Giving Up on Perfect

lyonriverwalk

You’ve gotta be able to give up a little bit.

Words intended to impart grace only settle with a sting in a prideful heart. And perhaps that’s why his comment was more frustrating than freeing to me.

Per usual, it was as I climbed under the covers at night that I finally faced the state of my soul. And I was unraveling at the seams but trying desperately to hold it together.

You’ve gotta be able to give up a little bit.

I had just filled his ear with my failures and a list of every way in which I fell short. I was angry at myself for not being a loving wife, a disciplined worker, a healthy eater, or a productive doer. I was angry to the point of tears and his suggestion was to give up a few inches, to cut some slack. Well, that was even more maddening.

I wanted him to tell me I’m superwoman. That I can wear all the hats and play all the roles. And not just that, but do it all perfectly too. I wanted him to reassure me that tomorrow’s a new day and that tomorrow I’d be perfect. I wanted him to feed me an impossible lie; instead he offered an option of freeing truth.

But it was a truth I wasn’t ready to hear. And as I look back, I see it wasn’t really about my husband or health or anything else at all. It wasn’t about falling short and failing others. No, if I were to be honest, it was all about me. And only me. I cared more that I wasn’t perfect than I did about a husband receiving only half attention. Or than I did about the dirty dishes. Or the missed workouts. Or the friends on the other end of the un-made phone calls.

Perfectionism is simply pride disguised.

And maybe that’s why I wasn’t ready for his words. Because I didn’t want to own up to imperfection.

I didn’t want to admit need. I didn’t want to identify with inadequacy, lack, or less than enough.

Perfectionism is paralyzing because single mistakes become insurmountable obstacles. And when we can’t get over the fact that we can’t do it all, we find ourselves too distraught to do anything.

But joy comes in freedom. And freedom is only found in facing truth. The truth that we are, at our very best, imperfect.

To give up on perfect means no more… No more striving at the expense of those around us. No more martyr attitudes when our efforts end up short and all we have is exhaustion to show for it.

But it also means more… More presence and peace. More reassurance in where we’re at and who we are. More purpose in perhaps a lesser number of roles. And above all, more than anything, grace.

Grace for ourselves that we will put forth our most valiant effort in all that we do, and yet sometimes come up short. Less than who we want to be. And that’s okay.

Perfection will tell you to throw in the towel, but grace will remind you of a savior who’s bridged the gap. Perfection will lead to despair but grace will remind you of tomorrow’s hope. Not that tomorrow we will be perfect. But that tomorrow we may be graced with another try.

In perfection, we steamroll the souls around us in the name of productivity and accomplishment. But grace walks with soft edges—inviting, engaging, identifying.

So it’s time to give up a little bit.

And today I’ll listen to words that first stung. But this time I’ll give them a try. I’ll give a few inches. I’ll stop striving for the impossible ideal.

And in giving up, I think I might just gain something greater.

Because perhaps I’ll be a better woman relinquishing my personal quest for perfection and clinging instead to the only One who is.

Question to comment or contemplate: What areas of our own lives to we need to “give up a little bit?”

Sideline, Part III

Wet Basketball Court

Whenever anyone learns I used to play basketball, the inevitable question that follows is, “Do you miss it?”
I smile. Because it’s a funny question to ask of a woman who’s living a life, in many ways, so hinged upon the sport.
Basketball determines the country I call home. It puts food on my table and clothes on my back. It is my Saturday evening entertainment and, often, my Sunday morning conversation. And when I see the name Meacham out there on the court, I still get jitters as if I were playing.
Miss it? How could I?
I’m surrounded by it!
But of course I know this isn’t what they mean.
They want to know if I really miss it. Not observing. Not cheering. Not just being around it. But do I miss the practicing, participating, partaking.
Because there’s a big difference, you know.
Actually, there couldn’t be a bigger difference. And perhaps that’s the problem with most fans. We analyze and obsess from the outside looking in, but the view is quite different from the inside looking out.
Bystanders are quick to offer solutions and statements. But they don’t know the sweat or the struggle. What’s more, they’ll never fully feel the sweetness and satisfaction that only comes by being involved, engaged and a part of something.
And it’s too often we approach our spirituality as we do the sports arena. Observing from the outside. Expecting to be entertained. We question, comment or criticize. But we’re too weary or worried, busy and self-absorbed to partake.
All are welcome. But far too few accept the invite.
I’ve been there—the spiritual bystander. Content with singing songs that other souls have written. Comfortable with praying prayers other hands have penned.
I’ve watched God work in those around me. I’ve read about Him, talked about Him, and, yes, even taught of Him. All without getting in the game.
But here’s the problem when we approach our Father like our favorite sport. We get to observe and analyze but never experience. And love only grows from experience.
So, no, I don’t miss basketball. It was a sweet season of life, but I’m perfectly fine as a fan. I’m working on a different game these days. And it’s more exciting, adventurous and unexpected than basketball ever was. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve got your Creator as your coach.

