This post brought to you by an archived, unfiltered, personal journal musing this past winter...
A sterile word I'd never thought I would wrestle through. A recently-made cliche female describer. A something I've always prided myself on not being -- and if you saw the laundry piles in my room, or the old coffee cups stacked on my dresser, or my current sleep t-shirt with a few too many toothpaste stains on, you'd know why....
It’s never quite been a word that’s struck a chord with me. I never thought I struggled with perfectionism. It seems like an elementary sin. Don’t we know we can’t be perfect? Don’t we know we will never be complete and faultless this side of heaven? Aren’t we all very well aware that we are messed up – that we can’t excel in everything we do – that others are going to be better than ourselves in lots of areas – that it is impossible for us to be masters of everything we put our hand to? Aren’t we all convinced of the need of grace?
It seems ridiculous.
Turns out, however, this word has seeped its roots deep down into my soul.
I am a newly discovered perfectionist. I have no tolerance for incompetence. I want great – not good. Good is the same as mediocre – and might as well be overlooked.
My dear friend, Kala, sent me a perfectionist checklist. And the irony? I am perfect on the Perfectionist Checklist.
10 Ways to Know You Are a Perfectionist:
1) You are highly conscious and hyper critical of mistakes.
2) You aim to be the best at everything you do, even if it is something you are not interested in.
3) You spend copious amounts of time to perfect something even at the expense of your own well-being.
4) You set absolute ideals. There is only black and white – no gray.
5) You are your harshest critic. You beat yourself up over the smallest thing that goes wrong.
6) You mull over outcomes if they did not turn out the way you envisioned them
7) You are defensive toward criticism and have a fear of failure because they suggest imperfection.
8) You only care about achieving the end goal, paying no heed to the journey.
9) You have an all-or-nothing approach.
10 ) You are conscious of any situation in which you might give others the perception that you are not perfect.
Nailed it! I am perfect at being a perfectionist! Ten for ten!
I think this all began to surface after this stupid CRU panel last week that I felt like I bombed. I had nothing to offer. I was good, maybe. But couldn’t reach “great” that night with a ten foot pole if I tried. Not even with Inspector Gadget arms. Great was out of reach. And I wanted to crawl into a hole. I internally contemplated getting up off the couch on stage and walking off. Stage right. Why was I up there anyway? I wanted to come home, crawl into my bed, and leave staff. Why was I even on staff? Clearly, students have better people they could learn from. More attractive people they could model their lives after. Nobody wants to model their life after the “mediocre” stage panelist – people chase after the great stage panelists. Those who have wisdom packaged and beautiful and enticing. I had none of that.
Here’s the deal. If I can’t hit a home run, I don’t even want to take the field. I would rather ride the pine. Who needs a single hitter – or a bunter – when they can have Hank Aaron? Or Albert Bell in his prime? Give me the pine, please.
And therein lies the problem.
If I can’t hit it out of the park, I don’t want any part of the game.
The desire for perfectionism keeps me out of the game of life.
Perfectionism is paralyzing. and condemning. and harsh. and accusatory. and, on certain days, abusive.
Perfectionism keeps me out of the game. It locks my feet in stocks and lays my head ready for a guillotine. Is that dramatic? Maybe. But perfectionists use dramatic language – they are all-or-nothing, after all. What’s a perfectionist to do?
To chase after perfectionism is to always come up short. Perfectionism does nothing but raise the bar – and condemn my heart. Perfectionism is the whisper of the enemy. That manipulative twit condemns me by whispering, “you are not good enough,” “why are you picking up that heavy bat – you are lucky enough to not strike out,” “you are nothing more than mediocre,” “your ‘good’ is not worth your time – and worse yet, nobody else wants your ‘good,’” “if you can’t perfect this skill, your friends and people around you will overlook you,” “don’t waste your time.”
The enemy wants to keep me from playing the game. He wants to cut me out. And he does so by whispering into my soul: “why bother?”
Dreams fill my mind of being great. No kid grows up dreaming of simply being good. No little girl grows up dreaming she’d be the princess sidekick to the girl who gets the guy. No little boy grows up dreaming about being Michael Jordan's Scottie Pippen. No kid grows up dreaming of a mediocre life with a mediocre $30,000 salary and living a life of routine, and monotony, and simplicity. I dreamt of grandeur. Of influencing thousands – er, wait, millions – of people. Of my funeral being the largest the town had ever seen. Of articles written about how I changed the world. Of marrying the best man every other girl was jealous of. Of others’ vying for my time and attention because I had something remarkable to offer. Of changing the world. Of being great. I never, no, not once, dreamt of being good. I never, no, not once, dreamt of being just pretty okay.
