January is the month of resolutions. But as Rev. Scott Taylor notes HERE, resolutions can lead us to focus on some perfect ideal that is dictated from the outside in, rather than on who you are meant to become, discovered from the inside out. As we wrap up this month’s theme of intention, let’s talk about side-stepping the endless pursuit of a “new” or “better” you, and reflect on the power of uncovering the real one.
To watch a recording of the service please click HERE.
Click HERE to view the OOS.
I have taken lately to calling myself a recovering perfectionist. For years I was an unrelenting perfectionist, fully invested in doing everything as well as I possibly could. No matter what the cost to me or anyone else, the product was the answer and creating something that appeared perfect was so satisfying.
It has taken me a long long time to even begin to want to let this go.
And yet. I know in my heart it limits me, distorts my thinking and distracts me from what matters most.
So I’ve been practicing giving it up. IN my emails for example. Which I write a lot. In fact I had this “great” idea to include typo in every one of my emails for the month of January. Now, if you haven’t noticed a typo in every one of my emails in January I will tell you why… I was a little too perfectionistic about my mistakes. That one would be too big. That one would be too obvious. That one would make the email too hard to understand.
And then there were the feelings. How will I look? They’ll think I’m losing it. They’ll think I’m slacking off, not paying attention or just generally think ill of me. I did include a few extra capitals, an extra letter or deleted a space here or there but mostly I found myself stymied by a bunch of feelings that are, I realized, frankly running my life. And when I first reread that it looked like big feelings that are ruining my life.
But even if you yourself are not perfectionist, the perfectionism in our society, the expectation that we all live up to some ideal, can be hard on us all.
Wonderful story I heard – told by Diane Kastiel, a woman whose sister, as she put it, had been caressed by the hand of fate. She married into money, so she could buy anything she wanted. But also won everything. Or would have it bequeathed to her. Diane’s sister would methodically plot out her life and that actually worked for her. Her life, was perfect.
As opposed to Diane’s own life which, she said, felt like a series of rough drafts.
So they drifted apart.
Until they had kids.
Her sister had twins, while Diane, as she put it, had just had the one.
And for a while things were better, but soon Diane discovered, that perfect people have perfect children.
Her sister’s daughters tested as gifted, were the star athletes for every sport they went out for, really talented artists, you name it. Meanwhile, her own daughter was racking up labels of her own. ADD OCD, mood disorder, you name it.
This was hard – school is a nightmare, extracurricular is out of the question, but the hardest was the social isolation – and there’s very little a parent can do about that.
The year all three girls were set to graduate from junior high school, her sister sent out an email in February asking everyone to hold the date of their graduation. You know, like you do for weddings. It read as follows:
Please hold Jun 10 for Amber & Tiffany’s graduation from Junior HS. In their 3 years there they’ve made the dean’s list every single semester. They’ve participated in sports year-round, usually as captain, sometimes juggling more than 1 at a time. This year they took on the additional challenge of being confirmed at our church. And through it all they’ve maintained a large group of the right friends who share their same values.
Now, I love my nieces, Diane said and I am so proud of them. And I thought. We cannot go to this party.
It’s just going to be a list of their achievements and awards and full of their friends and my daughter will not be able to handle it.
And of course, neither will I.
So when it came she threw the invitation in the recycling bin. She never told anyone about this – after all, she said, what kind of person boycott’s a child’s party.
As luck would have it, her daughter found it, showed it to her, and asked about it. Quickly Diane made up an excuse that the family planned to go to the beach that day. So, unfortunately, we won’t be able to go.
Now Diane’s daughter hates the beach, she said, and was at the age where she’d argue with everything Diane suggested.
But that day, her daughter just looked at her and didn’t say a word in protest.
The day of the party arrives and it is lousy – overcast and rainy and cold.
So her husband and other kids are like, we’re not going. But her daughter who hates the beach gets up early, gets food together, pulls out the beach stuff, even packs the car.
They got there and the weather was even worse but pulled out everything laid out the beach blanket sat down & watched lake Michigan.
Diane thought her daughter would retreat into her ipod but to her surprise her daughter sat down & curled up against her – she was almost a full grown woman at 14 and she was practically in her arms – they just sat there and watched the water until it started to rain and then sat there some more. Diane said she imagined they were both thinking the same thing. This has got to stop.
And that’s where that story ends, with that visual of the two of them, gazing out over the water into the distance together.
Sidestepping the weight of those expectations that we are breathing all the time, it’s possible to open a little window into something else. A little space for grace to surface.
A wakeup for the heart. A reminder of what really matters.
