A Perfectionist Perspective

How easy life would be if we could truthfully believe what we want to believe about ourselves.

I would love to believe that I’m never motivated by selfish concerns. Would be enthralled by a sense of purpose and clarity in all my actions, coming from a heart of gold and a spiritual mindset.

If only.

Truth is, it’s dreadfully easy to fool yourself. P.T. Barnum said “There’s a sucker born every minute”, but he could have been referring to each of us as suckers for self-deception. When you think you’re free of pride, or of making decisions to boost your own self worth rather than others, that’s when reality steps in and shows you that you’re prone to the same issues that the preening pop star or the pompous politician wrestle with. Not only that, it’s tiring sometimes to keep evaluating yourself. Paul implied in Corinthians that he did not even judge himself, and perhaps that’s why he had so much energy and focus on God – because judging yourself is a time and emotion consuming enterprise.

So to put practical meat on this metaphysical bone of an introduction, I’m again dealing with a situation where I felt my desires weren’t met. (Yes, it’s a church thing, as usual) Our services today were at a high school auditorium. Now, as I should, I’ll list the successes of the morning: 1300 in attendance, numerous re-dedications and conversions to Christ, a beautiful display of dance, mime, and musical worship, and a dynamic Word from our Pastor. And what did I come away with?

Yep, perfectionist that I am, the negatives overshadowed it. As someone who does programs every week, I should expect the unexpected. But still, when the sound wasn’t working, when the offering was shifted without my knowledge, when the song didn’t last long enough for offering and we had to pull out an unrehearsed number, and especially when my family ended up walking (Walking!) from the auditorium because I had to break down the equipment and take it back at the church (no room for family in the SUV when it’s full of drums and keyboards), well, I didn’t feel very spiritual afterward.

So am I selfish?

Where does the line between disappointment and ungratefulness fall? The book I’m currently reading, “The Heart of the Artist”, says perfectionist thinking leads to an all good or all bad type of analysis. Either we’re on the mountaintop or in the valley. Emotionally, I think Jeremiah and Elijah, maybe even Jonah were like that in God’s service. When things went well, they were high on God’s truth and His victories. When things went south, they pleaded for release. I, too, have looked for release from trials that to others may seem trivial, but in the heart of the artist they get magnified a hundred times. We wear our hearts on our sleeves through our performance, and all too often they get knocked to the ground, and we can’t distinguish whether we were in the right place or time to be offering up service for the pain of unrealized hopes or expectations.

If I had an answer for that type of feeling, a way of acknowledging desire for excellence without missing the point of selfless service, I’d probably have no need to write this entry, because I would have dealt with the problem and gone on about my business. But the struggle is part of the filtering process which allows me to see just where I am in this business of being authentic with myself and with others. Whether things go right is not as important as whether I go right – that is, move in the right direction.

As for family (the real priority), peaks and valleys also dominate the landscape. Peaks include the success of our first few lessons with Learning Language Arts through Literature. Both Marcus and Naomi like their books, and I feel better knowing we’ll have a systematic schedule of dealing with grammar and handwriting (Marcus still sees no value in cursive, but I’m about to start requiring it. No other motivation seems to stick.) Our enrichment classes continue to be the highlight of their week. Marcus is developing delivery strategies for his already prodigious public speaking talents, and Naomi has become the stalwart practice queen of baton twirling.
Valleys, well, that would rest on my dear oldest son, who has not started off so well in his all-important junior year. At least he admitted his struggles in Pre-Calc, but transparency doesn’t make the grades come up. Considering that he also has issues remembering homework and delivering assignments on time, I’m once again evaluating whether to continue this ‘sink or swim’ attitude toward his schooling. Knowing he’ll be on his own in college and that he’ll have to be self motivated and self correcting is one thing – having him fail to make the grades that will get him into the college in the first place is another. Again, not that I didn’t expect the valleys, but they just don’t seem to get any easier. So I’ll sit down with him and really look at what’s going on, make the tutor appointments, try to get him to take ownership while not letting him slip through the crack of the “everything’s OK” cop-out defense. We’ll have to see whether intervention brings results as well as a change in his approach – which I guess is still ultimately up to him. The perfectionist ‘keep everything under control’ method loses again, which means the ‘walk by faith’ method will have to kick in. And the journey continues.

After all that, just a little trip to Applebees can seem like an oasis of rest in a desert of bills, grades, and ministry hangups. And we did laugh there at Marcus’ charming of the waitress, Naomi’s deadpan delivery, and Christopher’s quirky perceptions. Miki and I smile at each other more and more when we see them in action, because we simply can’t figure out how either of us could have anything to do with how unique our childrens’ perspectives are. It’s no longer, “She gets that from you,” or, “You’re just like your…” They are individuals, and now we have to simply love and guide them into being who God wants them to be, not what we expected them to be. I can’t say I know what’s in store for them, but I know He’ll be there with us as the ultimate Parent, and that’s enough comfort for us to continue.

Looking unto the hills,

Homeschooldaddy

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