They're calling this a pandemic. COVID-19. Surely we'll look back at this time someday and sigh. Remembering the good, the bad, and the weird of it all. Remembering the grinding halt our country has come to.
The grinding halt has found me working here at home, trying to figure out what in the world remote learning looks like for all of our Pre-K - 5 students. My week has been characterized by ZOOM conference meetings and making breakfasts and stepping around toys and lifting Theo out of dangerous situations (thrilling in the eyes of a ten-month-old). It's been creating documents and creating a nap schedule. It's been trying to find time to exercise but also to relax. It's been lovely - and it's been exhausting. I've been trying to embrace it, since I can't control it.
The thing is, there have been these two little words punctuating everything I do, and I didn't realize how much they were bothering me until now:
Those words must pass through my mind at least 100 times a day.
I should have the house clean when Ethan gets home from work. I should read my Bible first thing when Theo takes his nap. I should make new, healthy foods for Theo's meals. I should walk Pablo. I should reach out to my students more. I should have my hair brushed and put on real pants. I should have more energy, more interesting things to say to Ethan when we catch up at night. I should take time for myself. I should make time for others. I should. I should. I should.
It seems I have been a slave to my 'I shoulds' this past week. Every time I think of one, I sigh and nod and add it to my to-do list for the day. And every night around 5 o'clock, when Ethan gets home and my ponytail is half-falling out and the house is littered with dirty dishes and opened drawers and half-finished projects, I hand a fussing Theo to him and feel like a failure.
I should have... and I didn't.
In bed the other night, I laid my defeated head on the pillow and whispered my shortcomings to Ethan. Confessed I didn't feel like I was able to do it all.
"I don't care if the house is clean," he said. "It just makes me happy to think of you and Theo at home having fun together all day."
So where are all the 'I shoulds' coming from, then, if not from him?
I think they are a collection of tidbits I've picked up over the years: advice from books, observations of others, lies from Satan, words from sermons, posts from Facebook, conversations with friends. All things I have believed would make me closer to being the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect teacher, the perfect me.
To simply be seems not to be enough; I have allowed myself to be both a slave to these lists of 'I shoulds,' and also the enforcer. I am the one who must try to do it all, and also the one who deals out the guilt and shame when the list doesn't get done.
But last night, as I brushed my teeth in a discouraged heap on the toilet, a sweet and liberating thought breezed through my mind:
There is freedom in Christ.
In Christ, we are completely free. From all of the things that weigh us down. We don't have to be slaves to any of our 'I shoulds,' and we certainly needn't punish ourselves for not achieving them.
I felt so relieved! When we're not slaves to the 'I shoulds,' we can become aware of all the 'I cans.' I can worship without reservation. I can delight in all of creation. I can be comfortable with how God created me. I can be okay with unbrushed hair and bits of baby food on the floor.
This morning when I woke up, I was bombarded all over again with the 'I shoulds.' I don't think those will go away anytime soon. But instead of hanging my head and bracing myself to slough through them, I practiced saying, "I can be free in Christ," instead. And as the day wears on, and the weeks of the COVID-19 social distancing continue, I pray I will be able to be aware of the grace that God has for me and remember to give it to myself, as well.
"For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father!'" Romans 8:15