To Withstand One’s Own Wrath

Entering the office today, before saying hello to anyone, addressing the day’s agenda, or even putting down my bag, I internally itemized a long list of things askew.

Pillows awry in room 7.

Table decor down in room 3.

Side table off center in room 1. 

Dirty plate and to-go box in kitchen.

And in my office? Who’s been eating my porridge? Mama bear awakes.

I don’t purposefully go looking for these less-than-perfect arrangements. In fact, I would rather not notice them at all, but this is the lens through which I see the world. Before I can filter it out, I immediately see what is wrong and what needs to be made right. It’s not a fun place to dwell, my inner landscape. 

Within minutes of arriving at our Airbnb for Thanksgiving, I actually went around straightening the picture frames. My twenty-year-old explorer son opened every single thing with a handle. Oh, to be more ruled by curiosity than perfection!

Tonight, I know I’ll return home to a house run by teen girls all day and generate another itemized list before they even descend the stairs. I will try to not say anything. I will tell myself it doesn’t matter and take pride when I succeed at ignoring the dog hair accumulating along the baseboards for another day. What is the bare minimum I can do to appease my need for order and not annoy everyone else in my life or enable laziness in theirs? 

These are the milestones of growth for an Enneagram One. Ignored dog hair. Check.

But recently, I dissolved into tears in my husband’s arms because I really dislike the way I view the world. 

I feel trapped in my own criticism. It’s ugly, unkind, and ungenerous. Especially when it oozes. 

At times I can’t hold it at bay and bark at a loved one for some small infraction of a measure only I keep, and I’m found out. 

And oh, perhaps more than crooked frames, I hate my own messiness. My own disorder. My own fragile, imperfect-self mucking up life. I want to be tidy too. And when I’m not? When I notice the ugly? The unkind? The ungenerous? I am wrecked. For how does one withstand the wrath of her own critic?

No, please. Tell me. How does one withstand the wrath of her own critic?

I have no words of wisdom. No “three lessons learned” in my journey of recovery, for there are none and I am far from recovered. I have only a wink for those who understand. Sisters, you are out there, no? This, and the guidance from those who seem to know more. 

They tell me that the more we come to understand our truest selves and the more we dare look at the darkest places, the more we will grieve. We will walk a painful path of our own sin, twisted and awry versions of our glory. Hard because, initially, it is all so surprising. Sisters, we were right, yes? All that disorder was made whole under our tutelage, corrected according to our measure. Could it be possible that what is not right is our own lens?

The guides instruct us to hold the tension: Our greatest gift to the world is often wielded carelessly. That it is usually, also, our greatest weakness. How fitting that God would craft in us a gift that must be worked on our whole lives to be realized. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Cor. 13:12 ESV). 

So, sisters. Fellow itemized-list-bearing friends. I think we must sit in this unresolved space, grieving and embracing how we see the world. Recognizing the ugly, unkind, ungenerous places in our soul. Waking each day to offer a crumb of more grace to ourselves and then to others, for that is all we have most days. 

But if we ignore the crumbs beneath the kitchen table? Growth!

Beth Bruno is passionate about issues of injustice and a global sisterhood. Often, this looks like curating the stories and work of incredible women and calling her two teen daughters at least once a day to “come watch this.” Married for 23 years, she and her husband share a love for dark chocolate, dark coffee, and bold wine, among other passions. Their son is headed to college so Beth is not thinking about it by nursing an obsession with Turkish hot air balloons and European villages on her Instagram feed.