Since childhood, I have believed three things about myself:
1. If I am imperfect, I have failed.
2. If I am disappointed, I have an ungrateful heart.
3. If I expose my feelings, I am damaged and self-centered.
My best friends tease me that I can spin anything into a positive. Of course, I don’t always see the glass half full, but I do tend to find a silver lining in every situation. It feels good to be known as an optimist! It drowns out all of the pains of the past, the struggles of the day, and the anxieties of the future. And without those, life is flawless! So, over the years, I started to accept this starry-eyed attribute as a compliment and made it my personal mission to do it all, to be it all, and to make it all look effortless. It turned heads; it inspired others; it felt well intentioned. The more people noticed, the more I identified with the label of perfectionism, until I let it define me.
Let me paint a picture of this unreasonableness. I am a mommy to three children. The first two are boys, about a year and a half apart, ages five and six, and our daughter is afresh “terrific two.” I am also the co-founder and CEO of a business with three locations in Hoboken, a staff of 60, and the prospect of a national franchise. We open at 5:30 a.m., we close at 9:30 p.m., and we work after close, weekends and holidays. The other co-founder is my husband. We juggle the craziness of home and work together; we do it with a total of six hours of childcare most weeks; and we make it look easy.
Often it isn’t [duh]. However, with all of life’s blessings, it feels ungracious to admit any moments of unhappiness or disappointment. I hold most of my struggles close to my heart. I don’t share my troubles with anyone but my most intimate relationships, and even then I feel guilty, and I want to withdraw immediately in fear. I’m selfish — burdening a friend who has her own, more important cares. I dismiss my worries as insignificant to others and myself. I’m a strong woman who should not require the help of anyone else. Maybe if I keep my battles from everyone, I can turn them off, so I don’t have to hold myself accountable to my own feelings. Instead I carry all of the hurt, the weight, the anxiety myself. The load feels heavy, but I can keep myself afloat, even soar, most of the time. I use my feelings of accomplishment to trump my brokenness. When I eventually crash (in solitude, of course), I dump all of that onto my husband. You’re welcome.
When I finally realized the injustice in that, I started to see a therapist weekly. He helped sort through many of my thoughts and feelings, but the restlessness was still there — until I found my way back to God. I started paying attention to His people, spending time in His words and listening to who He is calling me to be.
I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
As it turns out, I am imperfect, ungrateful and selfish. I am incomplete. God knows this about me and still he loves me unconditionally. He knows there is room to grow in each one of His children’s lives but He loves us just the same. He is excited for me to grow — and I should be too!
He calls us to embrace the spaces of our hearts and minds where we are still growing. I can choose to see the good in the world and celebrate His victories and still experience disappointments. I can be fragile and raw and vulnerable and still encourage others. I can love people — and myself — by reaching out to the people God has put in my life when I need comfort and by graciously accepting their love when I need it. I can fall down and inspire others with my bravery to stand back up, to forgive myself, and to grow from my mistakes. I can continue to inspire, but only when I show up live in all of my imperfection, in spite of my weaknesses, ready to demonstrate how God has bestowed His eternal grace upon me.