This morning has been a should-ing morning. In Brennan Manning's memorable phrase, many Christians spend a lot of time "should-ing" all over themselves: I should have done that, I should be doing this, etc.
Despite a list of things I have done this morning, my thoughts are full of the voice that annoyingly points out all I still haven't done or the things I didn't do well enough, fast enough, kindly enough, thoroughly enough -- and that voice never runs out of critiques.
I decided this morning that every woman spends significant time trying to get away from that voice. The constant criticism, continual picking, snide internal remarks about how someone else of my acquaintance would have done a better job at such-and-such. There are days I'm able to tell that voice to go take a flying leap.
Today has not been one of those days.
When completing a task doesn't lower the volume or quantity of criticism in my head (and in fact, it seems to increase the criticism when I complete something, usually along the lines of "See what you can do if you just make an effort? Why does it take you so long to muster up the energy to get things done?"), just doing something doesn't chase away the blues.
I finally gave up this morning. I surrendered and agreed with my inner critic that I will never be the sort who keeps a spotless house. I will always have more organizing that could be done. I will never keep up with the dog hair or the dust that coats so many surfaces. Much as I might dream otherwise, I do not hold to planning menus and doing grocery shopping for the week so we have healthy, home-cooked meals that fit snugly in a beautiful budget plan.
I dragged my feet to devotions this morning. If I'm already feeling down and compressed by criticism, there's no appeal in spending time listening to how I need to be a better Christian, after all.
Then I found I Thessalonians 3:3-5:
"Not that the troubles should come as any surprise to you. You've always known that we're in for this kind of thing. It's part of our calling. When we were with you, we made it quite clear that there was trouble ahead. And now that it's happening, you know what it's like. That's why I couldn't quit worrying; I had to know for myself how you were doing in the faith. I didn't want the Tempter getting to you and tearing down everything we had built up together."
And 1 Thess. 3:13:
"May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father..."
And 1 Thess. 4:1:
"We ask you--urge is more like it--that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance."
And instead of further criticism, I feel encouraged, like a marathon runner in mile 20 who finally gets to a stand with cups of cold water. I get one to dump over my head and another to gulp quickly as I continue on my way.
The phrase in 3:13 helps me most: "May you be... filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father..." Confidence that I'm not stuck in my shoulds on my own, struggling to extricate myself from commitments I made or tasks still undone, confidence that my Father isn't 'there' but here, with me.
And for a brief window, the inner critic goes away (or I just don't care what it's saying) and I remember it's supposed to be 75 today. Perhaps my daughter, dog and I can take a short walk in that sunshine. And the laundry? I'm thankful it's clean. It can be folded and put away another time.