Originally published Wednesday, 04 February 2015.
She asked to wash my dishes. I threw my head back and laughed. "Oh, absolutely not! I cannot let you wash my dishes!"
"No, really! I love to do dishes, and I'll feel so much better about inviting myself over if I scrub up your dishes so you can just sit and chat," and then she graciously added, "I have dishes in my sink at home, too. I just like doing other people's dishes for some reason."
Friends, I have come a loooong way with a very real struggle. At one time, (not so long ago), struggle with perfectionism had caused much self-inflicted anxiety in my life. Perfectionism can rob us of self-grace. Perfectionism steals our freedom in Christ...not just in a sink with a few dishes...but it happens. How? Well, I can tell you what happened to my heart but I cannot be certain that I am speaking for everyone else.
You know that feeling growing up, playing house, where you imagine what a wonderful mother, wife, housekeeper, and wonder-woman you will be? I might have held onto that idealism a bit too long. My life was gonna be magazine-worthy. (Roll your eyes, please. Go ahead. I just rolled mine too.) Yep. You can really fry up some amazing breakfasts for your pretend baby dolls at your toy kitchen when your real-life mother is multitasking the real-life laundry, meals, schedules, cleaning, bills, job, little brother, groceries, and the like. Oh, but I was going to be quite the June Cleaver. Whatever, young Courtney. Just...whatever.
I tried. I once wrote out all of the responsibilities I had as a new mother and tried to nearly categorize them into days. (If you haven't ever done this, spare yourself the misery of realizing how truly busy you actually are.) I was working in my earliest years as a young mother, and I allowed myself zero grace. Zero, I tell you. If I couldn't keep it all together, I stayed up working at it. If perfection still wasn't managed, lock the doors and by all means--KEEP THE WORLD OUT!!!
It never occurred to me that perhaps I should give myself a break once in a while. I had friends over. I'm rather social....but I couldn't be without dragging out the vacuum to make sure they walked into freshly-fluffed carpet. Let me tell you where this went awry. My husband would watch the horrific cleaning-lady unleash from deep within my soul, a soul reeking of idealistic expectations for myself, with our young children in his arms or at his side. This next part is hard to admit, but I always heard him say something to our little guys along the lines of, "Let's stay back and be helpful. Mommy has people coming over and she is working very hard." It was in those moments, that I truly feared what I was teaching my children. What message did they hear? I assure you that they were getting one message loud and clear:
Don't let anyone in. Keep everyone out unless all they will see is perfect. No one wants to be around unless everything about you, about us, is in order.
Slowly, I started to see the lies that were masked in my perfectionism. Eventually, I even saw the way it affected my guests. Friends would rave about my housekeeping and all would be well until I would hear someone say, "Courtney, you should come clean my house for me," or worse, "I would have people over but my house is never this clean." I was beginning to hear these words and I was realizing that, while it would have been fine to have a consistently clean house, it wasn't fine to mask my real-life as a package of perfect and to lead my friends astray. I thought I was being a good hostess. What was I really doing? I was lying to myself and to them, giving them reason to lock their own doors a bit tighter. If I expected perfectionism, they certainly couldn't allow me to see their real lives. And THAT is where I was wrong.
I've had so many seasons of life that have been this way in one way or another. The seasons of life where I showcased a pretty package of a snapshot of my life, rather than inviting people I love into the real kind of messy-beautiful that we all really juggle, because we're all really humans. (...especially if we are humans raising little humans. Bless the mess! As I am writing this, my kitchen table has a colorful village of Playdough creations scattered about.) It is real life.
So when my friend called this morning to touch base about something we've been planning and mentioned she was on her first cup of coffee, I looked across my house. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't a magazine. The preschooler was changing out of snow clothes because all he has wanted all winter was to run through the snow. We may have only had a dusting of snow, but the pile of snow clothes is all the same, despite the quantity of fallen flakes. The house wasn't a total disaster by any means, so I knew I could do it.
"Come on over and share a cup of coffee here. We'll chat," I said. Before she knocked on the door, I only had time to change into a nicer pair of yoga pants and make a new pot of coffee. The thought occurred to me that we should have invited our other mommy friend who works part-time just before she knocked on the door.
"I hope you don't mind that I'm here too," she added as she carried in her coffee cup.
I didn't mind at all! I was thrilled. I assured them that some friends are on the level of authenticity that you just don't need any notice before they arrive. The vacuum doesn't always have to be run because you know they see past your less-than-fluffy carpet.
We had only been talking a few minutes, and I was chasing around my littles, when she offered to do my dishes. Lo and behold, I have come a long way in a short period of time, but I couldn't allow someone else to wash our breakfast dishes. Quickly, though, I reminded myself of a time when I was living in fear of falling short. I have tasted the freedom of living a genuine life that throws the doors wide open and says, "Welcome!" It's a better way to live, I tell you.
It is sometimes easier to give than to receive the blessing, but I am learning not to deny others of that opportunity to give when they want to bless me. I am learning that we all have a mess. Some messes might look like breakfast dishes in the sink and others might look like baggage of the past, hiding away in the depths of our hearts. The messes we are hiding may look very different, but they may feel the same. The messes we are hiding--they all have one unmistakable common factor. Hiding the mess always robs us of knowing grace and freedom. It robs us of being loved for who we are, rather than what we can present, perform, or neatly package as a mask of ourselves.
Everyone needs to be loved for who they really are. Messes or no, we all want friendships that stick around despite dishes in the sink. So, I let her wash the dishes. Maybe next time, I will be the one to wash someone's dishes. Maybe that will be the contagious trend of friendship, lending a hand, cheering one another on, and turning a blind eye to the messes for the sake of grace. What if washing our friend's dishes became the norm? Perhaps women will no longer be plagued with competitions and Mommy Wars, but will return to the days of working alongside one another with the mindset of loving others the way we care for ourselves. Imagine what it would be like if we had enough self-grace pouring from within us that it spilled into the real lives and hearts of others...and the grace would just keep going, giving, and loving.
Don't get me wrong. I have not conquered the control and perfection issues that hide away in my heart and are self-inflicted and fueled by the sin of pride. If I had known they were coming, you bet that I would have unloaded the clean dishes from the dishwasher and quickly reloaded those dirty dishes out of sight. I might have even sprayed a few surfaces with Windex or something of the sort. I'm still a firm believer in house-keeping. What I am saying? Open the doors anyway. Let people in. Don't live in fear of the messes in your home or the messes in your heart. Life isn't meant to be lived with doors tightly closing the world out, for fear of being seen. After all, God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness.
My friends had only been gone about thirty minutes, when one of them texted me a picture of her sink: full of dishes. The added caption was the best part, "I'm not nearly as excited about washing mine as I was about washing yours!" This is friendship that gives grace and opens doors.
Whether you have been hiding away your homes or your hearts, know that there is One who loves you because you are His creation. He sees the real you and loves you because He calls you His own. Can't we then love others as His creation and not hold them to a standard of perfection? Choose today to stop holding yourself to that standard as well. Remember that you are His child, created for His purpose. You won't always have it all together, but you will always be held by His immeasurable grace, if you have chosen to follow Him. His grace is enough. We can give it, recieve it, and live in it! It's a lesson I'm learning and a journey that I invite you on, as well!