And a reminder that sometimes those least likely to be voted most popular are most likely to lead us somewhere important.
I’ve always been shocked surprised by Bible characters who get chosen for important roles, who are blessed and rewarded, but who, by today’s standards, are definitely not crossing their T’s. In fact some of them are downright problematic. I talked about Jacob last fall, the heal-grabbing, lying thieving stealing character who god nevertheless selected to be the patriarch of a nation. Or, there’s Moses who couldn’t speak right – he said to God, don’t pick me, but he was chosen anyway to lead his whole nation of people – his brother would do the talking. Moving into the Christian Bible there are Jesus’ disciples who are constantly confused, getting things wrong and disappointing their great teacher. And yet, there they are, center stage, in the most sacred Christian text of all time.
These highly imperfect people are the ones God chooses to speak to and speak through. And by the way, I’ve noticed God doesn’t perfect them before God sends them into action. No nips, tucks, speech lessons, or self-improvement programs for these folks. They heard a call and they just answered.
MLK picked up on this and preached it. Everybody can be great, he said, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
We can get so caught up in making ourselves better, we can forget what we want to make ourselves better *for*.
The reality is, It matters so much less who you are, [what you look like] or where you struggle than where you’re going and why it matters.
At a recent board meeting as we were looking at the hard budget questions before the congregation someone asked a startling provocative, question. What are we here for, anyway. Why does it matter. I mean, why do we care?
It’s a question I think many people are asking themselves in our pandemic-informed era. What am I doing? Why does it matter? About any of the things I’m involved in…
The long winter of COVID has carried much away. And it has reminded us that life is precious and put a spotlight on places where it hasn’t felt that way. Where we’re doing what we’re doing because someone told us to, because it looks good or because we think we should. We’ve started seeing places we’ve been living by rote rather than living by heart and we don’t want to do that anymore.
Instead people have begun to ask deep, big questions about purpose and meaning. Questions about how to bridge apparently unbridgeable differences in our society. Big, fresh, questions about race and racism, equity, justice and inclusion. Questions about what a worthy life actually is – what it looks like, what it *feels* like. How to live it from the inside out.
At that same difficult board meeting I mentioned, I found myself paying attention not just to the words people said but to the intentions. To the places people were coming from. To what I was seeing under the surface as well as on it.
Here’s someone modeling humility and perseverance in the face of difficulty. Here’s someone speaking eloquently about commitment and demonstrating it in their life. Here’s someone modeling honesty, creating more space for everyone in the room. Here’s someone reminding us just how much care and love went into that budget drive – by those who ran it, and by person after person after person who gave to it. There’s someone asking powerful questions, here’s someone with encouraging words, there’s someone showing respect, there’s appreciation, there’s persistence, there’s warmth, and there, right there, I see kindness, and heart, and grace.
All of which reminds me that sometimes it’s in the imperfect times, the less than ideal situations that Grace and heart show up the most.
I found myself, in seeing all this, thinking that at our best, church is a place to grow a soul.
And that happens when we bring all of ourselves, the best parts and the rest of our parts, in good times and bad.
It happens when we drop the invitation to be perfect into the recycling bin and instead create space to be real, and true, and present and kind.
And it happens, when we help each other answer those big questions. Not just with our heads, but with our lives and our actions and our hearts.
Why does it matter what we do here?
I think spiritual communities like this one are crucial, life-saving institutions. Grounding forces in increasingly unsteady times. A safety net, a force for transformation, a place to nourish ourselves and stretch ourselves and struggle together and help each other to finally become that lit angel we desire, as the poet put it.
And, to do that – to really do that, I think spiritual communities like this one will need to connect and reconnect and connect again with what matters most. To that which is calling each of us, deep in our hearts. To that which calls us to others, to an opposite and miraculous otherness. To that which disturbs and then nourishes. The world is listening in new ways to those on the margins, waking up to big hard questions about race, about injustice, about what matters, and we get to wake up with it. And we get to try things in service of that waking up. Even if we don’t think we’ll do them exactly “right.” Even if we don’t know exactly where they will lead.
One of those things we’ll be trying is a visioning service which the board and I have been planning, and to which all are invited, rescheduled to March 13th. You’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks. It will be a chance to mine the past for what is essential here, for who you are, what you care about, what has mattered, looking back 2, 10, 20, 50 years. And this will be a chance to begin to imagine what will help make this place crucial, life-saving, and transformational for the next 50 or 500.
God chose to speak through regular, imperfect people. They heard a call and they just answered.
What do you hear?