Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pride and Perfectionism

Whenever I make a mistake I get this horrible sickening, heart-dropping feeling somewhere right between my lungs and my stomach. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s my mom calling my name because I forgot to wipe the counter or if it's the distant flashing lights of a police car causing me to double check if I am speeding, my mind spins and my heart races when I anticipate the fact that I might have made a mistake. 

I don't handle my mistakes well, and that is probably a result of my highschool experience. I graduated highschool with an average in the high 90s, and to this day I am still convinced that is really the only reason why I was acknowledged as a person during my teenage years. I was the one who edited, explained, and met everybody's expectations. And as a result, my personal grading scale became a little warped:

100 - perfect! you should be so proud of yourself
97-99 - you did an amazing job
94-96 - really good! just a few things you did wrong
90-93 - you could have a done better, but you didn't do a bad job
87-89 - not awful
84-86 - you should have studied harder
80-83 - were you not paying attention to anything in class?
less than 79 - you failed
*disclaimer: I do not believe that 70s or 80s are bad marks for anyone to receive. In fact, I think that they are incredible marks and reflect extremely hard work. This 'marking scale' is simply what I have come to expect of myself* 

Being someone who cares a lot about my grades in school, I also attribute all of my real-world mistakes to percentages: 
Forgetting to put my bowl in the dishwasher would be about a 94% - not the end of the world but still could have done better.
Letting my emotions get the best of me would probably be around an 83% - so close, but I just couldn’t do it.
A possible speeding ticket would probably be somewhere around a 10% - those flashing lights would mean I have nearly done everything wrong.
And forgetting to hand in a paper because I was stressed about a midterm? - well, complete and utter failure. 


I hate that word. 

It has become such an adjective. A way of describing people. A way of describing the things that we do and the results of our actions - whether our mistakes were intentional or not. And sometimes, as hard as we try not to fail - it still happens. And then that happening ends up defining us because that moment of failure is what stands out to the world. So frustrating. 

Adjectives entirely define things. The afternoon sky is defined by it’s blue colour. Apples are defined by their crunchy sound. Drinking water is defined by its pristine clarity. Winter is defined by the cold air, and summer by its warmth. 

We should not defined by failure. 

Perfectionism has always been (and probably always will be) a battle for me. I have been told almost every day for the entirety of my life that I "don't have to be perfect" and that there is "more to me than my average in school" and that "marks don't define me" and that "it's okay to make mistakes" and when I don't do as well as I want to "God has a plan" and I "just need to breathe." And I am thankful for everyone who has ever reminded me of that. But I have to say that as much as I recognize the truth in those statements, the words have become white noise. I mean, it's pretty easy to say those things when you're not the one in the situation (when you don't have expectations and averages and $25000 scholarships hanging over your head). 

On top of all that advice, I have read so many books about grace and being a girl and how I shouldn't try so hard to be perfect (note: I highly recommend Graceful by Emily P. Freeman to every girl who has ever doubted herself). I have learned all about the freedom we have in Jesus and I have been reminded multiple times that He loves us no matter how well we do or don't do. I have been reminded that we can't reach perfection because of sin, and I have been reminded of the value we have because of His love. I 'know' all of the things that I'm supposed to. Yet for some reason that knowledge hasn't been overly useful.

- - - 

A couple weeks ago I was having a conversation with one of my friends about how much I hate making mistakes. At first she was sympathetic and encouraging like any friend would be. But then she said something so humbling: 

"Kayla, maybe it's not about you." 

My initial reaction was to defend myself ("Of course it's about me, I'm the one who makes the mistakes! And I'm the one who suffers from my mistakes!"). But after a moment her words made sense, and I realized why all of that stuff that I 'knew' hadn't made a difference. It really isn't about me. 

Pride leads us to believe that our human-ness (whatever we do or don't do) matters most. We end up focusing on our mistakes, our shortcomings, or whatever we see as failure. We focus on the percentages on marked essays, the number of times we are reprimanded, and the way we handle our emotions. Of course, our mistakes are our own and we need to take responsibility for the fact that we are human, and we are sinful. But that’s not where it ends. 

We have been chosen. We have been given the opportunity to be made free. We have been invited by our First Love to live under Grace for all of eternity. We are not under the law anymore. We are not constrained by this world and its sin. 

“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead you live under the freedom of God's grace.” 
Romans 6:14 

We are defined by the Grace that was bought for us on the cross. We live under this Grace. This Grace allows us to breathe. To love. To live. To make mistakes. And even more than that - to learn and grow from our mistakes. It’s not the end if we fail an exam or let our emotions get the better of us or forget something important. Because Jesus died. 

For you. For me. For us. 
So that paper that you didn't do well on? It’s at the cross.
That day that everything went wrong and you took it out on your family? It’s at the cross.
That time you overslept and ended up being late? It’s at the cross. 
That speeding ticket? It's at the cross. 

Jesus took it all. We don’t have to be perfect, because He is. We simply need to sit at His feet and be willing to learn, in the presence of His Refreshing, Healing, Redeeming Love. 

We are free. 

- Kayla 

Katie Cottrell Photography