My son, when he first learned to talk.
Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” As a generally good girl, I spent most of my life trying to pretend to the outside world that this scripture did not apply to me. Sure, I knew my sins, I knew my faults and flaws and bad habits—but I worked very hard to keep them covered up and invisible to outsiders. While I wasn’t obsessed with being perfect, I was pretty preoccupied with convincing everyone around me that I was a good person, that I had my act together and lived righteously.
Then I had a child, and that child learned to speak.
At first, this was exciting. His tiny words were an emblem of parental pride. That is, until he began to speak freely, truthfully, innocently about the truth of his world—and revealing his insider knowledge of my not-so-righteous, not-so-put-together life. Not that there is anything scandalous to disclose, but must he tell that I eat late-night popcorn for dinner way too often? That we often have an affectionately-named “laundry mountain” in our living room, from which one must mine clean underwear without causing an avalanche? About how many ants he counted in the bathroom this morning?
I mean, I am still trying to curate my public image so people think that I have it together. On Facebook, I write a status about the smell of fresh laundry hung out to dry on the line. I post Instagram pictures of delicious home-cooked meals. I share a video of my son and his father playing catch in the front yard. But if you talk to my son, he’ll tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth—which also includes last night’s can of SpaghettiO’s, laundry mountain, and all the times mom and dad chose to watch TV instead of playing catch in the yard.
All have been lazy, cranky and frustrated parents. All have fallen short of Pinterest and Martha Stewart. All have sinned and all have fallen short of the glory of the perfect family.
And our children will be certain to reveal that to the world in ways that make us cringe.
What I am learning, however, is that unleashing my imperfections also unleashes the grace of God. Trying to pretend I had not fallen short (or at least not by very much) was also the pretense that I had no need of God’s grace—or at least not very much of it. Denying my sins and imperfections was also denying God’s grace in my life. I want more grace, not less—which means letting go of trying to appear right and righteous all the time (which was never true) and letting the world see the blessed mess that I really am.
I used to take comfort in the “all” of that Romans verse—that all had fallen short and all had sinned. At least I’m not the only one. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. But I still clung to the ideal of perfection, that even if no one could make it, we were all striving for flawless righteousness.
Now, though, I am learning to cling to the second half of the sentence, found in verse 24: “but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.” It’s not that we all try and fail, it’s that we are all already treated as though we have succeeded, because that’s how grace is. I don’t have to be righteous to be treated as righteous by God. I don’t have to be flawless to receive flawless love and grace. My constant need to appear sinless in the eyes of the world only served to hide the true abundance of that claim. God treats us as righteous, whether we are or not. Why have I spent so much time pretending to need as little grace as possible? Why not let God pour it on with abundance? I am learning to embrace the freedom of living in God’s grace, treated as righteous even though I am not.
It’s a good thing, too—because my son is six now, and shows no signs of shutting up. The teen years await, when he is likely to detail my every fault to friends, teachers and Facebook. Thankfully, I am humbly learning to see that as a gift. I want more grace, not less, right?