Living Lightly

Giving Ourselves Grace

Lisa Bronner - give yourself grace

This article is part of a series I began a few years back at the start of every year, focusing on our inner well-being and the intangible toxins that can burden us just as much or more than ones with a molecular structure. For articles from years’ past, see the list at the end. 

How little I knew when I planned several months ago to address this topic in January how much I would be in need of the reminder myself. Little did I know I’d be in a season where I would be needing to practice showing myself grace intentionally every day.  

The adjectival cousin of grace is the word “gracious.” I love this word. It summons to my mind all sorts of imagery of a calm and unruffled demeanor that responds to all circumstances with kindness and compassion. This is the version of grace I’m talking about showing ourselves. Being kind to ourselves, courteous, thoughtful, generous, compassionate.  

I just had surgery for a melanoma on my leg. (PSA – if you, like me, debated in your youthful days whether “sun tan oil” in SPF 4 would block too much sun, go get a skin check.) My daughter has a concussion from an incident at wrestling practice. My son is in the midst of applying to colleges. It’s my third consecutive year of college applications with a kid. It’s not my favorite task. Between bouncing from doctor to doctor, trying to “rest” as prescribed, and helping my son write about himself, which he deplores doing, I’ve been able to do little else. And my washer’s on the fritz. 

So I sit here with my leg up, trying not to count the number of stitches in my ankle (22), and I’m asking myself, “What does giving myself grace look like, especially in this moment?”

Giving ourselves grace means admitting we can’t do everything  

This seems like a lesson a three-year-old struggles to learn, but here I am, many decades later, having to tell myself the same thing. I may not throw a visible tantrum, but there’s definitely an internal battle. The funny thing is, regardless of whether I admit it, I won’t be able to do everything I want to. I’ll run out of time/energy/pain tolerance. And then I’ll be left thinking about all the stuff I didn’t do, and not the stuff I got done. That’s a big ol’ heap of dissatisfaction right there. What I am working on is managing my self-expectations on the front end, anticipating how much I can reasonably do, steering strong towards those goals, and not devolving in a whirling frenzy, trying to shoulder an unrealistic load. I’m still working on this manner of self-grace. I’m not good at it yet. 

Part of my journey to accepting that I can’t do everything I want to involves gaining a better understanding of time. I have a terrible understanding of time. I’m forever holding fast to the idea that more will fit into a given time than is possible. My colleague Darcy calls it a belief in “magic time.” My friend B.B. explained it by saying, “You see that you have five minutes before your party starts, and you think, ‘Let’s make apple butter!’” They’re not wrong. 

So a grace I am working on giving myself is being patient while I learn how long tasks take, placing them in my day in a reasonable manner, and letting go of the delusions of what fits in an hour. I also need to abandon the erroneous premise that nothing will ever go wrong, nothing will ever take more time than I expect, and no unforeseen tasks will arise. I need to build in a little slush time. This will bring me so much more calm, rhythm, even satisfaction as I bask in what I accomplished rather than lament over what I didn’t. This is another work in progress for me. 

Giving ourselves grace means celebrating progress 

Sometimes grace to ourselves involves recognizing, “This may not be perfect, but I’ve made progress.”  We may not be where we thought we’d be, where we wanted to be, whether in our profession, our relationships, our self-improvements, or tonight’s dinner. But berating ourselves for it does nothing to change where we are. Rather, celebrate how far we’ve come, the direction we’re facing, what we’ve accomplished and overcome along the way, then we can take the next step forward.  

Things don’t have to be perfect to be good. Sometimes leaving things “good enough” is the best route of all. Take my house for example. Bear in mind that I write a blog that has a lot to say about house care, but it would likely destroy my relationships with my husband and kids, not to mention my own well-being, if I strived for my house to be perfect at all times. Perfectly clean. Perfectly organized. Perfectly decorated. My relationships and sanity are a higher priority to me than my house. So there’s a point in my house care that I hit “good enough” and that’s good enough. Good enough to be healthy. Good enough to be workable. Good enough to be refreshing and welcoming. 

For many years I was part of a mothers group called MOPS (Now MomCo). One year we all got pins that said, “SDWSC.” She did what she could. Reminders that we can’t do everything, but we can do something. Don’t let what we can’t do stop us from doing what we can.  

Giving ourselves grace sometimes means “grace” is spelled “h-e-l-p” 

One source of wisdom in my life is Charles Mackesy and his book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse. 

