Finding my 'inner gypsy'
The initial prescribed and required introduction and salutation at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is: ‘Hi, my name is … and I am an alcoholic.’
This personal recognition and acknowledgement is crucial in the first step to self-awareness and the path to freedom from an addiction. The façade is shattered and there is nowhere left to hide. The humble realisation that you have a problem and need help is publicly exposed.
You may well be wondering at the seeming ‘disconnect’ between my title and introduction. The connection is simply this: ‘Hi my name is Leanne and I am a control freak.’
My addiction or tendency is not towards the temptation of alcohol, but rather towards being controlling.
This is my natural inclination; my sinful bent; my default.
It resulted in the inevitable and never-ending cycle of control, perfectionism, overachieving, unrealistic expectations, worry, stress and panic. The simple metaphor of the mouse on its wheel.
It may be that my control tendency became more exaggerated after the death of our 8 year old daughter in 2004. Despite the fact that her death was out of my control, subconsciously I began to try to control all I could with my remaining children, as though somehow I could prevent ‘bad’ things happening to them. It is hard to know where these tendencies originate.
From a worldly perspective I could have been the poster girl marketing tool for keeping psychologists in business.
And as with most sinful tendencies or patterns of behaviour, they need to be pointed out to you.
This happened a few years ago when our home was abuzz with the dynamic and blessing of three teenagers.
‘Micromanager’ was my self-appointed title; my job description as a mom.
In the business world, a micromanager gives excessive supervision to employees. A micromanager is all about performance management of employees and yet my husband and children were not my employees.
Teenagers and husbands don’t take kindly to being micromanaged. They don’t appreciate constantly being evaluated and critiqued on their performance.
The gentle, yet painful, inevitable and necessary rebuke came.
Proverbs says, ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend,’ and in this case that friend was my husband. (Go figure). The rebuke was simple and yet like a sword it pierced my heart: ‘Leanne, you are trying to control everything and everyone. You are miserable, I am miserable and the kids are miserable.’
The words from Proverbs 31:25, ‘She laughs at the days to come,’ were not inscribed above our doorpost or on my heart. How could they be? I was too busy worrying about and trying to control the days to come.
I could no longer hide behind the façade of well-rehearsed justifications and the deceptive rationalisation and crutch that ‘this is just who I am.’
And so began my slow and painful journey to finding my ‘inner gypsy.’
This is not about a fashion statement or an attempt to change my wardrobe; rather it is a road to travel, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to change my heart. It is my own personal application of Psalm 139:23-24: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts and see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting’
This bumpy and slowly travelled road of self-awareness is, by God’s grace, certainly resulting in a happier, calmer and more harmonious home.
Just to be clear – ‘inner gypsy’ is not Biblical terminology - but for me, it has come to represent a personal Biblical mind-set when it comes to impacting my roles as a wife and mother.
It has come to reflect a personal ‘letting go’ of my tendency to ‘hold on so tightly’ to my personal expectations and control freak tendencies.
It is my personal and poetic interpretation of Proverbs 3:5-6: ‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight’
The timing to begin finding my ‘inner gypsy’ providentially coincided with my journey into understanding what it truly means to live by grace.
I understood I was saved by grace alone; there was nothing I could do to earn or merit my salvation, but I believed the subtle lie that I needed to perform to keep my salvation. It is the freeing understanding of grace that has transformed my heart and my parenting practices.
It has become the start to me ‘laughing at the days to come.’
So, probably much to the chagrin of gypsy philosophy, I have come up with a 4 step personal programme to finding my ‘inner gypsy.’ (But I think they will forgive me).
Step #1 Be faithful…not faultless:
Perfectionism is a hard and relentless taskmaster. Perfectionism is a mirage and elusive. Perfectionism was my ‘one weakness.’ (For those of you familiar with the BBC period drama series, ‘Lark Rise to Candleford,’ you will recognise this phrase from Dorcas Lane.)
What does a ‘perfect home’ look like? It doesn’t.
What do ‘perfect children’ look like? They don’t.
Perfectionism is vanity; a striving after the wind. Perfectionism makes you a scrutineer, a critic and a judge. It frustrates and demoralizes those around you. They will never be good enough. They will never meet up to your ‘perfect’ standard.'
I was under the false illusion that if I just did everything ‘perfectly,’ my kids would turn out ‘perfectly.’
‘It would be against God’s character to give us a promise that our children will be saved if we raise them in a certain way. That would mean that he was telling us to trust in something other than Christ and his grace and mercy.’ (Elyse M. Fitzpatrick)
And so I needed many days of imperfection, weakness and failure to point me to the Gospel and the good and hopeful news of the only perfect One, Jesus Christ.
Instead of hiding my weakness, I needed, like Paul, to rather boast in my weakness. My posture needed to be one of humble dependancy and prayerfulness, resting in grace and Christ’s complete work on the cross for me instead of perfectionism. That is when my children see the beautiful truth of the cross and what it achieved and that performing will not earn them God’s grace and unconditional love.
If I don’t believe this, teach this and model this, my children won’t not see this.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 25:33 are comforting and assuring; ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’
God commends and rewards us on our faithfulness, not our perfections, outcomes and results.
‘God loves us so much that he crushed his Son so that we might be His and that this love isn't based on our worthiness or performance. His love doesn't fluctuate from day-to-day. It was settled the moment he set it upon you before the foundation of the world.’ (Elyse M. Fitzpatrick)
We are called to be faithful, not faultless. So pursue people, not perfectionism.
