I have heard the story often. My kindergarten teacher pulling my parents aside and having a conversation with them about little Annie. My teacher tells my parents, "Please help Annie understand that it's O.K. to get one wrong on her papers." In other words, please help her to see that she doesn't have to be perfect. Oh, if only it were that simple.
This ache for perfection has plagued me day in and day out. It has defined and limited me. It has shaped my world.
I have, and I venture to guess many of you have as well, worked really hard to establish a world in which the only marks possible are pass or fail. Perfection, you pass. Anything less than perfection, you fail.
The thing is, life isn't pass or fail. There are a wide range of possible, often beautiful results. When we insist on wearing the perfect or fail blinders we limit ourselves. We set ourselves, and those around us, up for deep heart wrenching pain.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that we should be slackers and not give life our all. But there is a marked difference between striving for excellence and insisting on perfection.
I am slowly starting to understand what my kindergarten teacher wanted me to learn all those years ago. Life is not perfection or failure. Life is about the process. Life is about looking more and more like my Creator. Life is about putting that Creator on display, rather than putting myself or my perfect accomplishments on display.
This summer Jen and I decided to train for a marathon. It was a complicated decision, but once we committed we were dedicated to the endeavor. And what an endeavor it was.
We began our official training in June. We started with shorter runs and consistently built our mileage throughout the weeks that turned into months. We remained committed through family vacations, sickness, and crazy summer schedules. We were personally dedicated during the week to do our individual runs and then on the weekend we juggled our two family calendars to fit in a long run.
We became well acquainted with the dark early mornings. Our feet pounding the pavement mile after mile as most of the world was slumbering and enjoying cups of coffee. One weekend we even started our run at the ridiculous hour of 4:30 a.m. so that we could squeeze in our 15 miles before Eric had to leave for jury duty and we all had to work at Gazelle sidewalk sales. We were running lunatics.
Jen went further than she had ever dreamed possible. I went further than I had since having children. We both pushed through our doubts and fears.
And then her foot began to "twinge." We are three weeks away from the race. After a grueling 19 mile run Jen faces the truth that she has to get her foot examined.
My boys are napping, I am sitting on the couch when my phone rings. "It's a stress fracture." It's over. There will be no marathon.
We won't have the satisfaction of crossing the finish line. No medal for all the sacrifice and investment.
After cycling through a barrage of emotions and thoughts I surprised myself with this realization. It is okay. I don't have to have perfection, in this case the completion of the race, in order to know that I have done something amazing. It's okay not to be perfect. It's okay to know that I gave it everything that I had. The results were not what I anticipated or had desired, but the journey and the outcome are beautiful none the less.
Such is also true of many worthy endeavors. I will never be a perfect wife. I will never be a perfect mom. I will fall short as a daughter of the King. But as I let go of the lie that it's perfection or failure I am able to see the beauty in the victories and the losses. I find contentment replacing the gnawing ache that the drive for perfection created in me. There is true joy in contentment.
"Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."