“What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy.  

“Help,” said the horse.  

There is no wisdom in declining help when we clearly need it. There is no virtue in going it alone, floundering and thrashing about, when help is readily available. For one thing, it’s inefficient. I hate inefficiency. 

Sometimes help doesn’t look like we expect it to. There’s the story of the man praying for help in the face of an oncoming hurricane. He was trapped in his house as the waters were rising, and he prayed, “God, help me!” Soon he heard a knock on the door, and there was a neighbor in a Land Rover who said, “Get in! I’ll drive you out!” But the man said, “No, God will save me.” Soon the waters rose and flooded the streets and were lapping at his threshold. He prayed, “God, save me!” A moment later, a fireman in a boat come by and said, “Get in!” The man said, “No, God will save me.” Soon the rising waters forced him to the roof. He prayed, “God, save me!” Shortly a helicopter hovered overhead and lowered a ladder to him, but the man waved them off. “God will save me!” The waters kept rising and the house was swept off its foundations and the man died. When he met God in heaven, he demanded, “I prayed to you! Why didn’t you save me?” God said, “I sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter. Why didn’t you get in?” 

Please don’t pull a full theology or worldview out of this narrative but reflect on this point: Sometimes help doesn’t come in the form we expect. Sometimes it doesn’t even come in a form we want. But it is there nonetheless, and we are foolish not to recognize it.  

My friend and now colleague Patty reminds me that when she first suggested she come on board to help me with my work, I turned her down. Mind you, I needed help. I was praying for help, but didn’t know where to find it. Going Green was my thing, but I was overwhelmed with all the details of managing it. But Patty was my friend! Unbeknownst to my conscious self, I had an inner prohibition on friends becoming colleagues. Besides, that would mean letting my friend see my mess. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. Fortunately, wisdom broke through, and Patty keeps everything running smoothly around here, freeing me to focus on my passion which is the writing.   

Giving ourselves grace allows us to be bad at something 

When we first start an endeavor, we’re not going to be very good at it yet. But to have started is a victory! It takes a whole lot of effort to overcome the inertia of inaction. Good on you! It takes courage to be a beginner.  

As I tell my kids, you have to be willing to be bad at something in order to be good at something. Are you willing to be the learner? Are you teachable? Anything is possible if you’re teachable.  

Do you find yourself saying, “But it comes so easily to them!”? We get ourselves into all manner of mud and mire when we compare our behind-the-scenes to other people’s highlight reels. We have no idea what battles they’re fighting, what they’ve overcome, how hard it is for them, or how hard they’ve worked at it, all because we don’t see how hard they’re paddling under the surface. We each have our own journey to make.   

But maybe our prospects for improvement are dim. That’s ok too, so long as there’s some other reason to stick with it. Even if that reason is as simple as it brings joy. For example, I’m a terrible bowler. Really, quite terrible. But I’ll go if you ask me. I love the scene, I love the social, I even love the kookiness of the shoes. So that’s a win for me. And maybe I’ll help someone else not feel so bad because they didn’t come in last. As is said, “Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves for they will never cease to be amused.” 

Giving ourselves grace might mean taking a break  

Patty and I recently found we have the same Sudoku strategy: when we get stuck, set the thing aside and come back to it later. Almost always the next move becomes evident. My guess is that we get caught thinking the path forward must be a certain way and we just can’t pivot to another strategy. We need to go and come back to see a new angle.  

I propose this method is applicable to other tasks where we get stymied. Sometimes grace says, “That’s enough for today.” Take a break. Go do something completely different. Then consider the next move.  

Sometimes a way forward becomes apparent, and you’ll have renewed perseverance to keep plugging away. But another possibility is that the break brings perspective to see that the task doesn’t in fact need to be done. Perhaps the reasons you started aren’t valid anymore, or you realize they never were, and they don’t merit your time and talent. This ties back to my article on decluttering our identities. Sometimes we need to acknowledge that we are not who we once were when we began, or we don’t want what we once wanted. And that’s ok.  

Now I’m going to say something objectionable: it is ok to decide not to finish something. I am not encouraging you to leave a trail of the undone because you got distracted or it got hard. I mean rather to make an intentional decision not to finish something because it is not worth finishing. Finishing would be throwing good time after bad.  

