Freedom From Perfection, Conclusion: Embracing Imperfect
Last week I went to the beach for Spring Break. I love the beach. It’s my absolute favorite place on Earth (disclaimer: I haven’t been to a lot of places on Earth, so I reserve the right to change the ranking of the beach should I ever encounter a more perfect place).
We vacation on the ocean every year. Normally, I spend a lot of time walking the beach, assessing my life. I consider where I am and where I’m going. I examine my heart, my motives and my actions. I plot out ways to improve the condition of my heart, my motives, my actions—and then some. I read a book or two in the Christian-Non-Fiction-Self-Help genre. I highlight and jot down notes in the sidebar of my self-help books. I pray and journal about ways I can improve myself.
You wanna know what I did last week?
I unpacked my computer and self-help books, but left them untouched on my side table.
I read two secular books with the spiritual nourishment equivalent of a Twinkie and a packet of Splenda.
I walked on the beach barefoot every morning, not to assess my life, but rather to feel the sand on my feet.
I prayed, but mostly just to thank God for everything.
I had dessert and wine with almost every dinner.
I made no self-examinations, no life-altering plans and no meaningful journal entries.
I did not write.
I did not think.
Except whether we should first go to the beach or the pool.
And whether the children needed to reapply their sunscreen.
Maybe that describes every vacation for you, but this was a major paradigm shift for me. Unplugging my brain does not come naturally. I fear letting go of my perpetual self-improvement-agenda. I fear not using every opportunity to be the best possible wife/mom/writer/friend/Christian I can be. I fear if I let down my guard– for even just one moment–I will also let down people.
And I will. I have. I do. Maybe you are one of the people I’ve let down.
Many times throughout this series, I’ve mentally rehearsed the occasions I let people down. The times people expressed their disappointment in me. The times I allowed people to see My Imperfect, and they rejected me because of it.
I can easily dismiss the criticisms of those who barely know me. Those opinions don’t define me or even bother me, really. But I’ve struggled with knowing people who know me best have rejected me because of My Imperfect. I’ve wondered how to process rejection while still holding myself repsonsible for the hurt I’ve caused others–because of My Imperfect.
Most perfectionists, like me, have experienced the devastation of being completely vulnerable to someone, only to have that person say to you, “If I had known this about you, I would never have chosen you.” I’ve actually had these words spoken to me by someone who knew me very well. Maybe you have, too. It sucks. And I don’t even like to say “sucks.”
Experiences like this propel perfectionism into a new dimension. It exposes the fear that keeps perfectionism bound to our being:
That once people find out who we REALLY are, they will not love us any longer.
So, we compensate and adjust. Either we strive to become perfect (an exercise in futility), or we isolate ourselves from relational depth so we never have to expose our imperfections to anyone, ever again. That’s where I tend to exist, at least since my last episode of major rejection. In superficial, safe relationships.
But there is freedom in Embracing Imperfect. It defies the gravity of Perfectionism. It’s counter-intuitive to the pressure to remain on a perpetual self-improvement project. It’s the exact opposite of holding ourselves to a ridiculous standard. It’s being completely okay with the fact that we are flawed beings. It’s celebrating grace in its rawest form. It silences the voices of our harshest critics.
“One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”
Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Oh? Tell me.”
“Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume.
Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”
Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”
That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”
He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
(Luke 7:36-50, The Message)
And so, as I (finally) conclude this series, my prayer for all of us who struggle with perfectionism is that we live with all the guts and humility of the town harlot. That in the face of the morally superior, we fall at Jesus’ feet, let down our hair, and rain tears of worship and repentance. That we see with spiritual eyes the depth of acceptance God has for us, even in especially in our messy condition.
That we always remember, because we have been forgiven much, we can love all the more.
That we finally and completely Embrace Imperfect—and then go in peace.
This was a really nice series,Sandy! It got me to thinking about my annual spring student music recital. It is such a difficult emotional balance because I coach the students to strive for perfection, knowing that the actual performance is never perfect. It's hard for students to accept that. I tell them that however it turns out it IS perfect, because that's how it's supposed to be. It's not about that single performance … it's about all the learning that went into preparing for that performance, and all the learning that takes place in reflection of that performance. If I could only apply that to other areas of my life, haha!
BTW … are those your perfectly painted toes?!
In the last five years, my husband and I have found community with a couple where we are really honest with our stuff, love each other and go in peace. I have longed for that my whole life. (Then we moved away . . . sadness . . . but we have skype.)
Sandy, thank you for this series. It has been full of practical truth.
Now that's what I call a perfect vacation. Glad you enjoyed.
Thanks for the Biblical aspect of your post.
Love the new photos of your kids.
Sandy Cooper, you are wise beyond your years, young lady. I have enjoyed this series immensely–not that I could relate to much of it, imperfectionist that I am–but because you wrote with such wisdom, humor, and authenticity. I just love this post especially because I love your description of your vacation–sounds like mine, only with better weather. And I LOVE the last line. Go in peace, my friend. Go in peace.
I love this so much- thank you:)
I also love how at the end you say–" ……. that we live with all the guts and humility of the town harlot. That in the face of the morally superior, we fall at Jesus’ feet, let down our hair, and rain tears of worship and repentance. That we see with spiritual eyes the depth of acceptance God has for us, even in, especially in …our messy condition."
NOTE- the only "morally superior" is JESUS.. That is who we were created to worship, not others and their opinions of us. Lord, help me in this area>
My favorite part of your post is the disclaimer about the beach. I agree, both with it being the favorite, and maybe changing the ranking in the future.
What a huge step to let all your projects just lie. . . my thing is productivity rather than perfection, so I can imagine what a shock it would be to just be frivolous.
Oh – also loved your remark about a Twinkie and Splenda . . . I might need to borrow the expression!
oh my goodness Sandy… I just wrote about the SAME thing today… how i think sooo much… and its not really living by faith! Your writing is good for the soul. and I'm sooooo glad that your vacation was also!!! AMEN!!!!
What a beautiful conclusion to a much needed series!! I heart your vacay. That is the best kind. I always go with intentions but usually totally unplug from life too.
My favorite part is walking just to feel the sand on your feet… Maybe it's all the running I've been doing?!
I live fully in the place I am knowing imperfect needs Jesus. Amen?
Thank you so much for this series. I feel like I've made great progress in letting go of those horrible, crippling expectations I had for myself.
BTW, I spent a glorious week at the beach last week totally unplugged as well. I even ate carbs without a complete meltdown. My toenails are gold and sparkly rather than red though! 😉
Love this one..
Thanks for blogging..