Step #2 Step aside…don’t always step in the gap:
This is where the micromanager rears her ugly head. She always thinks she needs to intervene. She plays the ‘fairy godmother’ come to fix everything and right everything. She trusts in her own power. (But we know what happens at midnight!)
To varying degrees this may be vital and necessary when your children are little. But when your children hit their teens, this should change to equipping rather than enabling. It is always about trusting in God and not yourself.
The heart of a mother never changes,
but the way she expresses her heart must change.
A mother’s heart loves passionately, it protects fiercely and it nurtures constantly. A mother is her children’s greatest defender. But as her children grow and mature, she needs to start doing this from the side-lines.
Intervening and interfering in every little battle, crisis or issue in your children’s lives doesn’t allow them to implement their convictions, test their worldview or look to God for help. We are always there, stepping in the gap. It doesn’t help them grow. It keeps them dependant on us and becomes a stumbling block to their dependence on God.
Wisely knowing when to step aside results in them coming to us for our wisdom and counsel. It creates opportunities to apply God’s wisdom to their situations. It creates opportunities for us to share about our broken world and our sinful hearts and to point to our Holy God and His Gospel of grace and our need of a Saviour. It creates opportunities for us to pray with them and for them.
This is when we can share the promise of 2 Corinthians 12:9, ‘And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness."Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’
It points them to a big God where our help comes from.
‘I did my best parenting by prayer. I began to speak less to the kids and more to God. It was actually quite relaxing.’ (Elyse M. Fitzpatrick)
So it is starting to know when to step aside and to allow the Holy Spirit to step in the gap. This is one of the hardest things for moms to do - but it is one of the most rewarding as we begin to see God at work in surprising and unexpected ways.
Step #3 Be about encouragement…not expectations:
Expectations of our children come in various boxes all tied up with matching bows. There are social expectations, academic expectations and behavioural expectations. Then there are the expectations we as mothers have of ourselves that we believe others have of us.
It is all about keeping up appearances. That is a heavy burden to bear and the result is we are easily disappointed. Our children become easily discouraged. The message they hear is that our love and affirmation are conditional on performance that ticks all our boxes.
It all becomes about about plotting instead of planning.
We become masters of manipulation.
This lesson was illustrated to me when I realised that my free-spirited daughter did not fit in my box. She did not even have a box! We were at loggerheads. Why couldn’t she just do things my way? It would make my life so much easier, or so I thought. Holding on tightly to my way just crushes and strangles.
My moment of epiphany came when I realised that her 'English country garden personality,' with rambling flowers of all colours and crooked paths was just as beautiful as my ordered and symmetrical French garden world, with boxed hedges, topiaries and matching shades of green purple and white.
Both are beautiful. Both reflect our image-bearing design.
Because of her, my world is more colourful and because of me, her world is slightly more ordered.
Embracing this and speaking words of encouragement to my children instead of expectations makes them blossom and grow and truly enriches our home.
I have had to daily practise the disciplines of Ephesians 4:29: ‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear,’ and Colossians4:6: ‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.’
Speaking kind words that build up and encourage changes the entire posture of the hearer and builds rich and meaningful relationships. Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 18:21 that ‘death and life are in the power of the tongue.’
‘She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue’ (Proverbs 31:26)
So we get rid of the boxes of worldly and personal self-interest expectations we have of our children and create an atmosphere of encouragement in our homes.
Step #4 Be amazed at God…not apathetic about God
It is easy, if you have control freak tendencies, to have a distorted view of God; to make God out to be one dimensional – an angry God who is out to punish you if you don’t perform or do your duty.
You love God but you don’t seem to delight in Him. Discontentment often rules because things aren’t going the way you planned. You tend to think you need to be the fourth person of the Trinity in the lives of your children and husband. As my husband has often asked, ‘Since when does the Holy Spirit need a personal assistant?’
Parenting with grace requires a high and glorious view of God.
It means making God beautiful in the ordinary and the mundane. It will be evidenced in your humble and high view of God and His wonder, majesty and awe. Your mouth will want to rush forth with speech that delights in who God is and what He has done.
You will share His daily providences and rest in His sovereignty. You will rely on His promises and treasure His Word.
I need to admit my weaknesses, imperfections and failures to my
children and point them to a big picture God.
That is when Gospel seeds are planted. That is kingdom work. That is when precious conversations happen with your children. Those moments of opportunity abound. They happen as you travel together, as you eat together, as you shop together, as you walk together and as you listen to each other.
‘By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established.’ (Proverbs 23:4)
Christlikeness needs to overcome my critical controlling tendencies.
As a recovering control freak mom, my heart is in the right place, but I end up overdoing the right thing and smothering instead of mothering. Finding my ‘inner gypsy’ is my way of depending on God to change my heart habits.
As I look to my perfect Saviour, slowly my perfectionism fades, my expectations are replaced with encouragement and there is freedom in being faithful.
This will, by God’s grace, result in ‘her children rising up and calling her blessed and her husband praising her.’ (Proverbs 31:28)
And if all else fails, there is always the Irish wisdom from the movie ‘Leap Year’ when Declan tells Anna, from Boston, who is on a schedule and has to control everything: ‘Just put them it in the wash, they’ll be grand.’
I am a recovering control freak. I belong to God whose father heart is so patient with me. My husband and children, too, are gracious, patient and forgiving.
As I wander on this journey to finding my ‘inner gypsy,’ I realise how important the destination is.
I am a stranger and alien on this earth as ‘my citizenship is in heaven, and from it I await my Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Philippians 3:20)