Jabbok Dawn

Tumbling in the Sand

“Failing” Lent: Day 10/11

Perfectionism

I think I’m actually on Day 12 of Lent at this point (and as I finish this, day 13). I have fallen behind in my reflections. I kind of figured I would … it’s really hard to think of something new to write every day that is appropriate to share and vaguely interesting. I’m sure that, “Well, I ate today.” is not really the point of blogging. Nor is it particularly reflective. But, at the end of some days that’s about what I can remember from the whirlwind.

I suppose now would be a good time to talk about perfection. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, which means that if I don’t think I can do it, it’s likely I won’t do it at all … or, I undertake to do something perfectly and when I can’t … oh, the guilt. The self-reprisal. The doubt.

I understand that perfectionism is a common disease. I hear lots of people talk about it. I have heard many a phrase meant to counter it, like: “It’s okay to not be okay.” or “No one is perfect.” or “To err is human.” And I’m sure I could go on and on. I haven’t found the phrases overly helpful, by the way. It’s like slapping a bumper sticker on a car that is falling apart and claiming that that fixes it.

But, then, how do you deal with perfectionism? I call it a disease because it is. It causes serious dis-ease in my life, always striving for some unattainable, unreasonable goal of getting it exactly perfect. Always holding exacting standards for myself that I really know I can’t reach and would never expect of anyone else. Always dealing with the nagging feeling that grace—that wonderful, amazing, undeserved, beautiful act of love—isn’t really for me because I need to earn something. Yes, perfectionism is a disease.

The other day, I think I kind of stumbled upon the cure for perfectionism. Or at least the first dose of the cure. I did something pretty irresponsible (I’m not going to tell you what it is…this is not true confessions). When I did it, I was surrounded by a bunch of people that I did not know that well or I was just starting to know well. I figured I had screwed up pretty badly and had damaged these just-starting relationships. Instead, I was surprised by the grace that they gave me. Actually, I was more than surprised. I was struck. I was totally disarmed. I felt the grace that they gave me—the kindness and care. And something deep inside realized that grace was really possible…for me.

It’s a striking feeling to feel grace. And it kind of took a serious hit at the piece of me that is always exacting more from me. I has made me stop and wonder.

It makes me think that the answer to perfectionism is love. Grace, I believe, is an action of love and it can only come from love. And perfectionists need a whole lot of grace. Enough grace that is catches us off guard when our defenses are down. Grace that flat out tackles us and pins us to the ground.

This makes me kind of sad, because it makes me realize that there is not enough love in the world. We are too busy trying to get it right—to be good enough, busy enough, important enough that we really don’t love enough. Of course, it’s not like we can love more until we ourselves are loved. And, I suppose that is what God is always up to, right?

6 comments on ““Failing” Lent: Day 10/11

  1. libeariandeb
    February 27, 2013

    I really identify with this message Lena. I try so hard to be what everyone wants and to do what everyone wants me to do. I try to be perfect and fail every time. I could not make it without the grace of my friends and God. It is good that they love me more than I love myself.

    Like

  2. Anne Rukakoski Roser
    February 27, 2013

    lovely piece, Lena! Thank you!

    Like

  3. Greg Gardner
    February 27, 2013

    I too suffer from perfectionism. A dear and loving friend who is in recovery recently asked me a simple and pointed question- Who are you to think you can be perfect? I took the point. Who AM I to think that I’m capable of perfection? I find great solice in my friend’s question.

    I also find both helpful and humorous Anne Lamott’s thoughts on the subject:

    “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor! It will keep you discontent and whiney for your whole life, unless you fight back; and the way you fight back is to make MORE mistakes, and messes, more failings and flailings. Beckett said, Fail again; fail better.”

    May we all learn to fail better.

    Like

  4. Greg Gardner
    February 27, 2013

    I just realized who you are and something you gave me in recent months. You wrote, “Perfection isn’t about getting it all right, but about always growing and learning along the way. That is fully human. That is perfectly human.”

    This is one among many “life saving” statements that I’ve been carrying in my pocket. It’s helped to keep in sane and alive. It’s helped me to really live rather than simply exist.

    This statement, as well as a reflection on the Syrophoenician woman, have helped me to see Jesus in a totally new light. It has helped me to see myself as (I think) God sees me. Perfectly human. And that’s good enough. It’s more than enough.

    Like

    • jabbokdawn
      February 27, 2013

      Greg, thank you so much for this. I think that many of us who write sermons and theological reflections (ok, it could just be me) sometimes write them as much for ourselves as for others. Clearly, I need to have that line repeated back to me!

      Also, thank you for letting me know that words I wrote have meant so much for you. I am blessed and honored to know that!

      Like

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This entry was posted on February 27, 2013 by in "Failing" Lent, Reflections and tagged , , , , .

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