"Grace cannot prevail until...finally and for good, our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score has run out of steam and collapsed."~Robert Farrar Capon
I was the queen of scorekeepers. I never entered a room that I didn't subconsciously compare myself to everyone there. Was someone prettier? Was someone smarter? Was someone more gracious? More fun? More popular? Only be feeling in some way superior could I feel good enough. Which left me feeling almost consistently diminished.
I also kept score with my husband. Who did the dishes? Who spent more time with the kids? Who ensured that a good meal was on the table each day? Who made sure our children ate from all of the food groups? For each of these things, I gave myself a mental checkmark – a subconscious assurance that I was the superior mate.
I sound insufferable, don't I?
I wasn't. At least not constantly. Much of the time I was open-hearted and loving. Much of the time, I was appreciate of his contributions to our family. But I cannot deny that there were periods of time – sometimes long periods of time, especially when my three kids were young – that my score-keeping fed a hunger for superiority that bred resentment and disappointment. Hardly the hallmarks of a healthy partnership.
And then! Then, when I discovered my husband's affair (followed by his confession of an entire double life), I was left with little choice but to declare myself morally superior. I was practically a saint. I would never EVER do what he had done.
It was only when I began to really unpack the psychology of affairs, to dig deep into the whys of affairs in general and my husband's cheating in particular, that I began to challenge my own conviction that my moral compass was somehow less subject to movement. I began to wonder if, raised by the same cold judgemental mother that my husband was, raised in the same guilt-and-shame-infused home, I might have made the same choices he did. Might I have sought escape as he did? Might I have developed the same unhealthy addiction to emotionless sex?
I was willing to admit it was possible.
And within that admission, grace took root. Grace, says Ann Lamott, "meets you right where it finds you, but it does not leave you where it found you. It moves you toward breath; moves you towards things being a little bit better: wow. Grace WD-40. Grace is water wings. Grace makes you shake your head with wonder, and laugh and cry."
Grace allowed me to unclench my jaw. To unhitch my shoulders from my ears. To smile.
But mostly grace allowed me to see my husband, not as some inferior creature, lucky that I was magnanimous, but as someone on the same journey as I but filled with pain and confusion that he barely recognized let alone knew how to handle. Grace allowed me to see him with compassion. Which – and this is the incredible part – allowed me to see myself with compassion.
I'm far better at silencing that critic in my head that compares myself with everyone else and mentally ticks off the score. I'm no better or worse. Just different. And lucky me! I get to live my life according to my value system, not anybody else's. Lucky you because you get to do the same.
And within that value system, there's room for mistakes. My own, my husband's, my children's. We learn from them. We do better next time. We shake our heads – often – with wonder, and laugh, and cry.
(I'm leaving the country for a few weeks for a vacation with my family. We're heading to Italy to play, explore and EAT. I will have only sporadic access to Internet so please be patient if your comments take a few days or more to be posted. I'll be back in September. In the meantime, hang tough my warriors.)