Giving my Harsh Inner Critic a Name

Realizing some hard truths about myself recently. My Enneagram Type 1-ness has really been apparent. My harsh inner critic is constantly talking to me about what I could do better, what should be done, how it should be done, how my family should behave, etc. It’s exhausting. But, it’s so clear to me now how The Happiness Trap and ACT are so impactful for me. I’m never going to silence the inner critic, but I sure can defuse the thoughts and not believe everything she’s telling me. I really ought to give her a name…


Another layer of this dichotomy I’ve come to recognize in my life – surrendering versus controlling; being “in my head” versus present in the moment; paying attention to thoughts versus feelings, etc. – is trying to improve my loved ones versus just loving them. It’s ironic, I’ve had “Only Love Today” popping up on my phone as a daily reminder for over a year. But, what does that mean in practice? It probably means not commenting on everything Sienna could do better or differently, from her room cleanliness to her choice of words in a writing assignment. Probably looks like not criticizing the way Dennis talks to the kids. Like I’m so good at only speaking lovingly to them?! Probably looks like giving Mateo comfort when he’s sad at night, instead of being irritable that his emotional outburst is throwing off my “plan” for the evening. Yep, probably all of those things… and more.

Last week, as Sienna and I drove downtown for a mother/daughter date, I talked to her about my struggles to let go of needing things to be a certain way. I asked her if she feels like things are never good enough for me, when I comment on her school work, bedroom cleanliness, or anything really. She agreed that those moments do hurt her feelings. I then joked that we needed to give that unhelpful voice a name. She giggled and suggested: “How about Nutzo Butzo!”

I cracked up and replied, “That’s perfect! I love it. It’s silly so I can easily dismiss her. Then, when I criticize something you can say, ‘Mom, did Nutzo Butzo tell you to say that?’”

I’m reading and journaling through a devotional this year by Shauna Niequist called Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are. Today’s devotion is called “More Love, Less Hustle” and her definition of hustle is the “voice that says you’re never done, you have to push harder, think ahead, plan ahead, hold it together, go, go, go.”

Oh, the voice that tells me to hurry up, get something done, rush, rush, rush. Her name is Nutzo Butzo and she tells me that everything depends on me – my efforts, my planning, me, me, me. When I ignore this voice and focus my awareness on the people I love, the people I meet, our church and school families, life is infinitely fuller, richer and more connected. What ultimately drives me to hustle? A feeling that things aren’t quite right, not yet perfected, and needing to be changed or fixed. This side of Christ’s return, our fallen world will always be broken. It’s much wiser to accept this fact and spend my energy loving the people God puts in my path during this particular moment. There I can do some good, there I can fulfill a need or lessen someone’s burden. Hustling doesn’t facilitate connection. Love does.

Home and Family, Lutheranism, Uncategorized

You Are What You Love

The beginning of a New Year is the highpoint of self-actualization rhetoric in American culture and I typically jump in with both feet.  The idea that we can change our habits and routines so everything stays in perfect balance and we’ll be thinner, fitter, happier and more productive this year than last year is so enticing!  But, for a reformed hyper-planner and self-aware Type 1 perfectionist, this time of year is a very slippery slope for me.


Sure enough, the past few weeks, I’ve been “in my head” and less in touch with my heart; relying on myself instead of God, expecting everything to work out just right if I plan properly, and missing the moments of connection all around me.  However, simultaneously I’ve been reading a very interesting and helpful book: You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith.  Our pastor, who recently moved across the country, preached from this book for several weeks before he left last year.  I loved the sermons and looked forward to deepening my understanding of how our loves are shaped by liturgical practices, both inside and outside the church.

Dr. Smith argues: “In ways that are more “modern” than biblical, we have been taught to assume that human beings are fundamentally thinking things.”  Most of our efforts toward discipleship focus on collecting information as if “we can think our way to holiness – sanctification by information transfer.”  This approach is diametrically opposed to biblical wisdom, where Jesus continually refers to the human heart as the center of our being.  Of Christ, Smith states, “He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings.”

This argument really hit home when Smith asked “Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do?  Have you ever found that new knowledge and information don’t seem to translate into a new way of life?”  I imagine everyone who’s currently struggling with maintaining a health related resolution has experienced just this gap!  We know what is healthy, but that doesn’t mean we always do it!  Smith goes on to suggest: “What if it’s because you aren’t just a thinking thing?”  Indeed, what if our “epicenter of human identity” is what Augustine articulated when he said, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you…”?

Smith goes on to describe the Augustinian alternative: “…since our hearts are made to find their end in God, we will experience a besetting anxiety and restlessness when we try to love substitutes.  To be human is to have a heart.  You can’t not love. So the question isn’t whether you will love something as ultimate; the question is what you will love as ultimate. And you are what you love.”

If loves aren’t cultivated by information transfer, in other words, we can’t collect ideas in order to transform our loves.  How are our hearts oriented?  Smith explains that loves are shaped over time by the liturgical practices in our lives.  Rival liturgies are the habits we have, which over time shape what we perceive as the “good life” or the end to which our life is headed.  The book includes a lengthy metaphor of the shopping mall as the modern “church” in America; illustrating how everything from the cathedral style architecture to the economic transaction at the altar of consumerism.  It’s really interesting and comical too.  I could relate to the feeling of aimlessly strolling through a mall (or more commonly Target!) looking for something that I “need”.

