I aim for perfect.
The goal isn’t praise or accolades; praise makes me awkward, especially when I’m just doing what was expected of me. Really, I want to avoid disgruntled comments. I desperately want to be competent, and the fear I’ll be weighed and found wanting drives my compulsive striving. I manage better when I limit the areas where I feel a need to be competent.
The problem: I forget to set my limits consciously and strategically.
When everything is up for grabs–home, family, faith, work, photography, friends– my vision blurs like a telephoto zoom lens panning in and out without focusing. It’s exhausting.
Perhaps all is well on the outside. Inside anxiety simmers just under the surface; it’s not overwhelming while I manage to stick landings like a gymnast.
But, there it repeats the lie that my value and acceptance come only from the things I do well: if acceptance and welcome follow the job well done, then the lie seems so unquestionably true. And, then anxiety asks, “if that next landing doesn’t stick, who am I then?” What must I do to be competent at this next thing on the calendar?
There’s little space for actual rest and play in this mindset. Only the question: what would a competent wife to do? What would a competent friend do? What would a competent employee do? How do I juggle time, skills, knowledge and energy to fit it all in? How do I keep all the plates spinning without crashing?
I bought the American myth: if I work hard enough, I can make it happen. That’s been a lifesaver and a drowning anchor in the decade of infertility, and often, both at the same time. It keeps me from wallowing in despair while also preventing me from embracing new dreams.
And most frequently, this work ethic prevents me from tasting the beauty and wonder of grace in my own life. Even while I know better, grace feels like something I earn by checking off tasks and obligations or lose by failing.
As I read the story of the death of Moses in Deuteronomy 34, God irked me. God showed Moses the promised land. After wandering in the wilderness for years upon years, Moses sees the land with his own eyes, but doesn’t get to enter. Instead, like God commanded, Moses died in the land of Moab.
Moses, who knew God face to face and who did all these amazing things in the land of Egypt and in the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings, still hits a limitation. He cannot go on.
And yet, this limitation does not ultimately end his legacy or his relationship with God.
Grace is enough.
Sometimes I hate that word, “enough.” I’d prefer, “extra” or “perfect.” I want to have my cake and eat it, too. Much as it pains me, I am apparently greedy.
I don’t get all the things. I can’t do all the things or learn all the things. I run into my boundaries and bounce back like the time I walked face first into a glass wall at Panera. I thought I was heading through a door and found a wall instead.
But, there’s comfort in this fact: it’s not just me. None of us can do all the things perfectly in spite of the desire to try or the guilt and embarrassment when we fail.
And even more importantly, like Moses, failure and limitation are not the only words in our stories.
Maybe, if we live long enough, we limp after wrestling God.
But, maybe this limp is grace, too. The reminder that even in struggle, we did meet God and we cannot forget it. The gift of appreciating “good enough” over compulsive anxious “extra.” The knowledge that limitation and boundaries, even as they burn and chafe, do not mean the absence of love or grace.
Perhaps the greatest help I can give myself is to recognize my limits and to choose carefully where I invest my need to be competent. This drive for competence is part of me, and I accept the gifts it brings (and problems it causes). However, it needs focusing before it sends my life amok.
To that end, I’m committing to write regularly.
For the last few months, writing publicly needed a pause; I needed to pull back to private journaling. I lost my voice, wondered, “Who am I to say much of anything?” And then, promptly lost myself in the pity party of “Does anything in this space matter?”
As it turns out, perhaps it did matter more than I knew. I need the challenge for growth this little space provides — space to ask questions and examine stories, especially my own.
Writing, for me, functions much like oysters do. Oysters help remove pollutants and impurities from the waters where they live. Likewise, writing regularly helps me recognize the toxic stories I’m telling myself and make better (and more conscious) choices.
Beyond that, writing is a place for risks that matter. There’s something in writing that fills me with breath and life, even as I feel deeply insecure over my worthiness to do it.
Writing is where I wrestle with God and remember grace is for me — and not just for others. Perhaps this is the paradox of my life: this space which generates so much anxiety about my competence is also the place where the deep healing in my life happens. This is where grace and messy life intersect.
Maybe, like so much else in my life, it’s a matter of learning to accept the grace and wonder of “good enough” instead of looking for greener pastures.