We already were sick and tired when we had to watch a riot that made us wonder what country we are living in. Then we remembered how many horrible moments we have experienced in the last year and were not so surprised.
Not much has gone like we hoped, and we still have difficult days ahead of us. We have had more than 375,000 COVID deaths in the United States, more than 4,000 in one day last week. Horrible news is streamed to us on multiple devices 24 hours a day.
Many feel like they are not going to make it. Millions have thought about quitting their jobs, while millions wish they still had jobs. We think we should be doing better. We think we should be doing more.
We should have read War and Peace by now. We should have lost weight. We are becoming more like the before picture and less like the after picture.
Why do we watch so much news? Why aren’t we more informed? We have loaded three meditation apps on our phone, and we still do not feel calm. We should figure out a way to do some hands-on volunteering while social distancing. We should give more money away. We are not good enough friends.
We have been through hard times before, but this feels unprecedented. We are in this together, but we are going through it alone. Being a grownup during a pandemic is hard.
Social media makes it hard. Even in the middle of a pandemic, our “friends” think we should be having more fun. They keep posting their best moments, so if we are not dancing every night, we feel bad about our lives. We think we are failing because our lives are difficult.
And yet, the truth is that most of the time we do what we can. The first word of the Christian gospel is not the word of mission, but of grace. We may not feel like winners, but God thinks we are beloved children. We need to cut ourselves some slack, because God does.
“The first word of the Christian gospel is not the word of mission, but of grace.”
We should stop beating ourselves up. So we weigh 5 pounds more than last year. We could work hard and lose the weight, but no one will notice. We have not quit all the things we have been told to quit — “Quit sugar,” “Quit meat,” “Quit bread.” We might find it easier to quit judging ourselves. The comedian Tom Papa says, “So you don’t have the body of an Olympic athlete. Guess what? You’re not an Olympic athlete.”
Lots of couples are being too hard on themselves right now. They remember being a glassy-eyed couple thinking they were Prince Charming and Cinderella, but being together is hard. It is so constant. Some days they feel like Prince Charles and Diana. Then the pandemic shows up and constant becomes relentless. They are locked in small spaces for long periods of time, just like prison. Most couples, even wonderful couples, have shared a few cross words during the last year. Most couples have moments when they imagine not being a couple. Instead of feeling bad that they are not perfect, they might want to be grateful that they have not killed each other.
Lots of parents are being too hard on themselves right now. They have only somewhat accurate memories of the delivery room. Every new parent looks good holding a newborn. They think they are going to be like Andy with Opie, but being a parent is hard work. Some days are great, but some days are not. Then there is a pandemic, and they are stuck in the same house and the parents are supposed to know how to be teachers. Some days they feel like the parents in Home Alone, not sure how they lost their child. Lots of parents have wanted to give up, because it is difficult. Parenting during a pandemic is harder than regular parenting, so they should give themselves some credit.
“Being loved leads to gratitude rather than guilt.”
When Martin Luther was going through hard times, he would sit in his study and recite, almost as a mantra, “I am baptized. I am baptized. I am baptized.” “I am baptized” is another way of saying “I am loved.”
Being loved leads to gratitude rather than guilt. Doing less might be OK for a while. We can live with realistic expectations. Getting through the storm is a reasonable goal.
If we are not happy with ourselves, we should not assume that God shares our opinion. God wants us to stop feeling guilty, care for what is permanent, and be grateful for good days. We have to keep fighting the good fight, but we also need to give ourselves some grace.
Brett Younger serves as senior minister of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. He has written five books, including a new collection of columns published by BNG, Funny When You Think about It: Serious Reflections on Faith. He and his wife, Carol, are parents of two adult sons.