And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good. John Steinbeck
I’m reading and re-reading Present over Perfect, by Shauna Niequist, in my current season. I’ve even taken to reading excerpts to my two best friends over voxer sometimes in the morning. (I’m sure they’re thrilled with this development).
You’ll probably hear a lot from this book during this little 28 day writing challenge. In one chapter, which leads with the above quotation, she writes this after having gotten caught up in the chaos of Christmas perfection one season:
It’s still a tremendous temptation for me to spin out into achievement or efficiency or performance instead of dwelling deeply in life as it presents itself each moment… Present over perfect living is real over image, connecting over comparing, meaning over mania, depth over artifice. Present over perfect living is the risky and revolutionary belief that the world God has created is beautiful and valuable on its own terms, and that it doesn’t need to be zhuzzed up and fancy in order to be wonderful. Sink deeply into the world as it stands. Breathe in the smell of rain and the scuff of leaves as they scrape across driveways on windy nights. This is where life is…
I was told, from a young age, I was a perfectionist. Maybe I was. As a child, slightly OCD and introverted, I liked things neat and tidy and well planned. After my parent’s divorce before 8th grade and then a crippling back disease that left me bedridden in 11th grade, I realized that as much as I wanted to clutch control, I didn’t have any. Of course, this made me want it all the more. My eating disorder in college was just another attempt to achieve perfection a few years later when family relationships went awry.
I’ve tried to party my way or work my way or love my way or volunteer my way or work out my way to this ambiguous summit it seemed to me other people reached. I needed to climb my way to some pinnacle that I couldn’t really see or understand but which drove me to chase awards and leadership positions and social engagements and any number of commitments beyond what God actually wanted for me.
One of my favorite verses is in Ephesians, Chapter 2: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. I love this idea of all the things God has pre-planned for you since the time of your birth. But you know what I do? I skip over the two verses before this one. I think, oh, God needs to me to do a bunch of things, I’m going to run go do those and create a plan and knock the socks of God with my ability.
You know what it says right before this whole big plan God has in store? It says, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so no one can boast.
No one can boast.
Not by works.
Not of yourself.
Well take that, little self-propelled planning perfectionist.
And, to boot, what if the plan He has for me is SMALL by today’s standards? What if it isn’t promotions and awards and money and a marquee name? What if it’s investing well in my children? Investing in my marriage? Loving friends? Loving others?
I drove little bit to school this morning for Girls on the Run. She and I were battling over which one of us loved the other one more. Without being able to resolve the conflict, we stopped to pray before she went inside. We looked around and began:
Thank you God for these trees. For this green grass and the cool breeze. Thank you for this car and our home and our school. Thank you for our family, mom, and daddy, and S, and L, and W. Thank you for the sun that will come today and the rain that will come tomorrow.
And on and on.
I felt deeply centered as I drove in Houston traffic to my office.
Present over perfect.