"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is a log in your own eye?" Matthew 7:3-4 (ESV)
It probably won't surprise you if I tell you I am a bit of a perfectionist. I always have been and even though it is a character fault, if I am honest, I have never really been bothered by it. Perhaps I have even cultivated it in myself thinking that it helped me strive to do the best I could do. Over achieving is always praised in schools and I was a student who learned to over achieve because I enjoyed the praise that came with it. Why should I dislike something that brought me praise?
It wasn't until a became a parent that I started to see the negative effects of perfectionism. One of my older children is very much like me. I started to see how perfectionism stopped this child from even to begin trying something because of the fear that it wouldn't be done as well as the child hoped. Part of me couldn't understand this. In my mind, it just made me try harder in order to be the best. I thought. I then I started thinking about what I don't do. There are certain games I won't play because I don't enjoy them... because I can't win. And I don't do sports. At all. I don't enjoy them. Because I'm not the best. It's a vicious cycle. But I'm OK with not playing sports, so my contentment with my perfectionism remained.
And then came this past week when I was helping TM work through some stuff. (That sounds so benign, huh?) But as a result I think I am getting a bit of a glimpse of the ugliness of perfectionism... mine included. I now have seen how perfectionism can ruin things. I have had glimpses of it in this child before, but it was one of those things that I wasn't clearly understanding at the time. The desire to crumple up a picture, to throw away a toy, to choose not to join in some fun game that everyone else is playing. I knew these actions stemmed from some unhappiness and insecurity, but was at a loss as to the root.
I think that the lie at the root of all of this is perfection. A two-fold perfection. The first was easier to figure out and more obvious... personal perfection. The routine failure of not living up to what you think you should. The "My picture is not good enough" idea. The second part is more insidious... that if my external situation is not perfect then I cannot be happy. If things are not perfect than I have excuse to be unhappy and angry. Perfectionism is a cop out because nothing this side of heaven is going to be perfect.
And so I come back to the statement of Jesus at the beginning of this post. I cannot help my son to see the fallacy of perfectionism if I still indulge in it myself. The illusion that my house will be perfectly organized at some point in the future if I just work hard enough or come up with a brilliant enough system. That even though I tell other people that a homeschooling mother cannot do it all, I am the exception. How many times has J. come home and I have complained to him about what I haven't done because my internal expectations are so unrealistic that I never measure up to myself. How many times have my children hear me do this... that I haven't done enough? How many times have my children watched me spend time pouting because things didn't work out as I thought they should? How can I help my child have realistic expectations if I do not model this myself?
Because this is going to be difficult, I am telling the world of my resolution. I am going to try to not complain about what hasn't been done. It seems a small thing, but I want to be able to succeed. Just as I have been trying to give my son an abundance of experiences with success, I will start the same way with myself.
More and more I see parenting as a spiritual discipline. Without all these small (and not so small) people around to care for, my illusions about myself and my spiritual state would be able to remain intact. Parenting, especially parenting many, is a humbling experience. And as the girls and I learned in our Bible study of Isaiah last week, to be humbled is to be emptied of everything. Everything that is not God. And it is when you are emptied that you have room for God.