When I wrote my list of New Things for this year, I knew that it could turn into a source of guilt and unnecessary obligation for me. I can be a bit of a legalist with goals, and anything I set my mind to doing—even things that should be life-giving—can easily turn into things I feel guilty for not doing. The spirit behind my New Things was good: I wanted to stretch myself and grow. But my own brokenness likes to take those things and hold them over my head when things don’t go to plan.
I threw myself into watercoloring back in April like it was an assignment for school. I made myself sit down at night and try it. I even churned out a couple things I liked, and I felt good about it. I started doing yoga in May and fell in love with it. I found that it made me feel better and gave me a way to center myself and restore my energy. In June, it took a little while, but I dove into my HTML book and found that I really liked it. But I also found myself making less time for it than I had for watercolors or yoga. There were just so many other things on my plate. The feelings of guilt began to creep in every evening when I would look at the HTML book sitting on my coffee table and elect to do something else instead. Lists, papers, and other things piled up on top of the book until it all but disappeared.
In July, I never went camping. I never tried to. In August, the month flew by without me even thinking about what new thing I was supposed to be doing (handlettering on canvas). When it did pop into my mind, I felt bad for not trying either of those things and, additionally, for not having watercolored or worked on HTML either. I also hadn’t had much time for yoga. The spirit of my New Things was slowly being strangled by the guilt inflicted by my perfectionism.
It’s been a busy couple of months and my apartment has been a wreck until I finally had a couple days to clean. The condition of my bathtub and bathroom sink were a little horrifying. I’d lost important papers under piles of clothes to be unpacked, wedding decorations to be organized or transported to Ohio, and other debris. You couldn’t walk around without stepping on something or knocking some precarious pile over. I felt crummy about all of it: the mess, the New Things, how long it’s been since I sat down in front of my computer to write…
But I realized something: nobody loved me any less during this time. Joel still smiled at me and held my hand. My mom and dad still told me they were proud of me. My brother still thought I was awesome. My close friends still valued me. People still came to my bridal shower and showed their love and support for me. The things that I base my worthiness on are not, apparently, the same things that others base my worthiness on.
Joel just finished reading The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning, and so we’ve been talking about how Christians often get caught up in all the things they think or feel they need to do to gain or keep God’s love. We miss the fact that we already have it. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). We spend our lives enforcing things on ourselves and on others that aren’t necessary. We choke the life out of ourselves and our brothers and sisters for no reason. All to gain the love of a God who is already painfully in love with us.
We are made in the image of God. And while we are broken and warped and corrupt, we still bear the image of our maker. When I took a moment to look, I saw it all around me. I’ve been busy, preoccupied, distant, unavailable. But the people who love me haven’t given up on me because of these things. They have far more grace for the things for which I’ve felt so guilty than I do myself. They don’t love me for my clean bathroom or my blog posts. They love me for me. It’s what we all hunger for and find ourselves performing for. We feel empty and broken, but all we need to do is reach out, give the people who love us a chance to do so.
My apartment is clean now and I’ve written this blog post, but I’m praying that the spirit of my New Things will be revived. It wasn’t supposed to be about impressing people or gaining acceptance, but it became rolled up in all the other things I think I need to do to be worthy of love, both from God and from other people. I need to spend more time realizing that both parties just want to connect with me. No one is giving me a grade card except myself. They’re certainly not deciding I’m not worth their time because my kitchen floor is a little sticky.