We came home from our extended Fourth of July weekend and discovered a problem. We thought the problem had been resolved, since we had admitted it before we left, addressed it head on, and followed up on it briefly afterwards.
But the problem came back.
Our dog had fleas.
I say “had” because I’m an optimist.
“Merely a fluke” is how I like to think of the one or two culprits we’ve found and destroyed each day after another round of treatment. If this indicates that we still have a full-fledged problem, please don’t tell me. I can hardly sleep these days for analyzing any little wiggle or itch, which is only exacerbated by the fact that we’ve all got lots of mosquito bites from an exceptionally buggy time away.
There is something in me that reacts to this problem by wanting to hide it.
My first instinct is to cover it up, both from outsiders and from my own little family. This leads me to tell white lies to the kids about why they can’t snuggle up to the dog or why I’m vacuuming like a fiend. I don’t necessarily think the kids need to know all the details about every little thing in our lives, but I don’t usually actively conceal things from them.
So I stopped.
Granted I didn’t tell them the bugs were fleas, since that doesn’t mean much to them, but I decided not to hide the trouble anymore. When I cancelled plans to have one of the kids’ friends over, I told the mom why we had to cancel. I asked for help from a knowledgeable dog doctor. And all this openness and willingness to invite help made the flea problem a collective problem, a shared gross-out round of communal heebie-jeebies rather than a dirty secret.
Dealing with the flea problem made me think about the recent round of “I’m a terrible, slacker mom” posts and one author’s reaction to them. There is freedom is rejecting perfectionism, the unattainable goals it sets and the constant guilt it inflicts. But one article took this rejection of maintaining an image of perfection and made it into a statement about sin (see article here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/july/very-worst-trend.html).
After laughing my way through the original blog posts, I don’t think that was the intended application of the original blog posts.
One commenter said the author was missing the point of those blogs, and I tend to agree. The posts she references are funny, disarming and a welcome relief when self-inflicted perfectionism starts to get the most of us, and this is acknowledged. But the article’s author also said that the blogs have theological implications, and I think that’s true: they imply that we don’t have our shit together, that’s okay because everyone falls short in some area. If you don’t think you fall short in any area, you just haven’t taken time to find out yet. And that’s okay. A good friend of mine told me she thinks God gives us one area to work on, then reveals another area as we become stronger in the first – that way we aren’t so crushed by how much growth there is to do.
My take on the theological implications of posts about “slacker moms” and the like is that they acknowledge our non-perfectness. It doesn’t mean we stay stagnant and content in our habitual shortcomings, that we throw up our hands and stop pressing in closer to Christ. But it does mean that if you missed your morning devos today (or for the past four years), that doesn’t mean tomorrow is a forgone conclusion for you. There is always another chance to begin again, because of God’s grace.
Here comes another moment to start over.
Beyond that, however, and aside from the Very Worst -whatever posts, sin and screwing up is real. And it is very much like fleas. They are pesky, resilient, gross things with disgusting habits and an ability to show up out of nowhere. You can think you’ve got a specific sin neatly squared away and then discover that without even thinking about it you’re asking just the right questions to get all the dirt on that person you’ve never really liked all that much, and you can hardly wait to go tell someone else about it. Gossip much? And that’s just one example. Take your pick – there are plenty out there. I have plenty in here.
Apostle Paul wrote, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” And then he answers himself: “By no means!” So while we don’t go around looking for sins to commit just to stretch God’s grace further, we usually have no problem finding them. And once we’ve dealt with the big obvious stuff, we turn to find subtle sins laying around, much like fingerprints and scuffs on hallway walls that build up over time. We fail to notice them until getting the house ready to put up for sale, and then, Oh my word, how have we lived with all this grime and not noticed it?
The thing about sin is that we are usually tempted to keep it concealed (see what I did there?). We feel ashamed, embarrassed, less-than. So we keep it a secret or tell lies to explain it. Then we’ve got the sin and the lies to give us even more fuel for our shame. As long as we keep perpetuating the cycle, it continues.
Unless we do something differently it will just continue.
That’s the beauty of the Very Worst/Slacker Mom posts. They admit they don’t have it all together. They admit it is hard to be a parent. They admit their burnt dinners and slap-dash kid costumes (thanks for the word, Rachel Held Evans). And by admitting it, the rest of us can breathe a sigh of relief because they’ve poked a finger through the façade, the spell has been broken and no longer do we need to keep acting as if it isn’t work to drag three kids to the store to find the right color button-down shirt for the crazy end of the school year program.
That’s also the theological implication of the posts: we all screw up and when we admit that we are the so-called sinners that Jesus came here to save (He said it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.) we can stop pretending we’ve got it all figured out.
There’s freedom in admitting you’re not perfect.
There’s freedom in refusing to keep up appearances at the expense of authenticity.
Jesus comes with a fogging can and bombs our lives with his grace.
Yes, we should grow.
Yes, we should cultivate those habits that bring us closer to God.
Admitting our need for grace falls into both of those categories. Admitting my dog has fleas frees me from embarrassment, humiliation and shame.
Okay, I’m still a little embarrassed about it but we’re being truthful about it, we’ll treat everything we can, be diligent but also realize that it’s a longer process than we initially thought.
Isn’t that quite the same as dealing with sin?
In the process of coming clean about fleas (or sin), it allows others to share their wisdom with me, and makes it safe to admit they’ve been in my situation because the judgment piece is no longer a factor. If they haven’t been in my situation, maybe they’ve got preventative actions I could learn from. We’re in this together. We are all in this together, after all. We can either pretend we’re not and struggle alone under a burden of perfectionism and/or judgment and shame, or embrace it and support each other’s process of growth.
As for me, I’ll take the latter.
Now everyone out – I’m about to set off this flea bomb.
What is your take on those Very Worst Mom-type posts? Do you think they glorify wallowing in brokenness? And please, if you have any effective strategies to get rid of my dog’s fleas, please let me know!