We are about 1 week into serious social distancing and today is absolutely kicking my butt. It’s Sunday, and my husband worked together with a lay minister, two musicians, and three volunteers to livestream a worship service for the first time. I was excited to support him and to join our faith community, family, and friends all over the country—as well as Christians all over the world—online, to praise God and proclaim God’s love. To be honest, I was also excited to worship in my most comfortable clothes, with our 15-month-old playing happily with his own toys in his own space, free from the guilt I feel when he distracts people on Sunday mornings at our church.
Free from the need to constantly manage his behavior: keeping him from touching outlets that aren’t covered, from banging toys on 120-year-old, recently-refinished hardwood floors, from escaping the nursery and making a beeline for the pulpit to see Dada, etc. I got everything all set up, and we were all in excellent moods (including our cat, our dog, and the cat we are keeping temporarily for a friend).
Ten o’clock rolled around, and…
All hell broke loose.
The guest cat got up on the kitchen counter, skirted the barriers we had put in place, and stole our cat’s breakfast. Our dog, safely contained within the toddler fence, went on high alert, barking and whining, because she could tell the cats were not happy. The live-stream froze every couple minutes, possibly due to our internet, which frequently craps out on us multiple times a day, or perhaps due to our laptop only running in S mode (whatever the heck that means, it was cheaper than the other options, so there we are). The toddler wants milk, and then a snack, and then up on the couch, and then down on the floor, and then up in the recliner, and then this toy in his lap, no not that one, THIS one, NO not this one, THAT one, and then he wants to touch the tv, the laptop, the phone, the router, the laptop again…
All in all, I had to re-boot the worship service at least 20 times, and after 47 minutes I just plain gave up. This was so much harder than worship at church. I collapsed in tears, staring at my husband’s blurry, frozen face, stopped in the middle of explaining I-have-no-idea-what, his Bible open in his left hand, with his right hand gesturing as if to say “This! This is important!” I know it is, honey, I know.
I looked over at my toddler, who was staring back at me, perplexed. I told him I was sad because I couldn’t get the tv to work. I couldn’t seem to stop crying, so I went over to him and invited him in for some snuggles. He assented for about 30 seconds, which was a minor miracle, to be honest. But then he pulled back, grimacing, probably still not sure what was happening and why his mama’s face looked so different. Then he hit me. An open hand, right to the neck. And again, and again, as I tried to stay calm and tell him not to hit because it hurt. Finally, I put him on the floor, and he laid down and cried as if I had hurt him, instead of the other way around.
The day just never seemed to recover. It was just a million little moments like that, all day long. What am I supposed to learn from this? Why am I struggling so much? Yesterday was fine. Better than fine, even, it was great. What made today, the Lord’s day, seem somehow unredeemable? No, it’s not the day that feels unredeemable, it’s me.
The reason this hurts so much is because all of these little moments make me feel like I’m failing. Over the last week, social media has served as a great means for me to feel more connected with people who are distant from me. Today, it served as a means for me to feel like everyone else is doing a better job than I am. I saw picture after picture of families at their best: doing crafts, worshipping from their couches, going for hikes, cooking and baking together, happily snuggling, being silly and spontaneous. I did not see any pictures of parents falling apart, like I did. I did not see any status updates in which parents admitted that they don’t have it all together right now. I also didn’t post anything like that myself.
As an Enneagram 1, the lie I tell myself is that my worth comes from doing things right. I am a good Christian if I attend and enjoy live-stream worship. I am a good mom if I stay calm and loving when things get hard, and when my child’s demands exceed my capacity. I have to do things right, or else. The “or else” seems too frightening to even name. It would mean things falling apart, me falling apart, my worth bottoming out like the stock market right now. It would mean people being disappointed in me. I would lose their love. I would lose God’s love.
Yeah, it gets dark, fast.
The answer comes when I recognize the lie for what it is, and recognize God for what God is.
God is not a scorekeeper, awarding 10 out of 10 to my facebook friend whose kids happily colored biblical illustrations for at least 30 seconds today, and a 2 out of 10 for me, because I broke down repeatedly, just like my faulty internet connection.
God is the source of love and forgiveness. We hear this message repeatedly from the biblical authors. In the Old Testament and the New Testament, people recorded their assurance that God would forgive them for any sins, any wickedness, any unrighteousness, anything at all. Often, the message of forgiveness is paired with a message of repentance. Repentance means we acknowledge our sin and turn toward God. Repentance means remorse: I see my fault, I’m sorry acted upon it, please help me not to do that again. By repenting, I am acknowledging that I can’t earn my worth by being perfect. I am incapable of doing everything right. I need God.
The lie I tell myself is that my worth comes from doing things right. God’s answer to that lie is “No, it doesn’t. Your worth comes from being you. You were fearfully and wonderfully made in my image, without having to do any work at all.”
God loves me when I mess up, and when I don’t have it all together.
God loves me when I am at the top of my game.
God loves me when I say I’m sorry.
God loves me when I haven’t yet realized that I need to say I’m sorry.
God loves me, and came to the world in the form of Jesus Christ, and gave everything for my sake.
God loves you, and came to the world in the form of Jesus Christ, and gave everything for your sake, too.
In this pandemic, I need to let God love me, just as I am. I hope you’ll join me. There are no membership requirements or score cards. There’s just the love of God, drawing us in and forgiving our sins.
Written by Janelle Ohlemiller.
Janelle Ohlemiller is a mom, clinical social worker, and Provisional Deacon in the United Methodist Church in Indiana.
A thirty-something wife, mother and educator who has Indiana roots and a passionate spirit. Chelsea is a sappy romantic, coffee junkie, book collector, and person who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s sarcastic, full of jokes, full of tears, and enjoys writing most when life gets messy or complicated. In 2017, Chelsea's mother passed away. Through her grief journey, she decided to take her mother’s advice and share her writing with the world. One day she gained the courage to honor her mother's wishes and write. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made.