The biggest takeaway from this book, for me, is the idea that what we ultimately love and desire is shaped, over time, by our daily habits.  If our family routinely spends the weekend shopping, then being a consumer is what we cultivate as “the good life”.  If we watch television each evening, our worldview is shaped to mirror that which we see in popular culture.  If we read classic, wholesome books with our children, then their desires are shaped by things that are good, true, and timeless.  When we pray before dinner, attend the Divine Service each week, read before bed, and spend time as a family, our loves are oriented toward God and family.  These little daily habits shape what we value, desire, love and ultimately you are what you love.


Here’s What Happened: January 13, 2019

I’m writing this from a train, headed north to Oxnard for a work visit. I wrote a blog post on Sunday, but haven’t posted it yet.  I had some stories to share, but what came out was more like a book review or scholarly article.  It didn’t lead into the story I hoped to share.  I tried to make it work, then gave up.

This is something I battle regularly.  Most of my writing experience is scholarly.  Give me texts to read, a topic to research, evidence to site, and a thesis to defend and I’m golden.  But, I want this blog, and my writing in general, to be about life, feelings, what’s most important.  When I’m in the “figure things out” mindset, it’s very hard for me to connect with my emotions.  The same day that I abandoned the post referenced above, I continued reading my first Anne Lamott book – Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.  So, in addition to wanting to read everything by Anne Lamott, I’m now inspired to write what I see, what is happening around me.  She advises that writers need to pay close attention to their surroundings.  This presence enriches both our writing and our lives.


So, here’s what happened.  On Sunday morning, we got up early for church as usual.  Dennis had the idea of encouraging the kids to get ready quickly by suggesting a Starbucks visit on the way to church.  We have a drive thru Starbucks less than a half mile from our house, it’s dangerous.  It worked; the kids got ready in record time!  Mateo started whining about wanting the “big hot chocolate” instead of the kids’ size.  I reasoned that the kids’ version is cooler and more reasonably sized, so he’ll be able to drink it on the fifteen minute drive to church.  He relented eventually and I didn’t think anything more of it.

Also, in the drive thru, I noticed my Dexcom (continuous glucose monitor) reported that my blood sugars had been “in range” 89% of the time this week.  That’s a great improvement over the prior week when I was still in holiday celebration mode and eating a lot more carbohydrates!

A little later, we were sitting in church.  I had one child on each side of me and was cuddled up with Mateo just before the sermon started.  Out of the blue, he whispered to me, “Mommy, I’m sorry I got so upset about the hot chocolate.”  Oh my heart.  I started to reply when he continued, “… and good job on your diabetes, Mom.”

Tears sprung into my eyes and I had to swallow hard.  Telling him he was forgiven, I then took a deep breath and thanked God for this precious moment of connection.

Personally, I was coming out of another cycle of feeling disconnected, being fused with my thoughts, and generally not present in the moment.  Over the previous several days, I’d been relearning lessons about the joy that comes from acceptance and presence.  Moments of tenderness are the pinnacle of joyful connection.  Mateo reminded me of that so poignantly.

Immediately after the sermon, is the collection.  While I’ve been using our monthly bill pay to electronically submit our giving for several years now, I usually give Sienna and Mateo a few dollars to put in the collection basket.  It satisfies the theological dynamic of giving within the service.  As I started to hand Mateo two dollar bills, he suddenly said “Mom, I want to give my fifty dollars.”  His grandma had given him $50 for his birthday the week before and I was carrying it in my wallet for safekeeping.

“Are you sure?” I asked.


“Okay.  Really?  You’re sure?” I said once more.


I handed him the fifty dollar bill and he promptly deposited it into the collection basket.  He then smiled at me so sweetly, I could hardly stand it.  I leaned down and whispered in his ear: “You humble me with your generosity.”  He smiled and hugged me.

The book review that I haven’t posted yet (still deciding whether I will!) is about a great book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith.   In it, Dr. Smith argues that our loves are directed by our habits.  When we cultivate habits that orient ourselves toward God, then we will seek God as our ultimate love and end.  Any other secular liturgies become rivals and orient our loves towards worldly things that ultimately don’t satisfy us.

I immediately thought of the liturgical habits that we’ve slowly, over time, instilled in our children.  The weekly giving of a few dollars into the collection, routinely confessing to one another, and forgiving one another.  Our faith tells us that Jesus did everything to accomplish our salvation and we live under his divine grace.  As such, we aren’t big on punishments or shaming the kids when they fall short.  We’re big on hugs and loving one another.  I apologize to my kids for sinning against them all the time. We are hoping to cultivate hearts of love, hope, joy, and service to others.  Within these twenty minutes last Sunday, I felt such peace.  Within twenty minutes, Mateo’s behavior and words felt like confirmation that his heart is being shaped toward loving God and relying on grace.

I am hard on myself and often feel like I’m falling short in many areas of life.  These tender moments with Mateo were a reminder that God is the one doing the growing and shaping of my children’s hearts.  I don’t have to do everything just right.  Instead we can simply orient our family toward Jesus Christ, and practice faithful liturgies. God will take care of the rest.