Thursday, March 7, 2013

Positive Self-Talk

Before they changed the format on Facebook, my wall displayed this statement:

Trying to learn about grace... the grace God has shown me, the grace I need to show others, and the grace I have permission to give myself. I think. Do I?

I have trouble giving myself grace. The problem is--I am finally learning, now that I am nearing 50 years old--when I fail to give grace to myself, I also tend to fail to give grace to others, and this is not a good thing.

At the risk of making the entire world hate me (well, really only about 3 people, since they are the only ones who read this blog... whew), I will tell you a story about what a bad mother I used to be.

One day, approximately 21 years ago, I was the 26 year old mother of a one-year-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old, and I was pregnant.  I was very, very pregnant, approximately seven months pregnant, and when you consider that the baby was born when I was eight months pregnant, that is even more pregnant than it sounds.

It was a hot day near the end of August, probably, since the baby was born the beginning of October. We lived in a stuffy little cape cod style house, and the refrigerator was in the dining room.  This bothered me more before we moved in and ripped out the carpets, at which time the refrigerator had been parked on gold, sculpted carpet in the dining room.  After we got rid of the carpet, the refrigerator was on hardwood, which was not as objectionable, and I could tell myself, "It isn't really a dining room.  It is the eating part of an eat-in kitchen."  Never mind that it was in clear view of the living room.

On this particular late afternoon, the heat settled over us after nap time, and I felt bloated, sore and miserable.  Baby Davie was crying, because he usually did, especially during the everlasting stretch between naptime and dinner, which I could never serve until Daddy came home between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m.  My back was sore, and portions of me were feeling the intense downward pressure of the third baby in three years, who didn't seem like she was going to hang in there much longer.  Leaning over to pick up Davie, I had to psych myself up for each movement I made and push myself to completion.

"Mommy, I'm thirsty," Shannon announced.

"Just a minute," I told her as I settled Davie on my hip, trying to wipe his nose and find him a toy.  I knocked a stack of mail off the counter and it fluttered every which way across the dining room floor.  "Stupid," I hissed at myself, "stupid, stupid, idiot."  I sighed and tried to prepare myself mentally for some time down on my knees, picking it all up.

I did not notice that Shannon had opened the refrigerator and begun to pull out a pitcher of apple juice.  It was a plumb full pitcher.  I had just mixed it up from frozen concentrate.  She pulled it out, and her two-and-a-half-year-old arms were not enough to support the weight.  Down it went, spilling apple juice, sticky apple juice, all over the inside of the refrigerator and underneath the refrigerator on the hardwood dining room floor.

Down on my knees on the opposite side of the dining room table, awkwardly reaching for scattered pieces of mail, Davie crying in my ear, I despaired.  I don't remember exactly what I did, but I'm pretty sure I started to yell at Shannon.

She dropped the pitcher askew in a pool of juice, came over, and patted my shoulder.  "Don't worry, Mommy," she told me. "It will be OK."

And this is the reason I am really ashamed.  This is the proof that I am one of the worst mothers in the world.  When Shannon told me that it would be OK, I completely lost it.  "No!" I told her.  "It will NOT be OK.  It IS NOT OK.  I am tired, and I am in pain, and now I have to clean the entire refrigerator and even MOVE the refrigerator, and your brother is crying, and I need to make dinner, and Daddy won't be home for hours and hours, and IT IS NOT OK!"  Then, because I am a wicked person, and I sometimes scream when anybody else in the world would cry, I repeated it, "THIS IS NOT OK!  DON'T TELL ME IT'S GOING TO BE OK.  IT ISN'T!"

By the grace of God and nothing else, Shannon is a happy, healthy, well-adjusted person today, and she actually has happy memories of her childhood.  She has even said to me, "You wouldn't believe how many people I know who have had unhappy childhoods.  We had such a happy childhood.  I'm so thankful."  Where does this even come from?  Not from me, certainly.  It is the grace of God.  If it were not so, I never would have dreamed of telling this story.

