Note to Self: Stop Apologizing



Long before we know our ABCs most of us are pros at shame and self-effacement—which, to be clear, is not humility. If I could go back, I’d say several things to my younger self. But here’s the biggest: Sweetheart, stop. You don’t have to excuse every good thing, or feel embarrassed about every lack of perfection.

Just stop it.

In school, I learned it wasn’t ok to be smart unless you had something else to prove you were still cool. When a grandmother in a tiny northwest town pointed down a long table and ridiculed the way I held my fork I was sure, by the tone of her voice, that there was something truly horrible about me. Now I know there was something awful about her that she’d criticize and embarrass a child in front of a group of people she’d never met.

Even on missions in Mexico, my homestay family made it clear they preferred the cute, humorous boys they’d had the summer before. Couldn’t I be funnier, please? I agreed with them all. I must be the wrong kind of smart, stuck up, too quiet. It was my kids who helped me the most. For them, I found my confidence and my tongue.

When I had two boys who were so extraordinarily more, I kept finding myself explaining. When pushed to the limit about a child who was doing fine in just about every way but never did things in the “usual” way, I finally said, “You know what? They are all different.”

This line has really stuck with me since then. It has reminded me not to judge others when I don’t understand them, and helped me to hold off on judging myself.

We are all different.

When he was small, my eldest had a huge engine and often not the strongest guidance system. Unfortunately, church became the one place he did not feel wanted or comfortable. When we turned over the turf for the community garden he was right there. He labored for hours to break soil as hard as concrete. He went back, out of loyalty to me (the garden was my project), but he got some judging glances as the only non-church kid there.

Now, he’s hard-working, goal-oriented, charming, and fiercely loyal even to those who might be critical of him. He loves his family even when we make different faith choices than he does, or want different types of vacations. He is all there for his brother. He is different in some of his choices than we are, but he is altogether lovely.

Just as I’ve learned to stand up in my corner and firmly state what is wonderful about my children, because of them I’ve learned to stop apologizing for everything about myself. Well, I’ve started to stop.

I wish I could go back to that endlessly long table with the matriarch at the end, keep my knife in my right hand and the fork in my left and say, “Isn’t this cool? This is how they do it in Spain.” Oh how I wish I could go back to that smart girl with the report card and say, “Great job! Do your very, very best.” Because hiding our gifts is not humility, but giving in. It’s giving in to the critical, unhappy voices all around us that want us to hide that light under a bushel, keep the seed in the packet and not plant it, leave the seedling thirsty rather than water and feed it because we’re so afraid someone else will get crowded out by its shade.

I wish I’d cheerfully ignored all the sharp comments about my children’s strengths and challenges. One way or another we all get them, especially when we try to stand up for something or someone. Because standing up can mean standing out. Because being unique can be scary and a little lonely.

Let’s not be so sure—for ourselves or for others—which are the faults and which are the strengths. Sometimes I think only in heaven will we really understand how it all goes together. Only with the long view can we know what is ugly and what is beautiful. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God judges the heart.

Paul has these extraordinary words:

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court. I dont even judge myself. I dont feel I have done anything wrong. But that doesnt mean Im not guilty. The Lord judges me. So dont judge anything before the appointed time. Wait until the Lord returns. He will bring to light what is hidden in the dark. He will show the real reasons why people do what they do. At that time each person will receive their praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

Let us press on with confidence, and STOP apologizing for the beauty we are.

Note to self: Stop.