For two years straight, I didn’t smile with an open mouth. More accurately, I tried not to.
I had a mouthful of crooked, crowded teeth. Imagine a picket fence rearranged by a wildly errant bicyclist — or a Mack truck. That’s what my teeth looked like. Or that’s what I thought anyhow.
I had postponed orthodontic care for years, because in my heightened state of teenage self-awareness, braces seemed even more unattractive than crooked teeth. I didn’t want to trade in my picket fence for barbed-wire. That’s what we perfectionists do in America, The Land of Just-So. We weigh our options, deciding which one — in the end — will make us look best.
By my junior year of high school, I gave in. Which meant that I would be wearing braces for my senior pictures. Which meant that I would, under no circumstances, open my mouth to smile for the photographer.
(Though, somehow, I had no trouble wearing three-inch tall bangs and acid-wash jeans.)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a high-achieving, approval-seeking people pleaser.
Back in sixth-grade, I first hear the word “perfectionist.” My English teacher wrote me a note that served as a harbinger.
“You have a perfectionist quality in you that I so often see as a great asset,” she wrote. “Beware of it, however, and try to always view things with an open mind. After all, there will always be tomorrow.”
Trouble was, I wanted to be the best TODAY.
Try, try, try as I might, I never felt I was the best at anything. That’s what perfectionists in this practice-makes-perfect culture do. We race past the goal of achieving excellence, in a vain search for being number-one.
Truth is, I’ve never been a superstar anything. There’s always been a better writer, a better student, a better cook, a better adjunct journalism professor.
Not-Good-Enough can shackle. It can keep a perfectionist sidelined, with her lips pursed tight so no one sees the crooked mess she really is. Our just-right mantra is this: “If I can’t do it right, then I won’t do it at all.”
But in the midst of my own “I-can’t,” I have been learning the art of “Oh, yes He can.”
Perfection is so yesterday.
I guess you could say I’m in recovery. I’m not cured, but I’m letting go — shedding perfection like a 1980s hairdo.
For years, friends of mine have picked a word to define their year. Just one single word.
For the first time ever, I’ve got mine. For 2011, my word is this: Imperfect.
Roget’s synonyms for the word “imperfect” sting hard. I typed the word into the online thesaurus. Up popped these words:
A schlocky, two-bit dud.
Oh yeah, Roget?
Well, get this: My Creator sees imperfect,
and He declares me good. Very good.
It’s almost 2011. This recovering perfectionist is clinging to a God capable of delivering her from the curse of Not-Good-Enough.
In Christ, I am free to be me.
I am still going to do my best, because God wants us to be people of excellence for His glory.
But when I fall short of perfection (and I know I will) I’m going to laugh at myself more, cut myself some slack, and risk falling flat on my face (or flat on my back) in the name of adventure.
And I am going to put on some big, bug-eyed glasses — and maybe even a pair of cheesy acid-wash jeans. I’m going to open my mouth wide, throw my arms wildly to the sky and I’m going to SMILE.
Because this is the year of Imperfect.
(Mom and Dad — Thanks for the paying the ortho bills.)
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
— Galatians 1:10
Each Wednesday, I join Ann Voskamp for her Walk With Him Wednesday series. This Wednesday, she asks us to name the New Year. What’s your word?