As a Generation X woman, working mother, clergy spouse, and people pleaser, I’ve often felt the “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” pull inside myself. Every decision from whether to go to law school to whether to offer a pacifier to my baby has felt fraught for, oh, a few decades now. I could blame teen magazines for wanting me to pick my “style”— was I boho chic or preppy cheer? (Answer: I was neither of these.) I could blame advertisers who made it nearly impossible for me to choose a double stroller when I had my second kid (and the people who said accusingly, “you push your baby, away from you, in a stroller?”). As a clergy spouse, I’m still trying to accept that I will never live up to everyone’s expectations of what I’m supposed to be.
But nothing has brought out the self-criticism in me like this pandemic. I’d like to think of myself as a pretty capable person. Most days, pre-March 2020, if I wasn’t feeling like I was crushing it in the parenting/career/wife/balanced person arena, I at least felt like I was keeping my head above water. I was, quite literally, keeping my head above water, swimming about 10,000 meters a month in our community center’s pool. I was working full-time, writing on the side, keeping everybody fed, and even though I rarely made it to book club, I was reading all the books. I don’t know if I felt super-confident about any of it, but I wasn’t thinking about it, which must have meant I was managing.
I had ordered the mandarin oranges from Costco, because they were a reliable source of fruit for my kids, when fresh fruit sources were proving to be unreliable (and, depending on the day and which news source you read, possibly dangerous). I had managed the transition to distance learning for both of my kids. I had made all of the meals and obtained all the ingredients and supplies to make them. I had already had one pandemic-related-freak-out relating to masks. I work from home in an emotionally-loaded field. And I had just spent too much money to have packaged citrus fruit delivered to my door, and now it was a damaged, sticky mess. And so was I.
Inside my head, I gave myself a fight-club style beating. Who did I think I was, ordering fruit online? Couldn’t someone else have used this delivery service? I probably paid too much. I should have gotten more apples when the kind my kids like were available. How did I raise two children with such a narrow palate for acceptable apples? Did I spray down the box enough with disinfectant? Now I’ve wasted disinfectant on a box I’m going to end up throwing away. Why is everything always sticky?
Intellectually, I know this kind of irrational “hitting a wall” is normal and expected. I also know that nothing is normal and expected. I’ve also done enough therapy to call up the image of talking to a beloved friend, or worse, my beloved child, in the way that I was talking to myself, in order to correct this barrage of self-criticism.
What I really needed to hear, though, was the voice of Jesus in my ear. Not saying, “Martha, Martha, you worry about a great many things,” but rather, “Carrie, Carrie, you are forgiven.”
Forgiven for worrying about a great many things. Forgiven for my carbon footprint that expanded when I ordered packaged fruit on the Internet. Forgiven for snapping at myself, for rolling my eyes at my husband, and for ignoring my children. Forgiven for turning off the video feature on Zoom. Forgiven for all the resources we’ve consumed, and forgiven for all the self-congratulation we’ve given ourselves for not consuming other resources. Forgiven for adopting the cat that showed up on our front doorstep, even though it might not have been in our Pandemic Plan, and forgiven even if we hadn’t.
I need to remind myself that not just intellectually, but spiritually, we have never faced a crisis like this, and we are forgiven before we even make these mistakes as we try (and even when we don’t try) to normalize our lives.
To be clear, I don’t think God caused this pandemic to show us our wickedness, to heal the planet, or to bring us closer together. I think God is with us, though, as we clean up sticky messes off of our front porches, as we mourn our dead, as we worry over our living, and as we keep living in this broken world.