Imperfect

imperfect flower

It’s easier to see other people’s faults than our own. That’s why Jesus told us to take the beam out of our own eye before we try to remove the speck from our brother’s. The tendency to cast a more judgmental eye on others isn’t all bad, however. It can provide fodder for healthy self-criticism when we recognize our own shortcomings in someone else. I first learned this lesson when I was turning 12. My cousin Keith was staying with us for the summer after his father, my uncle, died. Keith and I are both perfectionists, though I didn’t understand the extent or dangers of my own perfectionism at the time.

I remember my mother had us do an art project to help pass the time between more typical summer activities. It was decoupage – gluing a picture on a wooden block and then varnishing it. In the process Keith got a tiny tear in his picture. My mother assured him it was okay. No one would notice. The project would turn out fine despite the flaw. My cousin, however, was so troubled by the small imperfection that he tore up the picture. Seeing his reaction struck a chord in me. He did what I would have wanted to do had I made the same mistake. If I can’t succeed, I don’t want to continue.

Yesterday I made a careless mistake that may cost me hundreds of dollars. It sent my emotions into a tailspin and my whole day went down from there. I wish I could laugh off my mistakes. I can’t. Sometimes they weigh me down like an anchor. While I was wallowing in my self-pity, I got anxious updates throughout the day about a church member who underwent liver transplant surgery. While she was fighting for her life, I was worried about my personal failures and hurt feelings. My worries seem petty compared to her situation. Anxiety is like gas; it fills whatever vacuum you put it in. It’s my own perfectionism that causes much of my anxiety.

Perfectionism is a form of cowardice based on insecurity. It’s rooted in a fear of failure and perfectionists like me will do anything to avoid that red-faced feeling of shame that inevitably comes with it. Perfectionism makes people risk averse and hyper-vigilant.  When perfectionists are in a game and sense they can’t win, they quit. When they’re in a relationship that’s not working, they bail. Afterward they resolve never to try again. To quote one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs: “If I never loved, I never would have cried.”

I’m not as much of a perfectionist as I used to be. I still feel like giving up when things don’t seem to be moving toward measurable success. But that’s okay. Nobody’s perfect. Not even me.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Imperfect

  1. Leo Arnone

    Very well said! I can see much of myself in your words. Something to remember. Thanks for sharing! – Fr. Leo

  2. Ron Mallow

    I think preachers as much as anyone else can carry the weight of having to do everything correctly and create unnecessary anxiety for ourselves. And we hold the memories of those less than perfect moments so long it can affect our ability to be effective in our ministry. Better we admit our stumbles and get on with the business we have before us.In a sermon I preached recently I asked the question, “Do we really think it is right to carry the thoughts of how we messed something up in some way for the rest of our lives?”

  3. Yes…preachers do carry that weight of mistakes. Should we put that weight down? Certainly. However, it is often difficult to know how to put that weight down. We are unable to unload that weight until the person who has been on the receiving end of our mistakes has decided to put it down also. That is a much longer process.

    Several hundred dollars Travis? Ouch. I understand that pain. I also understand that it seems small when compared to a liver transplant. I suppose that there might be a certain amount of gratitude that it is only several hundred dollars. That being said, it is still allowed to hurt, and it does. I think we are allowed to feel our own pain, even when it is comparatively minor when compared to someone else’s pain.

    I would normally sign off with title; however, it appears thus far that the four participants in this conversation are clergy. We are colleagues, and as such on a first-name basis. Shall we settle for a set of parentheses?

    As today is Sunday, I wish the three of you a restful, joyful Sabbath.

    (Rabbi) Sean

  4. bob crowe

    Ausgezeichnete Blog , mein Bruder

  5. James Mucha

    Travis, I can relate to your words as a Type A perfectionist myself. My CPE supervisor once told me, “You sure are hard on yourself!” which shifted my perspective to “extending myself some grace” instead. When we feel we are being hard on ourselves (or someone else is), it is comforting to know that the Lord extends grace (unconditionally) our way everyday.

    • It is a difficult balance to strike, Gentlemen. I tell people often that the most important thing we have in hanging in our homes is on the bathroom wall. We are forced to look into it at the beginning and at the end of every day. It, and it alone, gives us an entirely unfiltered look at ourselves. The other side of it though is that we do not always give a fully honest look at ourselves. In this case, it is in being too critical. Most of us (I hope) are nowhere near as awful as we might think. We have not had rabbi/pastor/priest days that have had nothing redeemable about them.

      I remain convinced that the mirror is crucial. We must remember though to look at it with both eyes. As well, while we must accept that perfection is not achievable, we still must get out of bed every morning and make the effort.

      May the best of the day be yours.

      Sean

      P.S. Hi Jim. It has been a long time since chaplain school.

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