An Open Letter to the Guilty Among Us…

Dear Moms, Some Dads, Busy People and Anyone-Raised-in-a-Religious-Tradition-that-is-Heavy-on-the-Guilt,

I had an epiphany the other day. In church. Which sounds like exactly what is supposed to happen in church, right? Except maybe not this kind. I already wasn’t in a very churchy state of mind, if I’m being honest. I’d left one particularly huffy child at home – and I’m pretty sure good parenting dictates that you bring the huffy child to church…Pretty sure it was Jesus who said: “Let the huffy come to me”. (I may be paraphrasing, but I think I’m pretty close.) Anyway, Sunday I was in the spot where I didn’t want to deal with the body language and the eye rolling…but I did need some quiet, a little peace, and some music. And so I left all otherwise un-scheduled children to their devices and I went to church. And I sat there – alone. And it was delightful, to be honest, because I could listen. Which is not to say that I did  listen – at least not all the time. But I did my own hybrid version of listening. I doodled. I wrote a poem. I doodled some more. I compulsively – yet surreptitiously – checked the soccer schedule on my watch about 30 times…because I have this weird thing about being late and the schedule kept shifting. And I listened in between. I actually caught a fair bit of the sermon and then, toward the end, I listened to announcements. There are a lot of good people in our community..and most of them need help. That’s because they are doing amazing things. Working for school safety, helping folks through recovery from addiction, building and repairing homes for the disadvantaged, feeding the hungry in our community. Good stuff.

A brief scroll through my Facebook page will show you more good stuff. I have friends who volunteer in the community, rescue abandoned animals, work tirelessly on environmental issues, mentor at-risk youth, raise money for medical research…I could go on…it’s tremendous.

The thing is…they need help. Of course they do. This work is big and important and hard. And big, important, hard work always needs more hands – there is much to be done. And when the bid for help comes – it feels like it’s impossible to say no. “What kind of heartless monster,” you think “says no to SAVING THE CHILDREN??” And so you say yes – even though you’re feeling the pull of 1,000 things and 1,001 seems like it might be just the breaking point. Or you say no – and you wallow in the Pit of Endless Guilt.


My Church-Epiphany is this: You cannot say yes to all the things. Even if they are very, very good things. Even if there is a person you very much respect, standing in front of you, asking you to help them with something they feel passionately about. You might still say no. And if you do? You’re still a good person. (I mean…assuming you were to begin with…;-) (I’m kidding…you were.))

What’s more, You may not be able to say yes to any of the things right now. Maybe you are in a season where you’re raising children and those children just took a turn in the “needs extra attention right now” direction. Maybe you’re taking care of parents, nurturing a relationship, helping a close friend through a difficult season. Maybe you’re in a difficult season. Maybe you’re doing all of that – living in busy seasons and taking care of those around you and trying to shower regularly – maybe you’re doing that in addition to working and trying to take care of yourself. Maybe.

That’s my season, right now. Oh…maybe not all of it. But enough of it. I’m in a season of plenty (of obligations) and a season of trying to find balance. And finding it!! But only for a day or two and then losing it and having to find it again. That season. I’m in the season where I have to give myself permission to say no (which I’m fairly good at) and then…not to waste my time and energy feeling bad about having said no (I fail daily). There were a few of us talking about this season the other night…so I know I’m not the only one. I don’t know if I knew for sure before. Sometimes it seems like those people around me have things all figured out. In my head, it’s…

Look at her life! So shiny! How does she blow out her hair EVERY DAY? I know it’s curly like mine. That’s miraculous!! And…what’s that you say? She just cured a major disease, coaches her kids soccer teams and provides rehabilitation services for baby bunnies??  That’s delightful! She makes everything from scratch and it’s all organic? And her children have already been named Rhodes scholars and chosen for the 2 Olympic teams…even though they’re 4 and 6? And they never talk back?? Good for her! Wow! That’s just..I don’t know how she does it all! So impressive! Now….excuse me while I swing through the Wendy’s drive-through…I need to feed this kid before I drop them off and the dinner hour has taken me by surprise once again…

But no…as it turns out, wine reveals all truths and there are a bunch of us paddling the same boat. If you’re in a season where there are a lot of demands, it may be that you say no for a while. You might say no a lot. The truth is, this is your life and you only get one run.  Those few hours you have left after the family and the job and showering with soap? You get to decide how you use those. You get to set your own priorities. It’s one of the good parts of being a grown up.




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