“Do what you say you are going to do.” This is a motto living in my mind every day. I’m realizing more and more that if I make plans to do something, even if those plans were just made in my mind and not said out loud, I feel obligated to follow through. If I don’t follow through I think of myself as “not good," a failure.
For example, my husband and I purchased a fixer-upper of a house three and a half years ago. We knew we would have a lot of work ahead of us, but my husband and I could see so much potential in the place and we dreamed big. Unfortunately, as soon as I made plans, I was committing myself to do all the many tasks that would need to be done or else deal with the self-imposed guilt. I don’t know exactly what I thought was a reasonable time frame to transform the house from a fixer-upper to the fulfillment of my vision, but I definitely expected to make faster progress than we have. I underestimated how much time and energy working as pastors while raising two kids under 5 would take. By the end of the day, after balancing kids and work, there is little to no energy for home improvement projects. However, it doesn’t seem to matter how much I tell myself that it’s reasonable that I have yet to do all I said I would to this place. I still feel like a failure.
The sky is the limit for my expectations for myself and when I don’t rise up to meet them, I punish myself. In addition, I put those same expectations on my husband and expect him to do as much as I expect myself to do, even though I can’t measure up either. When he too fails to meet my impossible expectations, I get so frustrated, then angry, and eventually depressed.
You may think, I just need to set more realistic expectations, and you would be right. But just as much, I am learning I need to forgive myself for setting too high of expectations for myself and others. If I don’t forgive myself, I won’t be able to resolve my own feelings of failure, of not measuring up. And I know my personality and my heart. It is virtually impossible for me to forgive others if I haven’t forgiven myself. I can’t live in the tension of expecting myself to be “good enough” while forgiving others when they fall short. I must extend to myself what I am called to extend to others.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to ask God for forgiveness in the same way that we have forgiven those around us. I believe this not only includes ourselves, it must start with ourselves. When we forgive ourselves, it is much easier to forgive others.
– Pastor Sara Withers serves as the Family and Children's Ministry Pastor at Beaverton Church.