What do you see when you look at a sink full of dirty dishes? Are you one of those blessed people who roll with the punches and let it pile up with hardly a thought or care? I can not tell you emphatically enough that I am NOT one of those people. In my recent reading of Ian Cron’s, A Road Back to You, I discovered that I’m a solid One on the Enneagram scale. If you’re unfamiliar with enneagrams, this personality style is also known as The Perfectionist. I would assume that it is strongly linked to the type A of personality typology. In his book, Cron quotes this one haunting phrase that, I believe, if spoken aloud, could expose all the other Perfectionists in one fell swoop: “There is always an unmade bed somewhere.” Ugh. If you or someone near you is cringing when they hear this phrase, you know you’ve found a One. It doesn’t have to actually be an unmade bed that makes you shudder, of course. Its simply the idea of things being left undone…eternally. Gasp.
If dirty dishes, a pile of laundry, a messy car, or a check list that never gets checked make you uncomfortable , believe me when I say, I understand! The thought that I could ever enjoy a moment of peace with all those loose ends untied has, for years, eluded me. How? How can we ever find deep joy when the pile of things to do never ceases to exist? Do we just need to work harder? Faster? Manage our children better? Demand that our husbands, co-workers, roommates help more? Do we need to write better lists, print better spreadsheets, manage and organize and plan more efficiently? What do we really need to find in order to experience the rest that our souls are longing for?
After all my efforts at ending the chaos that exists all around me, after all my attempts at escaping this same chaos through entertainment, or vacations, hobbies, coffee or sleep, I have finally acknowledged that peace can NOT be found this way. When we hold on frantically to every piece of our day, trying so hard to keep all the things from falling, we just end up weary and sore, frustrated and bitter. We find ourselves working our lives away, trying to check the elusive last item on our lists because when that happens we will finally be able to (rest, have joy, be at peace, etc).” And the most shameful part of it all is that, we start seeing anything in the way of these lists as a frustration. Our children’s needs. Our spouses or friends needs. Nothing but burdens. Nuisances. Inconveniences. How can we fix this? What needs to change?
In two words: Our Lens.
And let me start out by describing what I don’t mean when I say that. I don’t mean that we need to “see the glass as half full, believe in ourselves more, think positive, be more thankful” etc. What I do mean is that we need to confess to ourselves, to our God and maybe even to someone we love that the lens of our heart is cracked clean through and we need help. Then we need to spend some time examining the reasons its been broken, remembering His faithfulness to us, and then letting go of our misplaced ideals, ideas, and identities.
So what are some reasons our lenses get broken? What are the things that have shaped us to believe we need perfection in our homes, our appearances, our work places, our relationships? I believe that more often than not, the desire for perfection is birthed in our spirits during those times we have walked through disappointment and pain. When a parent disapproves of us, or lets us down. When a co-worker doesn’t show up. When no one around seems to care about the things we care about it. When we experience or live through something horrifying. Through all of these difficulties, we may begin to believe that we are the keepers of the world. That no one but us can hold all the fragile things of life together. The good news is that there is Someone who can. The even better news is that He is much more capable of keeping it all together than we are. But trusting Him to do that takes great strength, courage and a strong understanding that He is good to us and will be careful with our hearts and our lives.
Sometimes, to get to the root of where our perfectionism started, we must take a serious look at the moments in our lives where things felt out of control. As we examine these things, we have the opportunity to tell God all the ugly things we feel we feel about them, to show Him all the broken pieces. We need to get real with Him and with ourselves about the ways we feel He hasn’t shown up for us. We need to process those places where we’ve lost faith in His desire to protect and defend us.
I had the opportunity to wrestle with some of these deep and painful things over a cup coffee at Starbucks the other day. I wrestled them out in my journal. I wrestled them out in my car on the way home. And I wrestled with them throughout the week as the world kept spinning around me and my family created their continuous clutter. It surprised me how excruciating it was to even imagine letting go of the things I want perfected. How raw I felt talking to Him about the times in life that I have felt abandoned. About those circumstance of life that have shaken my faith in His promises and created in me the belief that if I let go of one single detail the world will spiral into utter calamity.
In fact, I’ve had to keep wrestling with these things over many days and get really honest with God about the fear I discovered beneath these piles of things undone. And especially, over being seen while standing straight in the middle of the imperfection. Indeed, being the not even close to perfect one. Certainly, the need to control, at its heart, is wracked with big Fears that strike at the very core of our identities and stability. But these are fears we need to look straight in the eye if we are going to defeat them. Asking difficult questions is a good starting point. What am I trying to stop from happening? What will happen if it does? Who am I if this does not get accomplished?
For me, reassurance of this comes from scribbling furiously on paper about all the good things God has done in my life, recalling times He has shown up, ways He has helped and is helping now. This is one of many ways, to recall His faithfulness. Reading scripture about how He’s rescued His people again and again, singing to Him about His works on our behalf, talking to someone about ways He has been kind are all other ways to do this important work. But ultimately, we need to remind ourselves that the God we serve is good, and we can trust Him with all the moving parts of our lives.
Once we’ve confessed our brokenness, taken responsibility for our doubts, and remembered His faithfulness we need to affirm the truth that the image of the invisible God residing in us gives us an unshakable worth. Worth that reaches far beyond a neighbors scowl at our unkept yard or a teachers grimace at the crumbs on our child’s face. We need to recall the words that He says about those who are in Christ and speak them over our souls. To stand in front of the mirror and say even if I fail at this, my God is my treasure and I am His.
When this truth has sunk deep into our hearts, we are ready to do the unbelievably glorious work of Surrendering. Surrendering is the breakthrough that comes when the healing has begun. But rarely does it come all at once. It’s the small obediences, the seemingly trivial ‘yes’ that we say when we hear His prompting, that will crack open the door for Him to show us He is working on our behalf. And little by little as He continues to show up, we are able to relinquish our agenda to His plans, and realize that each and every hour, ripe with all its trials and chaos, holds the power to become our greatest good.
This wild surrender of our ideals, ideas, and identity is what clears the grime from our broken lenses. And with a clear lens, we are able to do what 2 Corinthians 4:18 instructs us to and “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
The other day, my kitchen sink was piled high with dishes as I cared for a feverish, asthmatic child. But for the first time in a long time, my heart remained still and calm within me. It seems to me, that after a gut wrenching week of prying my hands away from my own life, He has restored the lens of my heart. And that restoration has given me the perspective to look past the temporary things; the sink full of dirty dishes, the wrinkled clothes still sitting on the laundry room floor. And instead, as I hold my sweet child in my arms, to discern the eternal honor it is to nourish his sweet little soul.
As these and more unseen, eternal things begin shifting into view, a sweet rest hovers over our home. We have sickness, we have dirty dishes. And yet, somehow, we also have a whole new Peace.