Try, Try Again

Try, Try Again

One day, during the upheaval of school from home, I was helping my niece with her homework. While smart and a quick learner, she didn’t appreciate the corrections I was offering as I critiqued the direction of her 2s or her S. I encouraged her to try again, despite the initial frustration of getting it wrong.

As she was begrudgingly doing it again, I thought about how so much of a child’s life is learning how to do things. Naturally, that involves a lot of trial and error as they learn to walk, read, write, ride a bike, hit a softball, do a cartwheel, snap their fingers, and the list goes on and on. Children have to start so often from a place of humble acceptance of their inability to do something they want to do.

I think I could learn a lot from that disposition.

In my life, it is easy to stay safe and do the things I know how to do or think I can do well. When it comes to looking like a fool, I’ve never been much of a risk-taker. I much prefer to watch and see how others do it before attempting something on my own. Yet some things can only be learned by trying, failing, and trying again.

Continue reading “Try, Try Again”

I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent

I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent

Lent seemed to be forty days of falling on my face.

As Easter approached, I found myself holding back, wishing the days would reverse and I would have the gift of more Lent.  I was annoyed with myself because I knew better.  The Lents that are the most intense and where I am the most faithful yield the best Easters.  After forty days of extra prayer and penance, I burst with joy into an Easter that truly finds me resurrected and renewed.

This time, I wanted an extra long Lent.  I wanted more time to make up for the ways I failed day after day.  I wanted more time to get it right.

I walked into Holy Week and then into the Triduum with a bittersweet feeling.  After such a pitiful Lent, it didn’t seem as though I deserved to rejoice in the Resurrection.  At some point between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil I became convinced of one thing: I am in incredible need of a Savior.

On Ash Wednesday, I had great hopes of competing well and running this sacrificial race for Our Lord.  I wanted to do great things and to show how much I love the Lord.  When I arrived at the altar of repose on Holy Thursday evening, I had to acknowledge that the Lord was the only one professing the depths of His faithful love.  I desire to be a follower of Jesus and yet I quickly become like the disciples in that night of testing.  I run away, I hide, and I wonder what Jesus will do with someone so small and pitiful. Continue reading “I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent”

To Be the Face of God

To Be the Face of God

The other day, I gave a test in all of my classes.  In the midst of this, I discovered a student cheating on the test.  As I spoke with the student and some details were revealed, I found that I wasn’t angry with the student.  I simply felt this incredible sadness.

I always want to be able to trust my students.  When something happens that betrays that trust, I find myself a bit frustrated and sad.  I don’t want to doubt what they tell me or question their integrity.  But they are humans and sometimes humans cheat or lie.

During the rest of the day, this incident weighed on my mind.  I was sad and disappointed with this student but also with students in general.  Cheating is something I do not understand.  Perhaps because I enjoyed school and generally like a challenge, but I could never see myself cheating in school.  In middle school and parts of high school, people thought I was semi-ridiculous for how cautiously I guarded my paper during tests or quizzes.  I didn’t want to be the unknowing person from whom others stole their answers.  Some of my students have a very different perspective.

So I began to wonder how God takes in the continually disappointing behaviors of humanity.  It is a love that I cannot comprehend because it is truly a love without condition.  My love is conditional.  I have a great affection for my students, but when confronted with their weaknesses and their imperfections, I struggle with how to move forward.  I know a single action does not define who they are, but it shapes how I perceive them.  How can the Lord look at us in the midst of every sin and love us wholly and entirely?   Continue reading “To Be the Face of God”

Be Perfect as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect

Confession: I have a problem with perfectionism.

And I think I am only just now realizing the depths of this noxious weed in my soul.  Perfectionism is easy to portray well and make it seem like a good thing, rather than the lie that it is.  It can actually be stifling.  While I know this theoretically, it is entirely another thing to believe it with my actions.

One memory I have of perfectionism having the upper hand is when my dad was teaching me how to drive.  I was pretty resistant.  Every teenager seems to yearn for the day when they can take the keys and drive to places on their own.  I wanted to drive, but I didn’t want to learn to drive on the manual transmission car that my dad had for me.  With an automatic car, you just drive.  You focus on the road, on the signs, on the other cars, but the rest is condensed to brake and gas pedals.  Manuals will stall and quit at the most inconvenient times: like a small town stop sign after the high school graduation and everyone is behind you on their way to open houses.  If I had any hopes that my dad would give in, I would have tried to avoid learning how to drive that car and wait for him to get me an automatic.  However, I understood the stubbornness of the person with whom I was dealing; he was adamant: learn to drive this car or ride the bus.

