A while ago, before the New Year, I had a conversation with my husband. It went something like this:
Husband, casually: “Do we have any more butter?”
Me (defensively, feeling guilty for not planning ahead): “I don’t know, look in the freezer.”
Husband: “I don’t see any…”
Me, explosively: “Why is it always up to me to plan the grocery lists and keep track of everything we have and don’t have? I’m sorry we don’t have any butter! It’s my fault, it’s always my fault…”
Husband, surprised: “Don’t get mad at me, I’m not the one who buys the groceries…”
Me, inwardly seething: “Well, then maybe it’s time we started sharing the responsibility, huh?” And the conversation degenerates from there.
Defensiveness, blame-shifting, requiring those around me to validate and share my stress or else… All these are symptoms of a soul-disease I have, called perfectionism.
When I fail, even in the smallest way, I get intensely frustrated with myself for not being perfect.
Eventually, as usual, I apologized contritely to my husband for flipping out, but this time he didn’t let me get away with just an apology.
“I hope one of your New Year’s resolutions is to do something about this,” he said firmly. “You really need to get a handle on your perfectionism.”
Ugh. That word. It rolled around hollow in my mind for the next few days: “You really need to...do something about this….” I rebel. My perfectionism hates the fact that “perfectionistic” describes me! It sounds so negative, so controlling, so anal retentive. Couldn’t “perfectionistic” just mean I strive for excellence? I’m good at details, I like to finish what I start? I like to fold my towels exactly in thirds to fit the linen cabinet?
Could perfectionism really be a sin?
Well, perfectionism by itself might not be sin, but if it’s allowed to rule me, it makes life miserable for me, and everyone else around me. And this is why I am so thankful for this man I married: lovingly but firmly, he confronts me with my sin, and calls it sin. (Exploding at my loved ones over tiny details is sin, pure and simple.) Gently but strongly, he suggests that I deal with it.
So, a few days later, I decide to start. After tucking the boys in for their naps, I flop across my bed on my stomach with my journal and a pen. I’m going to “deal with my perfectionism”. First, I skirt the issue by writing down all my other goals for 2012, including what to do about exercising regularly, what Scripture to memorize this year (no answer for that one yet), how to foster gratefulness in my life, how to make space for writing and music, etc…
But finally, I’m down to it. I write:
leading to Blaming & Defensiveness when I feel like I haven’t done something perfectly…
resulting in self-imposed STRESS that I succumb to, flip out under, and impose on others.
-expecting others to be perfect too, and resenting it when they’re not, or taking out my anger amd exasperation on them
This is all related to PRIDE in my own abilities.
My IDOL is: that my self-worth is wrapped up in my COMPETENCE.
There. It’s out. I wrote it all down on the page. Not just the sin, but a whole long list of the ugly resulting sins: blame-shifting, defensiveness, imposing stress on others, pride, idolatry. How my sin makes life miserable for others.
And then, the root of the sin: my idol. What am I fondling in my heart as more precious than Christ? What is my self-worth and sense of wellbeing wrapped around?
Feeling competent and perfect.
As soon as that is threatened, I explode. (That’s how I know it’s my idol.)
Yuck. Ugh. Ugly. I hate this in myself.
And immediately, almost before I ask, the Holy Spirit gives me a name for this year:
The Year of Letting Go.
The year of letting go of expectations on myself,
my environment -
but especially myself.
Ann writes of letting go,
“All these years, these angers, these hardenings, this desire to control, I had thought I had to snap the hand closed to shield joy’s fragile flame from the blasts. In a storm of struggles, I had tried to control the elements, clasp the fist tight to as to protect self and happiness. But palms curled into protective fists fill with darkness. I feel that sharply, even in this...and this realization in all its full emptiness: My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy.
Flames need oxygen to light.
Flames need a bit of wind.
The theology’s putting on skin.
….There it is, the secret of joy’s flame: Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control...let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper surprised thanks.”
But how? My logic starts churning: How do I let go of expectations and high standards, and still fulfill my responsibilities and set good goals to reach for? How do I move forward in my life, marriage, or mothering by letting go of what I want and need, and not striving after it?
How will I still find the joy of accomplishing, of finishing, of reaching for something and attaining it?
I still don't know the answers to the how questions,
but as I try this new year on for size,
this “Year of Letting Go,"
in my tentative open palm, joy’s flame flickers.
* * *
Does any of this resonate with you?
How would you answer the How questions?
Leave a comment with your answer… let’s journey together!