For More Sideline Sentiments:
Part I
Part II

Why I Go To Counseling For A Marriage That’s Not Broken

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I remember vividly walking into premarital counseling. It was nearly six and half years ago, but in some ways it feels more like a lifetime. I was a naive 20 year-old, giddy with excitement and all smiles while walking alongside my 23 year-old fiance.

We were holding hands with one arm and our respective methods for memory-keeping in the other. I had a fresh journal, chosen carefully at Target and already titled “Premarital Counseling.” He had a couple pieces of paper torn out of a notebook and folded in his pocket. He hadn’t been phased over the ungodly amount of time I’d spent contemplating over covers in the journal aisle, and I hadn’t said a word about his creased collection of college-rule papers. Already, we were winning.

Fast forward four years.

We were walking back into counseling, but this time we dropped the “pre” before marital. Neither of us had notebooks. Or smiles. I wasn’t eager to enter the office, and I approached the upcoming hour in an attitude of enduring, not engaging.

No, our marriage wasn’t failing and we weren’t even really fighting. We were, however, just a few weeks away from four months of distance—a first in our marriage. Trent was going to back to France to join a new team to play ball and I was staying behind in the States to finish up my Master’s. We were still holding hands, but this time mine was sweaty. I was scared of the distance and what it would mean.

But, mostly, I was ashamed. Ashamed to walk into a counselor’s office when I didn’t think we needed one. What if someone saw us? How would I explain to them we were really fine? What would they think?

It had been highly suggested for us to see a marriage counselor before that season of distance in our lives by a dear friend and pastor. In fact, he’d arranged the appointment himself. I decided those were grounds on which we weren’t allowed to back out. The unwritten rules of spirituality probably advise against making your pastor look bad.

Unusually quiet and abnormally uncomfortable, Trent and I entered the well-insulated office. It was just like I’d pictured in my head. Sterile, simple, a loaded box of Kleenex on the coffee table, and a long leather sofa, skinny and sleek. I couldn’t help but think I didn’t belong on that sofa. That sofa was for failing marriages and wrecked relationships. I didn’t want to identify with that. But my pastor would have the last say, and eventually one appointment turned into two, which somehow led to another and yet another.

I don’t know exactly when, but somewhere along the way, something happened. It was slow, but then again, most meaningful learning is. I talked and listened and learned—about marriage and life and what it means to be our best in both of them.

We live in a society that preaches prevention and pro-activity for dentists and doctors, trainers and teachers. But why is the counselor reserved for the deathbed of marriage? Is it true that I value my teeth and my tone more than the love of my life?

Perhaps the answer was in my actions. Fear and shame evidenced as apprehension. Pride and arrogance as unwillingness to engage. My words would deny it, but my actions proved it.

I’ll take the dentist or doctor any day. Just not the psychologist, please. 

I can look back and observe the unspoken lessons found in my own actions. And they prove to be as ironic as they are insightful. The pride that cautioned me from entering the counselor’s office was the same kind that showed ugly in my marriage. The shame that had me resenting the symbol of the sofa was the exact barrier between me and every other woman who’d ever sat in that seat herself. And distance? The one thing I was prepared to discuss before entering the office? Well, I found that might actually be more about fear than physicality. Indeed, fear’s family and friends are always at least an arm’s length away. Any closer is just too scary.

And so I’m learning. Learning there’s nothing weak about admitting we can be better—both ourselves and in our marriages. Pride is not a mark of strength, but rather, the admission of our arrogance is what makes us mighty people. I’m learning about the difference between shame and vulnerability and how one is wrong and the other isn’t. And how the latter is empowering against the former. Shame keeps us out of counselors’ offices and corrodes connection within marriages. Vulnerability opens wide the doors of communication, giving us the courage to connect.

For those reasons and a hundred more, my husband and I will continue to step through our counselor’s doors and seat ourselves in his corner office. Not because it’s comfortable or necessarily even enjoyable. But because shame and pride and fear are no longer big enough players in the game to keep us out.

I’m starting to understand that a marriage doesn’t need to be broken for it to get better. That imperfection can be endearing and perfection, in fact, doesn’t actually exist. Not in my marriage and certainly not in myself. There’s nothing wrong with getting help, even—no, especially—when we feel like we don’t need it. And if we were all to be just totally and completely vulnerable for a minute, then maybe we’d admit we all could use it.