I watched as other women at the conference started writing on their wood coins, their heads bent as if in prayer.
What single word describes the struggle I want to be set free from?
Math was my first answer. I’m not kidding. The word “math” popped into my head one second after we were given the prompt. That’s a deep thought, Calli. You hate teaching math. Wonderful!
I continued to stare blankly, refusing to write “math” on the wooden coin that rolled rough between my fingers. And then, I knew. So I bent towards my lap and carefully wrote Perfection upon the small circle of wood.
We had been instructed to throw our coins into the fire—to watch them burn as a symbolic gesture—but I’ve never been great at following instructions, especially in a group activity, particularly when I don’t feel they apply to me. I wanted to hold it. To consider it, this struggle of mine. This thing that keeps me from writing my story.
I slipped the coin in my pocket, and after some brief conversation, forgot about it.
A few weeks later, I found the coin again, the word Perfection still etched across its wood surface.
There was a time when perfectionism, partnered with its first cousins shame and insecurity, had left me paralyzed, hidden, stuck in a cycle of fear and self-criticism. I worked hard (and prayed hard) to break that cycle. This little blog and Storyweaver are both products of that journey out of unworthiness—and into wholehearted authenticity, hope, and joy.
Which is why I thought I had dealt with this thing.
But then, when I least expect it, when life is going great, I screw up. I let people down. I fail.
And the cycle begins—the shame storm where all I see is imperfection, failure, weakness—first in myself, but ultimately, if I don’t get out quickly, in the people I love.
In those moments, I feel like Lucy aboard The Dawn Treader, sailing through the great Darkness that makes fears seem real.
“We shall never get out, never get out,” moaned the rowers. … “We’re going round and round in circles. We shall never get out.” […]
Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little—a very, very little—better. “After all, nothing has really happened to us yet,” she thought.
So I wrote Perfection on that wooden coin. It’s true, after all.
That never-ending quest for worthiness. That sinking feeling of not measuring up. The shame that consumes. I had hustled for years, then abandoned the hustle (I even hate that word!), embracing a slow, intentional life.
Yet the perfectionism wasn’t solely in the hustle. Sure, it manifested quite well there. But it can sneak into the quiet corners of a simple life as well.
I will hold myself to a standard of Grace, not Perfection. These words hang framed above my desk as a daily reminder. The trouble is that when I’m lost at sea, consumed by shame, grace is difficult to grasp.
But what does Lucy do? She doesn’t fight the darkness on her own; she cries out to Aslan. And in one of the most oft-quoted lines from C.S. Lewis, He answers:
Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. […]
No one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.
Courage, dear heart.
Words to guide her out of the storm and into grace.
The word to guide me in 2017: Courage.
Notes: Below are a few books that I’ve found helpful on this journey into a more wholehearted life.
Also, the Wild + Free Conference was wonderful, the best one yet, in my opinion (I’ve been to three)! The next one will be in Nashville, TN this September. I would love for you to join me there, where I will be showcasing Storyweaver at the Maker Market!