I made a church lady gasp in disbelief. And I admit I liked it. Occasionally, I wonder if I should be confessing a sin for delighting in her astonishment and discomfort. Three years later, I still giggle in amusement at our encounter. It was a significant moment in my fledgling recovery and journey to wholeness that I gleefully celebrate. Because sometimes setting boundaries and saying “No” with a church lady can be just as daunting as with a husband addicted to pornography.
Three months into our recoveries from my husband’s sex addiction and intimacy anorexia, our church’s youth group held a soup and pie fundraising luncheon. Every year, I dutifully supplied my contribution to the event. One year, I brought a pot of chili and called it chili soup. I have never been mistaken for a soup connoisseur, but I was always obliging.
But this year was different. All my energy was being consumed by my efforts to claw my way through the devastating effects of sexual betrayal trauma. Knowing that I would be anxious all week about whether I could classify chili as soup again, or if I needed to recklessly attempt an unproven recipe, or when I would have time to hastily create a culinary masterpiece, added a stress and burden that needlessly overwhelmed me. I decided to be kind to myself and forego bringing anything but myself to the lunch. I was learning and practicing self care.
That Sunday after the church service, as we waited for lunch to begin, I was provided with my next opportunity to practice the skills I was gaining through my recovery program.
Resulting from a life time of low self esteem, it was always my natural inclination to silently blend into the setting around me attracting as little attention as possible. Avoiding eye contact was essential, lest it seem like an invitation to acknowledge my presence and commence an awkward conversation. And yet, somehow that day, I saw The Church Lady approaching and I could not hide or stop the dread and unease from forming.
She probably said hello, and engaged in small chit chat, but all I remember is the alarming question: “What did you bring?”
“Nothing.” I replied.
My answer clearly confused The Church Lady. She looked at me incredulously, and then asked me again, (in case I didn’t hear her properly?), “You didn’t bring anything?!?”
So, I said again, “Yes, nothing.”
And then she waited expectantly for me to say more. To explain my negligence to her. I didn’t. I watched her squirm a little. I wish I could say I wasn’t squirming too, but I was. I had never opposed a church lady before. I was proud of myself for not offering a lame excuse.
At the time, I was certainly not going to tell her the real reason. But afterwards, my amusement grew at what might have happened if I had.
“Well, I didn’t make any soup because:
I am trying to navigate through the aftermath of my husband’s sex addiction.
All my time and energy is being used to heal my shattered heart and broken marriage.
I have no appetite to eat, so cooking food would just upset me and make me nauseous.
I can’t sleep at night, so getting dressed and going to work is my day’s accomplishment.
I thought the addition of my tears to the broth might make the soup too salty.”
And then I imagine God standing behind The Church Lady laughing and giving me a wink. I know, I just know, that my Abba Daddy delights in the stretching, growing and healing we are doing together. In all my relationships. In all areas of my life. Healing and wholeness reaches far beyond the confines of my marriage and home.
What may seem like the tiniest of baby steps, or not even a step at all, was actually a risky, giant leap over the gaping pit of my insecurities, fears, and feelings of worthlessness. I celebrate that on that day, I glimpsed myself through God’s eyes and I was enough just as I was. No matter what measuring stick I, or anyone else held. It was a victory for me to be able to sit and be still in my season of rest and healing, and ignore the outside clanging trying to distract me from my purpose. From God’s purpose.
Self care and extending grace and kindness to ourselves is essential to mending a wounded heart. As lovely and refreshing as gifting ourselves a pedicure, bubble bath or flowers can be, self care goes deeper than that. Self care is setting boundaries to protect and guard our heart and mind. It is learning to say “No” to others, and to ourselves. It is learning that “No” is a complete sentence and requires no justification or explanation. Self care is listening to that still, small voice that prioritizes how, and with whom, you will share the limited and valuable resource of your time. For me, that changes from day to day, and from week to week.
I am gaining the ability, and granting myself permission, to acknowledge and accept my limitations at any given time. Finding a balance is healthy, not selfish. One time I might say, “No, I cannot bring a pot of soup.” Other times I offer an alternative that will work for me, “But I could pick up some buns.” And sometimes I say, “Yes, I would love to help in that way.” Regardless of what my answer is, it has become an intentional decision which frees my heart from anxiety, bitterness, resentment and the stealing of my peace and joy.
I choose to celebrate every baby step. Every accomplishment and act of courage. They have all added up and joined to become beautiful stepping stones on my winding path to healing and recovery.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7