“You’re kind of like a moving target, and people can pick up on that. It’s like you’re always aiming to be some perfect version of Jena,” Brad said between chomps of nachos, “I’m just really excited for you to decide what person you want to be and go with it. That’s going to be awesome to see.”
He was right. I’ve always felt like I was a shade away from perfect. Never quite measuring up, always reaching for the impossibly high standard of pleasing everyone.
Ugh. He was right. Gosh, I hate when Brad's right.
You could conjecture to say that Brad’s been my longest standing NYC friend. You see, in New York, everyone is always in transition. So it’s impressive when you have an “in-flesh” friendship that lasts longer than a year. Whether people are moving to or from the city, it really takes a lot of effort to invest in a community that will inevitably change in +/- 2 years. Needless to say, New York is not for the faint of heart or the sensitive souls.
But it was in that moment this past summer that my oldest friend in New York held up a mirror to my face. Over a massive tray of nachos. In a really gross park at 1AM in the East Village. Quite possibly next to something dead or rotting. Ah, New York summers.
See, I thought I had dealt with those insecurities long ago, but here was Brad showing me that hey, you still gotta deal with your issues m’dear. I had been chasing perfection for so long I didn’t even know what it looked like when it crept back into my life.
This passage in Romans 7 (MSG)* pretty much sums it up:
“For I know the law but I still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.”
Does that hit you as deeply as it hits me? One minute I profess to not sinking back into the lies of perfection and the next minute I’m back chasing after it like a kid chasing a ball in a playground. Intellectually I know that pursuing perfection is going to get me nowhere. And that subsequently sinking into shame and guilt when I don't reach this unattainable goal is even worse. But it’s hard right? Because Perfect, Shame and Guilt become frenemies - those toxic relationships that you can’t quite seem to get rid of.
Maybe you’re like me where you have always felt like you were a shade away from perfect. And that if you just reached that pinnacle of perfection - however that may look for you - everything would just fall into place. You would get the guy, you would be happy, you would be successful, your job would be spectacular.
But it’s the biggest lie that so many of us hold on to. Perfect is crazy pants. It’s absolutely ludicrous. And we all probably know that cognitively, but when it comes down to it - don’t we all run after it? Isn’t that why so many of us women start diet after diet, hoping that a certain size will help us reach a level of happiness and contentment and ultimately freedom?
From someone who has been there, I can assure you that being a certain size isn't going to make your life perfect. Slaving away in the gym, meticulously counting calories and body shaming yourself after you get on the scale is not going to lead to happiness. And fitting into a size two certainly is not going to wipe away your insecurities - because the roots are so much deeper than that.
To be honest, it wasn't until I started seeing myself how Christ sees me - beloved, known, forgiven, accepted, meticulously knitted, pursued - that I started to step out of the shade. Because of the truth of grace, I now know that those knots that trapped me under the foot of perfectionism no longer hold me down.
Knowing this has radically changed my life.
So won't you step out of the shade with me? I promise, it's much freer in the light.