I have a regular, weekly appointment with my personal grip; it’s an appointment with my grammar, spelling, and syntax. I will write an email, a Facebook, Twitter post or a church wide letter, and I will check it for errors, read it two or three times through and then hit the keystroke of no return: SEND. Within a few minutes, I will get a text from my wife, Kitty, saying, “Dear, you missed a word.” Or “You repeated that word.”
I’ve come to understand myself a little bit while typing a letter or email. I will think that I’ve typed the word but failed to actually type the word into the email. When I go back to check my post, I will actually read the post with its missing word and while I’m reading it, I will put in the missing word in my mind and not even catch the mistake.
The moment is lost. My witty, profound or sarcastic comment is lost in the goo of a grammatical mistake…or the many grammatical mistakes that happens so often in my writings.
It’s honestly a source of embarrassment for me.
One of the most blatant mistakes I made was when I was running for Student Body President of Oral Roberts University. Now, let me just say the mistake was made before spell check on a word processor. This is the time before time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
You would go to the office supply store (before there was a Staples) and purchase rub-on font letters. I was a poor college student, and I didn’t want to pay for a professional typesetter. I purchased the font sheet and went to my dorm room to start the layout of the design. I looked at it twice, no three times. Just before we went to print, I had my high-powered “Elect Jon Sterns Committee” look at it, and when we got them back from the printer, we plastered them all over campus.
I was happy. My election campaign was running without a hitch. Money was pouring in from special interest groups.
The happy campaigning didn’t last long.
Much to my embarrassment, all over campus I started seeing my posters marked up. And it wasn’t vandalism that they were adding to my posters. Instead, these rogue spell checkers were adding red letters to my posters pointing out the fact that “Jon Sterns, commited to a new style of leadership” was missing a “t”.
Do we tear them all down? Nope, it’s too late for that. Even if we could remove the posters in time, the election coffers were bare. Remember, I’m a poor college student.
It’s gripe I have about myself, but it’s a grip as well. It’s a grip of perfection that stops me from doing what I want to do because I want to put out the image of having my stuff together.
I remember a pastor friend of mine, George Mallone, telling me, “Jon, write a page or two a day on things that you’re processing and facing. It would be good for you to do so.” He didn’t know the grip on my life. He didn’t know the internal gripping I’m constantly nagging myself.
I was so frustrated with my lack of writing ability that I stopped writing. I couldn’t do it. I stopped for very long time. Sure, I can stand before a crowd and speak. I can walk into a room and strike up a conversation over just about anything. But this grip of perfection stopped me from stretching myself and allowing myself to be creative in a different form.
Here’s my thought about this. We put so much on ourselves in order to look good in front of others, we fail to do things that God has called us to do. It’s the fear of failure that stops us from trying. It’s a grip on our dreams. I need to stop grip(p)ing and do.
Perfectionism doesn’t mean trying to improve. We need that. We need trusted people in our lives that will give us feedback and challenge us to grow.
What I’m taking about is this poison of perfectionism that erodes the generosity of a spirit so needed in a church community. Because we want to be perfect, we are afraid of failing. But that’s life. Nobody is perfect. We need to have grace for ourselves.
Perfectionism is self-abuse; it’s a gripe and a grip of the highest order. Perfectionism dehumanizes us: it equates our value to our performance, our identity to our usefulness and our beauty to our presentation. I have to ask the questions, “Where does my sense of security come from—from God or how well I’m performing as a pastor?” “Do I sacrifice to know God better or do I sacrifice to know more on how I can get the church to work better?” I could go on.
Jesus is the only perfect person who walked this earth, and I’m okay to find His perfection is all that I need. John Ortberg says, “The Bible says that God is perfect, not a perfectionist.”
I must release myself of these restrictive expectations of being so focused on performance. I am not perfect. And that’s okay.
So, today I choose to loosen the grip of perfectionism in my life, and thereby lose the things I gripe about in my life.