Failing Forward: Why “perfect” is a code word for “misery”

There are those childhood memories that burrow deep into our conscience, the moments that we perhaps remember what we are wearing or what perfume the person next to us was wearing. For some reason I remember putting on my favorite I.O.U. hoodie (that brand went out around the end of the first Bush presidency I believe) and accepting my 6th grade beta club award.

My English teacher presented the honor, and she gave a speech to the entire school about me.  This annoyed me because I’d never really spoken to her and she wouldn’t have been my first choice to handle this fragile moment.  That, and she always smelled like a not so subtle combination of coffee and over-applied cosmetics.

Never a woman for brevity, her speech was long winded, and I was surprised when she announced to the entire middle school about 10 minutes into her pontification that I was a “perfectionist.”  Not only that, but she went on to extoll the virtues of being a perfectionist, and she mentioned how each student in the room could learn a thing or two from me and how “perfect” my academic and behavior performance was.  After her speech- that felt more like a eulogy- everyone applauded as I got up to receive the award.  I was so nervous that I tripped on my way to the podium, which I realize the irony of now that I know what “perfectionist” means.

In hindsight, there was no real trick to it I suppose, just a deep fear about failing myself, a deeper fear of failing my father, and the deepest fear was of failing God. In foresight, I am amazed at how much I still carry a deep insecurity about failing.  One thing I’ve realized is that every deep and overreaching fear that we have has a lie at the base of it, usually some illusion about God we’ve bought into. I’ve spent years of therapy and heartache trying to untangle this drive to perfection, only to discover the base of it is the type of God who doesn’t put up with failures.

I think somewhere in my faith story, perhaps early on, I drank down a poisonous cocktail of misinterpretation.  I still remember reading the verses as a third grader that said it is better to pluck your eyes out than it is to lust, and verses that said we were supposed to be crucified.  Not to mentioned the pastor who always mentioned during communion the importance of drinking the blood and eating the flesh.(John 6)  I remember wondering what building of the church these types of things happened in. I even remember a man in our church that wore a patch over one eye, and I always admired him for his faith.

When I was a child I would get awards at my church for how much scripture I’d memorized, little did anyone know I was building a horrible view of God through what I was memorizing.

As AW Tozer so famously stated, “The most important thing about us is what we think about when we think about God.”  AW was right I think, which perhaps means the task of the faithful believer is to always be placing our assumptions about the divine on the table.  We should always be turning these assumptions over, analyzing them, cleaning them, sacrificing them, and sometimes asking God to heal them.

Anytime there is a destructive habit, a deeply held fear, an abiding stranglehold, we shouldn’t just ask, “how do I rid myself of this?”  We should ask, “Where have I gone wrong in my understanding of God’s true nature?”  There is healing in that question.

We should inspect our views of God with suspicion, not like a teacher inspects a paper for errors, rather like an airline mechanic inspects parts of a plane so it is fit for flying at soaring heights.  We can only live at the heights and level with God that he desires if he are coming closer and closer to His true nature.

Random I suppose. By the way, if you read this blog, now or on other occasions, thanks, I hope it helps.