Do or do not do. There is no try.
The first time I went to a Christian recovery meeting for myself -- an important distinction, because I had spoken to Celebrate Recovery groups before I realized I needed to be in one myself -- I was very confused. The Twelve Steps, which provide a practical tool for maturing as a follower of Jesus, are about surrender. They are about letting go. And at the same time, people "in program" will talk over and over again about "working the steps." You have to show up and try.
"So which is it?" I asked the expert on stage. "Is it surrender or is it working?"
"It's both," he said.
The "he" was Dr. Dave Stoop, editor of the Life Recovery Bible and author of over a dozen books. While I was still giving Dr. Dave the stink eye from the pew, another man walked up to me. He said, "Relax. You're way worse off than you think you are. Keep coming back."
For some reason, this made sense to me. That happened about four years ago, and I've been working the steps ever since. I needed the Twelve Steps because I was struggling deeply in some of my relationships, and they taught me to trust God, take a personal inventory of my character defects, hand them over to God, and then let go. As God reveals something I need to work on, I work on it. This approach has improved my life more than I can say; and my husband, who lives with me, agrees.
So Dr. Dave was right. It's both surrender and work.
But some days it feels like more work than others. I'm a worker by nature. I try hard. At everything. I read the books, I listen to the podcasts. I pore over my Bible, and Real Simple and Pscychology Today. I like systems and personality tests, practical tips and spiritual wisdom. I read books on relationships and personal growth. I even wrote one. I try to apply all that I've learned.
And sometimes I get tired of trying.
Elisa Morgan, one of my personal mentors as well as a writer I admire greatly, wrote a book called She Did What She Could Do. Based on the affirmation Jesus gave to the "sinful woman" who washed Jesus' feet with her hair and expensive perfume, Elisa's book is about doing only what you feel called to do and then receiving grace. It's about knowing what to do and when you've done enough. It's one of my favorite books. I heard another woman say that what she wants on her tombstone is that simple sentence: "She did what she could do."
I think my epitaph might be: "She sure tried hard."
Emily P. Freeman writes and speaks on doing what you can in her book The Next Right Thing and on her podcaset (@emilypfreeman), simplifying all the "try harder" noise and just doing the simple right thing before you. I've been on three podcasts recently that all focus on helping women find peace in doing just enough, doing the right things, discerning the right things. Some call it minimalism (@minimalish.desirae), some call it Cultivating the Lovely (@cultivatingthelovely). We're all just trying to find meaning and balance and health and peace -- it's what we talk about when we're together (@girlstalkinglife). We're so earnest, my generation of women -- both mothers and not mothers -- flooded with more information that any other, more choices, more knowledge of how we can get it wrong, but also washed in a tide of voices that say we are enough and need to receive grace.
I listen to them all, and I try to follow them.When they interview me, I try to say something smart and grace-filled. And then some days, I have to turn it all off and watch a movie I know by heart instead. I have to take in no new information, because, ironically, when it comes down to it, that's what we're all writing and talking about: letting go of perfection and accepting that we "did what we could do." We are enough. And also, we're worse off than we think we are, add that's okay too.
So today, I'm on the couch, letting it all go. Or at least, I'm trying to. I'm trying very hard.
P.S. Four years after giving Dr. Dave the stink eye, I'm sharing a stage with him. Dave is a brilliant writer, wise teacher, recovered codependent and devoted follower of Jesus. He has endorsed my book All My Friends Have Issues, and we have been on New Life Live radio together a couple of times. This Saturday, we are both speaking at the West Coast Life Recovery Conference, "Twelve Steps to Happier." Click here for more information.