“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”
Today, I’m sharing a tool I use in my house to keep up with the cleaning and organization. How is this relevant to my writing? Because I think the way I go about my small, daily tasks is an outflow of my heart just as much as my words are.
Keeping up with my house is an area where I struggle with a lot of condemnation. I don’t tend to see the successes; I see the failures, the not-enoughs, the comparison with others, the perfect Pinterest boards. Anyone else in the same boat?
A few months ago, I read through Emily Ley’s awesome book, Grace Not Perfection.
One of my biggest take-aways was her challenge to be careful of how I am speaking to my own heart. If harsh criticism isn’t effective at motivating other people, it’s not effective when I turn it on myself, and it endangers my interactions with others, even when they’re not the target.
Ultimately, I can want to be a kind and patient and gentle person, but my treatment of other people flows out of the thoughts of my heart. If those thoughts are constantly irritable, critical and harsh, that tends to be what spills out on others. I can’t be one person toward myself and another toward everyone else. Who I am on the inside will show up on the outside, no matter what my goals are.
Emily Ley quoted Galatians 5:13-14:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use that freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
She went on to say, “If I loved and nurtured my neighbor (or my children) the same way I care for myself sometimes, I wouldn’t be doing any of them a whole lot of good.”
The statement floored me. I am the exact same.
As I mulled it over, the concept formed into a question:
If I spoke to another person the way I’m speaking to myself right now, would it be loving?
This question is something God has been using to help me sort through how I speak to myself. It helps me discern which thoughts are from Him and which aren’t.
I’ve started to see that, a lot of the time, I am exaggerated, cruel and thoughtless in the way I describe myself, talk to myself, and even in the way I try to spur myself forward. I tend to think that I need to be harsh, that I need to beat myself up, that I need to be afraid of some terrible result, in order to be motivated; but that thinking is not honoring to Him.
Our hearts are designed to receive gentleness and respond to encouragement. Confidence and the willingness to try are nurtured, not beat into people. And I am no different.
If, instead, I am kind, gracious, and loving toward myself when facing a struggle or a failure, I perform better than when I am hard on myself, plus I have that same encouragement to offer toward others when they need it. Anger and disappointment with myself leave me drained, but I am finding that choosing kindness toward my own heart is one of the most loving things I can do for other people, because it produces the emotional margin I need to pour into them.
So maybe the first step in “serving them with humility” is to tend to the unkindness on the inside. It is pride that fuels my relentless demands and exaggerated reactions. It is pride that screams “I expected so much more of you!!!” But Christ calls me to humility, and humility accepts grace.
The way God deals with me and the way He asks me to deal with others is not harsh or critical. So if that’s how I’m speaking to myself, it’s not because I’m following His lead. Little by little I’m starting to see that God does not ask me to treat anyone like that, not even myself.
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
Don’t use foul and abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth…
For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts, and knows all things.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
For from His fullness, we have all received grace upon grace.
…bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…
After pondering these verses, I started asking myself:
When you speak to yourself, are you unkind? Are you abusive? Is it helpful?
I realized that I need to consider more than just fear tactics to get myself to do the right things.
I thought about when others have come graciously alongside and encouraged me and I realized, I HAVE FULL PERMISSION to treat my heart the same way. But I DO NOT HAVE PERMISSION to leave grace out of the conversation, even in my own thoughts.
So I looked for a baby step I could take to make this practical.
I reflected on my normal patterns of thinking and I realized I am harshest with myself when it came to my marriage and my house. These arenas, closest and most familiar to me, are the areas where I have the highest expectations for myself and where I deal out the most hurtful words.
I tried to think of a simple outward adjustment I could make that would remind me to be inwardly kind, and I landed on my chore list.
I found that, in my normal routine, I jot down a bajillion errands, chores and tasks I need to get to on a piece of paper, I get through as many as I can, and at the end of the day, all I can focus on is the unfinished list. Especially because I typically work on a rotating schedule with 24-hour shifts, Wednesday chores would get pushed to Thursday and Thursday would get overwhelming.
I’d work at my list like crazy, living for the sweet moment I could cross off the final to-do. But for one reason or another (usually my hyper-optimistic idea of what I can possibly get done in one day), there were always items left on the list. And in those items, I read condemnation.
It didn’t matter if I had been up all night flying patients, or if I’d gotten sick, or I’d completed a huge project that took a larger chunk of time, I would berate myself for what I hadn’t managed to get done, and I would walk away discouraged.
But when I applied the challenge to be encouraging and kind in my thoughts to this area, when I decided to talk to myself the way I would to a human being with feelings who may need some encouragement, I realized something I hadn’t been taking stock of:
The housework is never done, and it’s not because I’m failing.
It’s a cycle of tasks and chores that require constant upkeep because they endure constant use. Nothing’s inherently wrong because it’s time to change the sheets again. It just means time has passed since the last time.
I decided, at least in the area of housework, to make it easier on myself to have right thought patterns. If I wanted to encourage someone I loved to be faithful with housework without making them feel bad about what they hadn’t gotten to, I decided I would just structure each job as an accomplishment in and of itself rather than making a totally finished list the goal.
Hence, I nixed the list and drew a circle. (Ok fine, a square, because those are easier to cut out of paper, but you get the idea).
I put a happy quote from Emily Ley’s book in the middle, set up the chores as a cycle, and added a magnet to the fridge so that I could move it around the circle-square whenever I had the time and energy to tackle one of the jobs. It was a way to stay semi-regular with the cleaning and keep it on a rotation without provoking criticism if I had a day where I didn’t get to the chores.
At least for me, it made a huge difference. That little change was life-giving, tangible grace. It was just one small adjustment, but it was a daily way I could replace a distraction that spoke of my failure with a reminder His grace, His goodness, His strength.
It is one way I can agree with Him and say
“Today, there is no condemnation.”
Sometimes, something as simple as changing the chore chart can be spiritual, because it’s a step where I am taking God at His word. And I think doing that, little by little, in even the most daily things, is how I start to trust Him with the rest of life.
Feel free to print, copy, modify, etc!
I would love to hear about the baby steps that have been helpful for you!