The first time he took me out to drive, I probably sat in the car for twenty minutes before we even moved.  My younger sister was sprawled out on the deck, eagerly awaiting my driving experience.  After a few minutes, she went into the house and told my mom, “I would have been long gone by now.”  My mom said that was what she feared.

My dad had demonstrated driving the car, so I could watch him shift.  I was cautious and made him go over what I was supposed to do several times.  Then I repeated it back to him because I wanted to get it right the first time.  I didn’t want the car to start moving and then die, only to have to start the process all over again.  Eventually, I put the clutch to the floor, eased off the brake and onto the gas pedal, and we moved forward slowly.  And then it died.  The process happened over and over again.  I drove up the driveway and out onto the gravel road, running the car in first gear when second would have been kinder to it.

One time while I was still in the early learning stages, my dad asked if I wanted to drive to our property on the other side of the creek.  I said no because I didn’t want to practice.  So he asked my younger sister if she wanted to and, of course, she said yes.

I was furious.  I wanted to get out of the car and walk home.  She was seemingly unafraid to try and fail.  At this point, I found a sudden desire to drive, but it was too late.  I was riding with my 11-year-old sister at the wheel.  To my young melodramatic heart, it was an injustice.  My desire to do it perfectly or not at all was shot to pieces by my sister volunteering to take on the challenge.

I have never actually thought that I could be perfect or that I was perfect.  My flaws (or some of them) are well-known to me.  Perfectionism doesn’t mean I have a room that is always tidy, a desk that is clean and orderly, or that I’m always pulled together.  I have simply tried to avoid making mistakes.  Some of this is a good desire.  We are to strive for excellence.  Other times, it makes the mistakes feel so much more burdensome or weighty then they actually are.  It can lead to feeling hemmed in since any option could result in failure.

Nobody likes to fail, I get it.  But some do it better than others.  I read an article about Stephen Colbert and he had an interesting “motto,” if you will: Learn to love the bomb.  In the midst of failing, learn to love it and not be afraid of it.

To me, that is a crazy notion, one that I want to let him run with into a nice little box of, “Well, he is a comedian, of course that would be helpful in his profession.”  But, in truth, I cannot stand by that.  My mental picture of his motto is like skydiving…without a parachute.  Or one that you don’t know if it will open.  And you are loving the drop, the racing heart, the pit in your stomach that tells you: This. Is. Crazy.

I prefer to be in control.  I’ve never thought of myself as needing to be charge, because most of the time I don’t want to lead anything, ever.  Yet I do love my ability to say no or to not do what others are doing.  Sometimes, I am stubborn simply to be stubborn.  Perhaps it is so that I won’t be seen as just “nice” or a push-over.  I learned the “don’t give in to peer pressure” thing really well.  Few can make me do something I don’t want to do.  I’ll maybe even do the opposite of what you want me to do.  For some reason, I like it to be known that if I’m complying with requests, it is because it is my choice, since I could very well do the opposite.

So what does this have to do with perfectionism?  I spend much of my life refusing to put myself in positions where I might fail.  Activities, relationships, conversations, new experiences: all things that could potentially not end perfectly or require failure in the process of learning are less than palatable to me.  Yes, I know what you are thinking, “But you can’t succeed if you don’t risk something.”  I chalk it all up to logic: why make mistakes when you can avoid them?

Which is all fine until you find yourself in a position that requires a risk.  If you don’t risk, you will definitely lose and maybe God doesn’t want you to just pray it out.  Maybe He wants an action.  Maybe the lesson is in trusting yourself less and trusting more that He can and will pick you up when you fall.  Maybe you are supposed to fail.  Yet the very idea of the risk makes my heart threaten self-eviction.  I want to think of every possible outcome before I take that first step, so I can be prepared if things come crashing down.

Or the risk might turn out to be a successful leap.  It might be worth it, there might be joy, there might be happiness and peace.  What if the risk turned out to produce the best type of reward?

This quote comes to mind:

My melancholic pessimism sneaks up again and whispers, “But, seriously, what if you fall?

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been trying to think of a way out of a perfectionism that can feel a bit stifling at times.  How do you move beyond it?

“Be OK with failing.”  Sure–but how?
“Put yourself out there.”  Out where?  And when?

This is where the head and the heart are in utter conflict again.

This imperfect soul has no neat conclusion to this dilemma.  I have no solution that can be quickly applied, no wisdom to pull me out of the mire, and no lesson to contrive from these words.

In an attempt to combat this perfectionism, I’m going to end this post imperfectly.

I’m going to be striving for Heaven, but I’m going to fall on my face many, many times.  But Jesus knows that and so I’m trying to be okay with that.

***And, in unexpected irony, of all my blog posts, this post on perfectionism was the most difficult to get to the point where I wanted to publish it.

Because I wanted to at least phrase it perfectly…