I bought the shredded chicken.
Pre-shredded, pre-cooked rotisserie chicken. Yes, I know it was much more expensive than if I had merely purchased some chicken breasts or thighs and taken care of it myself. It would have been cheaper if I had purchased the whole rotisserie chicken and shredded it myself. It is probably full of weird grocery-store chemicals that will mutate my husband and I in our elder years.
But I bought the shredded chicken and I refuse to be ashamed.
Let me explain: my week at work had been wildly busy. And lest you think I am exaggerating, by “wildly busy” I mean that I was only able to scramble to the bathroom once a day, I skipped my lunch and/or jammed half a sandwich into my face while I furiously tried to finish up documents every single day, and I stayed late to finish up almost every evening.
Normally, my job isn’t like this. But let me be the first to tell you that the demands at work were overwhelming, and home wasn’t letting up, either. I had two new kittens who were adorable, wonderfully good-natured, and engaged in the popular kitten pastime of tearing my house to shreds. I had my share of the home chores to manage – and I was already behind. In addition to that, my week was peppered with committee meetings and extracurriculars I had committed to long before.
The overwhelming amount on my to-do list bought me almost to tears as I slogged around the grocery store picking up the necessary ingredients for BBQ chicken pizza: a meal my husband and I love. I was standing over the chicken breasts, thinking about the night ahead of me: go home, feed the kittens, water the kittens, repair all kitten damage, start a load of laundry, make the pizza dough, bake the chicken, shred the chicken, put together the pizza, change the laundry over, finish up an article I was writing and a query…
I snapped. I got the shredded chicken.
I don’t know why it took me so long to embrace a small convenience that freed up some meaningful time for me. Maybe because I grew up in a home where the chicken was never pre-shredded. Maybe it was because I felt guilty spending money on what amounted to a tiny luxury. And maybe I felt bad because buying the shredded chicken was tantamount to an admission that I was tired and willing to cut corners – that I couldn’t do it all.
When I spoke to my mother about this, she laughed. She reminded me that, although she would never have thought to buy pre-shredded chicken, she was a stay-at-home mother who had the time to shred it. Maybe she would have made a different choice, she speculated, if she’d been working outside the home. She’d considered doing so, once – she had career plans – but eventually she chose to spend her time raising me, instead, and never regretted it. We all make choices, and we all gain and lose something from making them.
The conversation made me think about choices and freedom and consequence. Aside from commanding believers to pursue righteousness and holiness and to avoid sin, God gives us an enormous amount of latitude in our choices. And choosing is in itself an act of inherent exclusion: choosing x means not choosing y. But we don’t like to believe that’s true.
Our modern culture – and even our Christian culture – often sells the lie that we can be and have it all. You can work full-time and develop a successful career that is also a ministry and be fully devoted to your family and be committed to domestic service in the home and nurture your passions and care for yourself as required and be in the choir and be on a few civic committees and and and…
And if you’re failing at one of those many things, the lie continues, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. God can do the impossible, after all.
But we aren’t meant to be whole universes unto ourselves. One of the recurrent themes in the Old and New Testament is the concept of Israel, and later of the church, as a body of many small parts working together as a larger whole. In Israel, particular tribes and particular people had particular duties. In the church, different believers have different gifts and abilities, and differing duties. We weren’t ever meant to do all of everything ourselves.
Show me a person who’s “doing it all” and I can show you a person who is excellent at covering up the places where they fall short. Hidden behind them is a mountain of day care workers, spouses taking on more than their load of chores, pre-shredded rotisserie chickens and cans of soup, and piles on piles of unwashed laundry.
None of those things are inherently wrong or bad. But we shame ourselves when we hide them, or in our arrogance strive to maintain the illusion of our own perfection. When we embrace the honesty and authenticity that the Lord advocates, and when we’re humble enough recognize our own limits, we can speak freely and without guilt about what we can and can’t manage. We can ask our spouse to pitch in for a week to cover the chores, or acknowledge that we have to make a choice between having grandma care for the kids or turning in a high-quality work project.
My mother loved being a stay-at-home mom. But devoting herself fully to raising me meant that she was naturally precluded from other experiences. I love working outside the home, but some nights my husband eats pre-shredded rotisserie chicken and canned soup. We can’t have all of everything all the time. We weren’t meant to have everything all of the time.
And when we recognize that, when we recognize our own limitations – when we acknowledge in the Lord that we are frail and need help – we can do our best without shame. Being freed of the burden of doing everything perfectly all the time, and freed from the guilt that accompanies our failures, allows us to do the very best at what God has given us to do.
So go ahead and pick up the pre-shredded chicken. I’m not judging.