This week I am writing on the idea of “Lose Who You’re Not” from the book “Exhale” by Amy Carroll & Cheri Gregory. In the introduction of this section, the authors suggest that incorrect beliefs about ourselves can weigh us down and hold us back. I know that has been true for me.

When my youngest son, Josh, was five or six years old, he made a request that began to point me to some incorrect beliefs I held about myself. Josh is an independent, strong-willed child who pushes my buttons faster than I would ever have thought possible. Perhaps you can relate to this parenting predicament.

Since he was tiny, when I was exasperated with him, I would “lovingly” refer to him as a mess. After I said it, I would often buffer it by saying, “but you’re my mess”. Sometimes I would simply spell it while shaking my head. M. E. S. S. When he was still quite young, I would tell him he was a mess and Josh would spell it back to me. M. E. S. S. And I would laugh.

But then came the day that Josh asked me not to call him a mess anymore. And when I asked him why he wanted me to quit using that word, I thought he was going to tell me something like he was getting too big. Or it made him feel like a baby. Instead, he said something I don’t think I will ever forget. He spoke quietly but firmly and said because I’m not a mess.

Yeah, it kind of tore me up. I’m sure you already know I don’t call him a mess anymore. Because Josh is not a mess. Not even in his messiest moments, you know? And it got me thinking how often I have considered myself a mess. I still call myself a mess fairly often when I realize I am falling short of my desired goal of near perfection. Perfectionism is proving to be a nasty battle to fight. But I don’t call myself a mess now without recognizing that I need to replace that language with something that holds more self-compassion.

Because I’m not a mess, either. I am imperfect. I am flawed. I am broken in places. I am a work in progress. But I am also a child of God. Created in His image. Saved by His grace. Used in His work. Celebrated by His Spirit. And I don’t think He wants me to call myself a mess anymore than Josh wanted me to continue to call him a mess.

I’m not a perfect parent, but I think Josh and I are going to be okay. He’s pretty tough on me sometimes but I know he loves me. And he knows I love him. And I’ve come to believe that love that is displayed day after day will cover a lot of little mistakes I make along the way.

In the first section of the book “Exhale”, the authors write, every failure offers a lesson. I know that has been true in my own life. And this failure or misstep about calling Josh a mess held in it a big lesson. There was a lesson in how I need to be intentional about understanding what my words communicate to my child. And there was also a seed that God planted in my heart about the importance of what I communicate to myself.

Because actually, I am not a mess. Neither are you.