My friend B.B. once astounded me by relating that she gives herself permission not to finish a book. That’s allowed??!! She said a 96-year-old woman named Doris told her, “Life is too short to read bad books.” If you don’t have to read it and you don’t want to read it, then don’t read it. Even if you already started. She said she reads more since she enacted her DNF (Did not finish) policy. Perhaps we would all accomplish more if in the midst of any task we don’t have to do, and don’t want to do, to decide to stop and move on.   

Giving ourselves grace involves acknowledging when things are hard 

We don’t need to pretend things are fine when they’re not. There’s no shame in acknowledging that things are not fine. Ignoring a toughness and hoping it’ll go away only lets it loom larger and linger longer. Instead, name it. Define it. Doing so sets boundaries around it, confining it to the realm it’s in, rather than overshadowing all aspects of life.  

Naming it also helps you to know it and strategize how best to overcome it. Say to yourself, “This is hard. It is hard for this reason.” I’m not talking about complaining or wallowing or hyper-focusing on it, but rather facing it and figuring out the tools to overcome the challenge or learn to navigate it.  

You may even find that specifying what’s hard allows you to connect with others experiencing the same. You can support one another, share ideas, and maybe even laugh together. I’ve been in enough parent groups and professional groups to know that there is always someone else who’s been where we are. However hard or weird or messy, I am certain there’s someone else going through the same thing who thinks they’re the only one.  

And it’s ok for things to be hard. That’s nothing to be ashamed about. Sometimes life is hard for good reasons, sometimes not. Sometimes hard times are times of tremendous opportunity and growth. (Parenthood – I’m looking at you. You’re hard. But good. But hard.) So let’s figure out what tools and resources we need to equip ourselves for whatever hard season we face. 

Giving ourselves grace requires self-forgiveness 

We are going to make mistakes. We are going to go backwards from time to time. It’s part of our shared humanity and part of what connects us to each other and even what keeps us grounded. There’s much to be said for the value of mistakes. We learn from them. They personalize our experience. Some argue they even add value, richness, or meaning to life or art.   

But forgiving ourselves for our mistakes might be the hardest form of self-grace, but I’ll argue the most necessary. Self-forgiveness involves not holding our mistakes against ourselves, allowing ourselves to progress, allowing ourselves to learn. Perhaps we might need to stop and repair something, go back and redo something, but in order to free ourselves to move forward, we must forgive ourselves.   

Giving ourselves grace moves us towards our best selves 

The purpose of grace is to lift the pressing burden of guilt, failure, inadequacy, and disappointment off ourselves so that we can get above the rut and breathe, progress, grow, and in many ways infuse more life into our days. Grace is not an excuse for giving up. It’s not an excuse for resignation. It’s not an excuse for bad short-term decisions that will bite us in the long term.  

Instead, grace is a permission to acknowledge our present state and condition without disparagement. It is permission to give ourselves what we need to be stronger for the next step. It is a permission to do things differently if the current method isn’t working.   

Be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace.  

My articles from previous Januarys: 

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Michael says:

I can identify with a lot of what Lisa struggled with, and I came to many of the same conclusions. I need frequent reminders yet I am making slow progress. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share you experiences. It is comforting to know that you’re not the only one struggling with an issue and there are solutions available!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Michael- I’m glad this article resonates with you. It came out of my own need for frequent reminders – and we need to give ourselves grace for needing them!

Kelly Mercer says:

Lisa- as a mom to a 23 year old poor risk cancer survivor son (living back at home, a daughter soon to graduate college, and one still at home homeschooling (and now a year behind because cancer derailed us)….this is just what I needed to read today!

I used to work at a church, and had to learn “no” and “help”. Now- I’m still not great at either, but grace is enough if we let ourselves feel that.

Years ago, as a young mom, I fired the housekeeper because I didn’t want to clean so she could clean. I was a wreck then too (ha), but got a booklet in the mail that very week from Focus on the Family. It was called “Bless This Mess”. I stuck it plainly on the fridge for all to see. And I knew then that it would all be ok.

Thanks for sharing. I just found your blog as I was searching for more chemical free ideas, and look forward to reading more!


Lisa Bronner says:

Welcome, Kelly! It warms my heart to hear this article found you when it did. May your son have many, many years of good health ahead. Feel free to reach out with any questions in your journey to green living.

About Lisa Bronner

My grandfather was Dr. Bronner, my family makes soap, and I share ways to use it plus tips on greener living.

Learn about my book, Soap & Soul!

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