And these dreams are good. And appropriate on some level. Until they become my chief end and goal. And until my illusion of grandeur eclipses the Grandest of all.
Greatness and perfection have, ironically, made me into a paralytic.
The answer? How to pick myself up out of this freaking wheelchair?
Simplicity. Simplicity. Simplicity.
Simplicity loosens the chains of perfectionism. Simplicity hurls my paralytic body back into the race.
God takes the simpletons and makes them great. God takes those who aim for HIM – and authors a most majestic story out of their lives.
David was a little shepherd boy. Noah drank himself into oblivion. Gideon was insecure and unsure. Martha worried her pretty head into crazy-person status. Moses stuttered like my 3rd grade substitute teacher. Abraham was an old, old man from a pithy background. Leah was kinda ugly. Timothy was just a kid. And Peter was a nothing more than a lame-o fisherman.
These men and women were simple. And normal. And many were so far from any sort of greatness.
But what did God do? He CALLED them. He called them His own. He called them into friendship with Him. And these simpletons responded. And they loved Him. They were faithful to Him – even in their doubts, and wonderings, and failures. At the end of the day, they wanted God.
They didn’t shoot for greatness. They didn’t shoot to be the father of nations. Or the greatest King Israel had ever seen. Or, even, to be one of the 12 men who would change the face of the world forever.
No. They followed God. And loved Him.
And HE made their stories great.
Simple. Love God. And He will write for you a story worth telling.
Rid myself of the complexities.
God, rid my soul of the complexities I’ve heaped on. Rid my soul of others’ opinions, rid my soul of its selfish dreams of grandeur, rid my soul of any desire to eclipse You as the Greatest, rid my soul of good being despised & gag-worthy. God, rid my soul of false aims. Simplify me, God. Simplify my soul. I want one aim. And it’s to love you.
I want the easy yoke & the light burden. You offer freedom. I have foolishly chosen slavery. Perfectionism has become my slave master. Forgive me, God. I want YOUR Kingdom life. Not this faulty, counterfeit, heavy life I have chosen for myself.
I want to be the perfect girlfriend. I want to be the perfect missional team leader. I want to be the perfect friend. I want to be the perfect public speaker. The perfect mentor. The perfect blogger. The perfect fashionista. All with the perfect body and the perfect bible verse to impart wisdom and the perfect distribution of couch pillows when the guests come over. Tidy up, Wagner. You have a mess. Clean your proverbial room, do the dishes, light some candles, shove your laundry in the closet. Don’t let them see. Your house is a mess. Hurry up, the guests are coming.
Crap! They’ve come unannounced. Now, I’m jittery and nervous and insecure. Here it is, unannounced guests. Our trash smells like possum and our dishes are piled to the ceiling with god knows what growing on them and I haven’t actually changed my sweatpants in days. May you, unannounced friends & guests, who see the mess and smell the stench, somehow find beauty in the real. In the “taking-off-of” my fig leaves & loincloths that cover my “nakedness” and in the exposure of all things real, ugly, and authentic.
God makes imperfections beautiful. Perfection is actually ass-ugly. And pretentious. And uninviting.
The heart of woman: to be captivating. And ravishingly beautiful. And stunning with a dash of irresistibility.
We struggle with perfectionism – wait, I, I, Lori Wagner – struggle with perfectionism because I have been falsely convinced that beauty is perfect.
Beauty is not perfectionism. Beauty is in the removal of our fig leaves and our loincloths. The loincloth – the first bloodshed ever seen in God’s story. We took matters into our own hands. We KILLED to cover ourselves – to HIDE our imperfections.
But WAIT! Now, PRAISE JESUS! Praise Jesus. HE has SHED HIS OWN BLOOD that we make take off our own fabricated loincloths and expose ourselves for who we truly are. IT IS FINISHED. Stop your striving. The final blood was shed. And we do not have to hide. We do not have to cover up.
We. Do. Not. Have. To. Be. Perfect.
I do not have to be perfect.
I do not have to hide. Jesus has covered my imperfections by the final “it-is-finished” bloodshed of the cross – and NOW – he makes beauty from imperfections.
God, I want to pick up the bat. Even if all I ever do is hit a single. Or, worse, a bunt. Or, my worst nightmare, I strike out.
The beauty is in the courage of picking up the bat. Not in the result of the hit.
The game is worth it. Riding the pine blows. And numbs my butt.
I will pick up the bat. And I will celebrate each swing. By God’s grace.