I have spent my life achieving. Performing. Pursuing excellence. Striving to be the best. I have spent more effort than I care to admit trying to force my life into neatly arranged drawers. I have idolized a squeaky clean image and perfection.
I have lived to people please. I have counted on those around me to validate my worth. Parents. Teachers. Bosses. Friends. Strangers. More than anything, I have wanted to matter. I have wanted to do life the right way. I have wanted the A on my report card, the "atta girl," the applause because it made me feel wanted, and worthy.
And it is exhausting. It is too big a burden for these tired shoulders to carry. Working from a place of need in a society where the standard is always changing is so draining. Working from a place of need in my mind where the expectations are higher and higher is depressing.
I could manage for a while, when life was simple and one-dimensional. When achieving an acceptable level of "perfection" meant only making the Dean's list and keeping my dorm room immaculate and doing my hair. But I was bound to stumble when the weights got heavy enough. When perfection grew into managing a household, and not only having, but also raising children, and thriving in a healthy marriage, and running a business, and somehow staying physically fit and sexually appealing, and never letting them see me sweat.
The weight was ... is crushing.
There have been breakdowns. Multiple. Breakdowns. Resolutions to try harder. Be more organized. Find out how she's doing it. Fake it until you make it. Control. Strive. Pull it together for crying out loud.
It is all a mirage in the desert. It is a beautifully decorated hamster wheel. It is "chasing after the wind." It is tiring, and energy-depleting and joy-killing and burdensome. It is weight, friends. Weight of the heaviest, self-imposed kind. And I didn't see it until my knees buckled and my ankles caved and it crushed my shoulders and I found myself on the ground, drowning in my own expectations.
I have lived here. For how long, I'm not sure. Days? Weeks? Months? Years.
I have been spinning, striving, working, proving.
I started this blog to convince myself that being real was the antidote to my dilemma. Shatter the perception of perfect. Find joy in the mess. Go counter-cultural. Expose the lie of perfectionism for the sham it is. But that too is chasing after the wind. "Imperfections are beautiful," is just another mantra, another expectation, more striving to make the chaotic, the ugly, the flawed meaningful and purposeful. Above my pay grade, truly.
But grace. I keep coming back to drink at this fountain. Life-freeing, expectation-shattering grace. Nothing has the power to loose and free like grace. I'm not talking about my own grace. I can give myself as much grace as I want and so what? When I give myself grace, I find myself on the couch with a pint of ice cream sitting on a pile of laundry and binge watching Parenthood. At the end of the day, my own grace leaves me uninspired and mostly unproductive. I cannot be the source of my own grace.
But God's grace. To know that I am so broken and so messed up and so imperfect and yet, He decidedly loves me. So much so that He sent Jesus to die to save me. Redeem me. To free me from the hamster wheel. To take the burdens off my shoulders. To do what I want so much for myself but could never do. To arrange the messy parts of my life neatly in the drawers. To carry the heavy, crushing weight of being all and doing all for me. To free me from striving and trying so hard.
No, real is not the new perfect folks. Not by any means. Real is just what it is. Lipstick on a pig. The ugly truth that we are all broken and incapable and just doing our best to cover up the ugly. If perfectionism says life is unicorns and rainbows, real says life is cigarette butts and cups of coffee. So what? At the end of the day, we're still left with the ugly and imperfect. Different picture, same problem.
Enter God's grace.
God's grace sees discarded cigarette butts and redeems them. Builds them into something the world could have never imagined. Makes them useful. Gives them value. He frees cigarette butts from their identity of addiction and enables them to be what they could never be on their own.
Perfectionism is my addiction. Trying so hard. Too hard. You have one too.
Enter God's grace.
Only God can love and reform such hopeless addicts. Only God can take our ugly, and not just cover it up, but truly redeem it and give us worth apart from itself. Only the work of Jesus on the cross can love us despite who and what we are - sinners flailing in the deep water in need of rescuing. In the words of Tim Keller, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
This is grace. This is life-freeing, expectation-shattering grace.
This, I'm learning, is the new perfect.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of [perfectionism, achieving, trying so hard, performing, striving, _________________] slavery." Galatians 5:1-3