kate and georgeI’m a new mom stuck in a game where no matter how skilled I might be at changing a blowout diaper on the side of the road in a pencil skirt or making a chicken salad without too much mayo for my husband, I lose. An illustration for you: our daughter was baptized a couple weeks ago, and I must admit that I had been daydreaming about her big day for quite a while (for a variety of reasons, some holier than others).

Amidst my daydreams, I naturally would smile thinking about the waters of baptism running over her bald head. As Robert Capon put it, my daughter would be sealed in Holy Baptism simply because Jesus says she’s OK now, not because she did something or thought something or figured something out, but she’s OK now because Jesus says so. A wonderful illustration of absolute grace, her baptism would simply say, “It’s done.” And standing over her, watching my dear husband’s hands shake and voice tremble as he marked her as Christ’s own forever (with rainwater collected on the day of our wedding!) made my heart grow two sizes and mascara run. #allthefeels.

But as we approached Annie’s Baptism, I was also secretly and somewhat ashamedly wrapped up in what I’d wear, whether I’d look pale in pictures, in the desserts offered our guests at brunch afterwards, in what kind of flowers I planned to have around the house, in the invitations. The little laws of womanhood, motherhood, and clergy-wifedom were driving me to provide a spread like one of Ina Garten’s casual brunch feasts, be fully present to the sanctity of the day, document everything for Annie’s baby book, and look like Kate Middleton while doing it (how in the world do her curls stay that intact?).

inaYou’d think as a conscientious, reflective young woman, I’d have already developed the skill of disengaging from this silly game and laughing at the impossibility of it all, but no, not quite. It wasn’t until the distress I felt the Friday morning of her baptism weekend that I realized how stupid this game really was and is; the desserts were my stressor. I had pictured pretty petit fours made from our local bakery (think little bitty cakes), a nice touch and a bit more elegant than something homemade, since I was making everything else. Then, of course, my mom offered to make orange cupcakes, a recipe pulled right from her Junior League cookbook. So, what’s a girl to do? Get the petit fours that look a whole lot prettier, or save money and have your sweet mom make cupcakes? Fancy petit fours with pink crosses on them? Or gooey orange cupcakes baked by Grandma? If you choose the petit fours, you’re spending money where you need not; you’re superficial and care too much about the trivialities of a day that should be focused on the status of your daughter’s soul. If you choose the cupcakes, the spread isn’t as elegant or Pinterest worthy; you’re not as polished of a planner or graceful of a hostess. And that’s the moment I lose the game. Because no matter what choice I make, I lose a point according to someone. I think of the person with whom I might be losing that point, the person in whose eyes I might be “lesser than.” Would my sister think less of me if I sprang for the letterpress invitations instead of using Paperless Post? Would my mother-in-law crinkle her nose at a pre-made CostCo side dish? I think of the guests that will take in my collective choices on this day and essentially score my value and skills as a mother, woman, wife based upon them. And again, that’s when I feel as if I’ve lost the game.

baptism cookiesAccording to my standards, I fail often. I don’t hand back graded essays for a month. I realize upon pulling into daycare that I forgot Annie’s bottles at home. I serve Cinnamon Toast Crunch and sliced avocado for dinner. According to these same win/lose standards, I also often succeed. I lead an English language learner through his first self-selected chapter book at age fifteen. I catch up on Annie’s baby book. I nail the mayo-to-chicken ratio in a batch of chicken salad for my husband. It totally depends on the day whether I feel like a rockstar or a chicken-butt. On days I feel as though I’ve lost the game, I tell myself that despite these failures, I am a wonderful mother to Annie, a loving wife to John, and a thoughtful and engaged teacher to my students. And this is true, but not because of some points I may have accrued to compensate for those moments of failure needling at the back of my mind but because God’s standards differ from mine. Though He sees my failures clearly, there is no hanging remembrance of them over me. He does not play this game that we are so certain exists within our mental maps.

Since overcoming my cupcake angst and successfully pulling off a brunch for 25 guests (thanks, Mom and Sissy), I have come to a realization: there actually is no game. As my husband writes in his new book, Falling into Grace: “God is not a scorekeeper.” He echoes Capon’s musings: “Grace cannot prevail until our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score has run out of steam and collapsed.” So actually, I choose to not play the game, simply because there isn’t one. I choose to drop the rope and remind myself of the truths that Jesus tried time and time again to impart throughout his ministry on earth: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last. Yes, the wayward son gets the fattened calf. And the leper gets touched. The woman at the well is worthy of my time and attention. There is no tally. There is no score. You need not try to win because I love you as is. You are OK now. You are mine not because you did something or thought something or figured something out. It’s done!”

He loves me as the gorilla pit mom and celebrates me as teacher of the year. He waves a banner of victory over me not because I’ve won anything at all but because He won it all on my behalf. So instead of comparing and measuring and eyeing my neighbor competitively and criticizing myself in this mental scramble to move myself ahead in some game, I choose not to play. Because if grace tells us anything, it’s that there never was a game or a scorecard to begin with in the first place. And on those days I find myself re-entering the game, when I just can’t opt out or drop the rope, I will find relief in knowing that even as I scramble, even as I hustle for worth or value, God’s not playing that game.