: they were younger than I was when I was still resenting what were their best attempts at parenting.
My mother really struggled with life and so had real limitations as a parent.
But I can now also see her as a woman of great courage and character.
Now I admire how she spent her life struggling with demons that led her to suicide attempts and repeated institutionalizations but who triumphed over those demons to become a poet and an artist – and who even in her darkest moments was a person of exceptional empathy and deep compassion.
But before I could see her this way, I had to forgive her for her own humanity.
She was not a perfect parent, but she was good enough, and that is all we can ask.
She was good enough to lovingly see my brother and me through our childhoods.
Ultimately, if we remain unforgiving of our parents, then we remain unforgiving of ourselves, because the same judge who points a condemning finger at them, points also to us.
For most of his childhood, I was a single parent raising my son.
I love that boy and I would like to think that I was the perfect parent for him.
But as I harbored the illusion that I had been perfect, I then recoiled in shame when I thought of any way I failed him.
In fact, there were too many evenings I left him alone while I was out dating.
I only realized later how he felt abandoned on those nights.
As a workaholic, there were too many times I promised weekend outings that I cancelled because of some supposed work emergency.
And not until he was grown did I understand the depth of pain he was experiencing because his mother had abandoned us – so I failed to deal with it appropriately when he was young.
But all any of us can be is “good enough” parents … and that is all that we can expect from our own moms and dads as well.
While I wanted to see myself as a near-perfect parent, because of shame I protected myself by not facing things I could have done better.
Eventually, though, I got over the shame by accepting that the goal never was to be perfect but to be “good enough.”
So, the antidote to shame is not perfectionism, nor is it denial of our faults.
I will never overcome any of the shame in my life of not being enough … smart enough, successful enough, good looking enough, wealthy enough, or enough of a perfect parent … by striving for perfection.
As Adam and Eve discovered, that is an impossible standard.
Rather, the antidote to shame is humility.
Once I stopped berating myself for my shortcomings as a parent, I could turn my attention to him and celebrate whom he has become.
He has built a close and stable family, using the emotional rough edges of his childhood to conceive a healthier vision for his own family.
When we forgive our parents, then we stop replaying all the old dramas that have held us back.
Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a perfect yesterday.
May we see our own wounds as marks of humanity rather than signs of failure.
May we see our parents’ wounds as the cross they carried through their lives, and may we know that even under the weight of their cross, they loved us and sacrificed for us.
May we – like the Lord we follow – be people who never tire of forgiving.