I did a dumb thing. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Here’s the thing: I recently told a little white lie to a sweet friend in a thoughtless moment. It was childish, and I felt the weight of guilt immediately. I knew I needed to tell my friend the truth but, due to conflicting schedules, I couldn’t get to her for several hours. The guilt ate at me.
How am I supposed to raise a child when I’m still acting so childish? I cried to my husband, who heard my entire confession almost immediately upon returning home from work. It only snowballed from there, and suddenly I was swimming in a muddied sea of I can’t. I can’t…raise a child, be a trustworthy friend, behave like a responsible adult, etc.
I wasn’t kidding when I said it snowballed.
In his book, Chase the Lion, Mark Batterson tells the story of Pablo Casals, one of the world’s greatest cellists. Casals lived to be 96 years old and, up until his death, was still practicing the cello 3 hours each day. When asked why he still practiced so frequently at nearly 100 years old, Casals said, “I’m beginning to notice some improvement.”
Reading that makes me laugh and sigh and breathe a little deeper. When we think we’ve “arrived,” that’s probably a sign that we’re not there yet. We’ll always have room to grow, mature, and improve—even when we’re 96! Any other perspective not only keeps us from being human-sized (we’re not perfect!), but it limits us to a standard we’d probably be able to exceed if we viewed ourselves as always being a work in progress.
The night of my little white lie that lead to big paralyzing guilt, I spent some time imagining what my baby girl will be like as she practiced some roundhouse kicks on my insides. I envisioned her as a child, running around in a little dress with bright blonde pigtails. And then I added myself to the picture, parenting her—except I, too, was a little girl running around in a dress with bright blonde pigtails. Why? Because I felt childish and vulnerable that night, after having behaved so poorly. And, because I think there’s a little bit of truth to that vision.
In many ways, I am a young girl who will be leading a young(er) girl. I’m following in the footsteps of those who have parented me and taught me. They didn’t do it alone, of course—they were on their own path, being guided by the parents, teachers, and mentors who guided them. None of us, whether a parent, a teacher, or a child, has arrived; we’re constantly growing into who we will be, even when we’re 96 years old with a penchant for the cello.
I will never forget the first time I saw one of my elementary school teachers outside of the school. Somehow I was convinced that teachers lived in the school and didn’t have a first name. It was earth shattering when I saw Ms. Strum (Jackie?!) in the school parking lot, getting out of her car (she has a CAR?!). The entire scene was so shocking that it’s etched deeply into my memory. If my teacher has a car, a home outside of her classroom, and a FIRST NAME, then maybe she has marked an answer wrong or has been called out for talking when she shouldn’t be. Can she be my teacher and AN ENTIRE HUMAN BEING all at the same time!?
Maybe we can be human-sized (read: imperfect) teachers and parents and cellists. Maybe—dare I say it—we can actually be better parents because we sometimes tell little white lies and then remember what it’s like to feel guilty, ashamed, and remorseful. It could be that in knowing we can both lead and be led, we will be reminded of the permission we have to be real and imperfect people. We can be people who are teachers, but not only teachers. We can be cellists who play for the President and who have to practice for hours each day. We can be parents who do dumb things.
It’d be nice if I could pull myself together in the next 8 weeks so I can parent my daughter flawlessly. Perfection, however, isn’t the point. I’m going to lead her while being led myself, because that’s the best I can do. I’m going to screw up, feel guilt, and practice repentance. I’m going to drive a car and have a first name and, if I’m lucky, I’ll make it to my 96th birthday with a bit of confidence that I’m really starting to notice some improvement.