Since then, it has come to my attention that my automatic default for much of life has been to negative self-talk myself.  If I turn the the wrong way on a drive, I berate myself for the rest of the trip (and beyond) over the gas I have wasted. If I forget to buy something at the grocery store, I tell myself that I am dumb.  If I drop the soap in the shower, I castigate myself for my clumsiness.  If I miss an appointment, I denounce myself for being stupid, unorganized and unreliable.  The voice in my head is intensely critical and accusatory.

The travesty of it is: when I speak to myself this way, I am more likely to speak to my children this way.

Understanding the high cost of negative self-talk has come to me slowly.  I thought it was my duty to do this, to punish myself, to make myself pay for my mistakes.  About two years ago I had a breakthrough.  I realized that I could forgive myself for making a mistake, that I did not have to punish myself, that it is not a sin to be gracious to myself.  This was an amazing thought to me: it is not a sin to refrain from yelling at myself when I make a mistake.

But really, if God forgives me, if Jesus died to pay the price for my forgiveness which has already been purchased by His priceless blood, who am I to refuse to forgive myself?

So now, as I face the uncertainty of the future, the move, the need to sell our house and our land, the necessity of starting over from scratch in a completely new community, as I face my fears and my lack of faith... I am trying to use positive self-talk.

"It will be OK."  This is my new mantra.  "It will be OK."

I lean my head against the bathroom wall after being sick, and I say, "It will be OK."

I get to bed an hour later than I meant to, and I say, "It will be OK."

I see that a house I'd thought might work for us in the Midwest goes off the market, and I say, "It will be OK."

I hear that we are likely to lose big money on both the sale of our house and the sale of our land, and I say, "It will be OK.  God is in control.  It will be OK."

My shoulder pain, that I've had for a year now, continues, and I say, "It will be OK.  This world is not my home.  There's no pain in heaven.  It will be OK."

I think of the way Shawn's former boss treated him and withheld compensation from him at the time he left the company, and I say, "It will be OK.  God has always taken care of us.  God will still take care of us. We will have enough.  It will be OK."

Not only will it be OK... it is OK, today, now.  It's OK.

It's OK.

"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31b, NIV)

"And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19, NIV)

"...for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." (Matthew 6:8b, NIV)

"The Lord is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid?"  (Psalm 27:1, NIV)

"Some trust in horses and some trust in chariots [or jobs, bank accounts, guns, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution], but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."  (Psalm 20:7, NIV)

"And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:3, NIV)

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'" (Revelation 21:3-4, NIV)

It will be OK.  It is OK.  I am getting better at saying this to myself.  I am getting better at believing it.


Hope T. said...

About eighteen months ago, my husband was looking for work. His temporary job had ended rather suddenly and he needed a new job asap. It had been such a hard summer with my sister's illness and death, my son's graduation from high school and college tuition coming due, our house in disrepair and our van threatening to conk out. He found a job and negotiated for a slightly higher salary while I bit my nails, fearing that they would rescind the offer altogether.

Finally it was all settled. He had the job he wanted and it was only an hour and a half from home,instead of two and a half hours, as the previous job had been. I woke up one morning and the sun was shining in the window and the words "good things can happen" came into my mind.

I think those words for me are somewhat like your phrase "it will be okay". I usually forget that good things can happen because I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop, holding my breath in fear of the next disaster. Now I just have to transition to the next step in which I actually expect good things to happen and I am actively looking for them.

Having your grown child say that she had a happy childhood is one of the most satisfying things that could happen, I am sure. I don't know if mine would say that now but a few years ago, he did say that I had done fine in my parenting of him and I was over the moon just to hear that from him. Of course, I am not sure what he would say now but there is still time and good things could still happen.

ruth said...

"Good things can happen." Wow.

I just need to think about that.

Isn't it strange that there are a whole lot of people out there who automatically assume that good things are going to happen, and there there are people like us?

I made a whole frame full of Bible verses about the goodness of God, which I hung on my wall, because out of all His attributes, that is the one I have the most trouble grasping... that He is good and full of lovingkindness. I go stand in front of that wall hanging and read it some days.

Now I can add the corollary: If God is good, then good things can happen.