“You know,” she insisted. “You have more space than you think.”
It’s funny how that particular afternoon in October came rushing back to me on this bone-cold January morning, looking for a mug. My mother-in-law had come to stay , and we were giving her the tour of our apartment, ending in the kitchen. Before really deciding to say them, I heard the words pop out of my mouth– “It’s small and a little messy, but we like it.”
Before my mouth ran ahead of me, my hands had been telling the stories. I had reached to show her the happy heart teapot she had gifted us, in a place of honor above the microwave. We showed her warm piles of blankets, our polka-dotted wedding bowls, and the vintage prints we had hung with such care. Through all of this, her hands had hovered over the honey cabinets. She replied to my tumble of anxious words with those few nuggets of truth, You know, you have more space than you think.
After living in several places, I’ve realized that it doesn’t actually matter how much space I have. You can give me a shoebox or a mansion, and it’s probably going to be about 25% unorganized at any given time. Maybe more, depending on how much I’ve put on my plate.
Of course, I never have the fullest plate. And 25% is never the messiest house.
Since we had weekend dates and at least had a spot for everything we own, I didn’t want to seem unhappy on that October day. But a fully marked calendar and coffee-stained mug in the sink told a story of chaos bubbling under the surface. While I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, I didn’t want to seem like this was my idea of having it all together, either. My mind raced ahead again– You think this is nice? It is, of course it is. But just wait, I can do even better than this. Cleaner, bigger, more together. We like it now, but we’re not done. You just watch me and wait.
It’s that silent “watch me” that leads to the cycle of performing and apologizing. Performing to out-do whatever I last did, and apologizing when I can’t keep up with the constant marathon of higher expectations. Sometimes these are with friendships or work, and sometimes they’re with something as silly as a disorganized stack of tupperware lids in front of my mother-in-law.
When you live in a state of constantly apologizing for things that aren’t perfect, you are really just refusing to allow gratitude to take root.
I’m not the fusion of Martha Steward and California Closets, and that was never the problem. My problem is a misunderstanding of how to freely give and receive the grace of thanks. I felt that I had to acknowledge how far I still had to go instead of accepting and giving thanks for the present. Why do I do that? Thankfulness is not complacency. Gratitude is not lazy, or unproductive, or messy. You can freely say, “this is who I am right now and I love her” instead of saying, “this is who I will be tomorrow and you’ll love her even more.”
You don’t need to apologize for your mess, or your tupperware lids. Psalm 103:13-14 states in such a beautiful phrasing that “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” If your father has compassion on you, you can certainly extend that compassion to yourself, free of expectations and obligations. “He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” is such a grace-giving line. He knows everything about you, and you are already enough. “He remembers that we are dust” is Him intimately knowing every human limit, and releasing us from the pressure to be perfect.
You are imperfectly human but perfectly loved, and that is more than enough just on its own. In that truth I better understand her words, You have more than you think.
Thinking of that October morning, I feel like I’d change my response if it happened again today. I’d keep telling stories with my hands, and keep my head of expectations silenced under the joy those blankets and bowls represent. I’d smile and touch those cabinets and say, “You know, I really love this place and these people, and you’re absolutely right.”