I tend to be rather critical of myself in pretty much all aspects: work, running, wife-ing, and mothering. I've always been my own worst enemy. At times, this quality is helpful as it pushes me to reflect and change and improve. But most times the critical voice inside my head is so damn annoying--like Janice's voice from Friends.
Sure you ran 11 miles, but you could've run a little faster. Did you hear that rude comment J said to K? You know he learned that from you, right? Don't bother applying for that job; you'll never get it. You're feeding your kids sandwiches again? When was the last time they ate something green? No, Skittles do NOT count. Your husband probably would be more happy with a more traditional, more feminine, and more stable woman.
For me, this voice is loudest during moments of chaos--when the schedule gets busy and things begin to slip out of my control, and so, I fight and claw to regain that control. I do things like choose my kids' outfits when they're perfectly capable of choosing their own clothes. I reject all help from my husband. I run farther and faster. I snap at my kids when they drop crumbs on the table. As you can imagine, I am a very unpleasant person to be around when I let that Janice voice win out, and it happens more than I care to admit because it's so easy to focus on our flaws. It's easy to make a list of all we don't have, all we haven't accomplished, all of our mistakes and failures. Our culture lives with critique on the tips of our tongues because we are afraid of failing or being forgotten or messing up our kids.
Yesterday, J came home from school, and as he was unpacking his backpack, he asked me if he could tell me a sad story.
"Sure, bud. What's the story?"
"Addie was telling me about her mom's friend who had a baby, and that baby died. They're all really sad about it. So I made a card for the family. I gave it to Addie to give to her mom," he explained.
"That is really sad. It's nice you made a card. What did the card say?"
"I don't remember. Something about how I know that baby will have peace in heaven and how I will pray for peace for the family."
I hugged him, told him he was a sweet boy and said that someday he might make a good counselor, pastor, or teacher because of his tenderness for others. He shrugged his shoulders like it was no big deal and scampered off to play.
But his compassion and tenderness IS a big deal. He's an 8-year-old boy. I couldn't stop thinking about that card this morning while I slogged through a cold, windy, and wet 10 miles. I get reflective whenever I run, and I was tempted to shrug off my son's moment of compassion and think instead about how on my two-week vacation from work, I didn't have lunch even once with my kids at school. But I stopped myself because, honestly, it just feels better to think about my son making a card for a family who is struggling. And you know what? Even though there have been so many people to influence his life, his dad and I have taught him to care for the vulnerable. We teach him (and K) this when we make it a priority to come to people's aid, when we send a gift to cheer up a friend who is struggling, when we serve a meal to folks in our community each month.
It feels arrogant to focus on our successes, so a lot of us just don't. However, if we only dwell on what we're doing wrong, we'll live a miserable existence. We've got to train ourselves to recognize, acknowledge, and honor the small victories in life (and pray we don't get a big head along the way!). Chances are, we are responsible for these as much as we are for the failures and flaws in our own lives.