The party was completely pin-worthy, Pinterest-perfect. Donning my little hand-made hat, I walked around the party watching the kids decorate their tea cups and laughing at the rabbit and queen of hearts costumes. The mad-hatter cake was just tilted enough, the frosting looking too good to cut into.
When a friend commented the next day how wonderful my five year old daughter’s party had been, saying “I don’t know how you do it all” I smiled modestly and cheerfully said something about just not sleeping but I was lying through my fake-smile, hiding all the cracks underneath the surface.
Inside I was trying to do everything I thought I was expected to do and be something no one asked me to be, least of all my family. Like the slightly chipped tea-cups I bought at the thrift store for the party, I looked good on the outside but imperceptibly, quietly, I was cracking.
The voices on every side were bombarding me, telling me everything I should be doing. Feed your kids organic food, but live frugally and buy locally. Work out and get that perfect body, but make sure you don’t spend too much time away from your family. You can have that perfect party at little cost when you make it all yourself, but slow down so you don’t miss out on your kids lives. The contradicting voices cried out, clawed at me, and made me feel inadequate, harried, and always less than enough.
By the end of that year I was barely keeping the tight anxiety in my chest at bay, fighting exhaustion, and feeling far from God. I couldn’t fit everything into the day. Between my family, work, church, volunteering and everything I believed I had to do, God was relegated to the leftover edges of my life. I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore and I started practicing saying “no” to things.
Committing to live more simply, I pulled back on commitments, tried to let go of all the perfection, and promised to listen to God’s voice instead of all the other ones I had let become my Master that year. I spent more time just being with my family. Parties became small outings and I curled up with my new Bible study and asked God to speak.
The trouble was the voices didn’t stop bombarding me, telling me all the things I should be doing.
They came from authors of books and writers online who promised a more peaceful, spiritual life. They came from the very Bible study I hoped would be the answer to my spiritual-dryness. They came from the pulpit on Sunday morning.
Make sure you have a quiet time each morning. Did you sign up for a women’s Bible study? Read through the Bible in a year. Did you forget to pray for your kids today? Lead a small group and don’t forget to volunteer in the children’s ministry. Spend your first five minutes a day praying. Make sure you are praying for others, too. Give. Pray. Read. Be at church. Serve. Lead. Study. This is what you should be doing. Do. Do. Do.
I was still that empty, cracked teacup. I was trying to fill myself with different things, the best things even. I was trying to fill myself up with the Spirit, for Heavens sake!
Just as anxious and far from God, I again reconsidered the voices I was letting guide my life. I walked into the end of yet another year I felt was spent striving with little spiritual growth to show for it…and I just listened.
The word came like a gentle whisper to my spirit. I had been asking God to show me what to do differently because what I was doing obviously wasn’t working. The voices I was listening to weren’t speaking life to me and the ways I tried to reach Him were leaving me frustrated and tired. The answer wasn’t about doing at all. God was asking me to be.
A perfectionist doesn’t like practice. We like beautifully polished, finished products. We like everything to be finished and pleasing and well…perfect.
God was asking me to stop all the doing and just focus on being. Practice is about trying, not getting it quite right, getting back up and trying again. Why can’t spiritual practices be the same way?
I am spending some time slowly reading through over 80 different scriptures which talk about seeking God. All of them are about being in a posture of learning, of receiving. They don’t ask us to seek Him in a certain way, to do a list of things and then we will find Him. They just ask us to come to Him – chips, cracks and all.
God constantly says: seek me, call to me, draw near to me, ask of me. “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me,” He says (Proverbs 8.17).
A lot of days I still let all the other voices in my head drown out His. But some days – on the good days when I whisper the word practice to myself over and over – I remember the way it feels to just be, to know that in God’s kingdom there aren’t as many shoulds as we think there are.
This move from doing to being is such a subtle shift, one I’m not yet comfortable with after thirty-four years of trying to do all the things everyone tells me I should. I’m not ready to call myself a recovering perfectionist yet. I am still struggling with the idea that I should be doing more.
Most days I still want to perform for God.
But I’m learning that instead of performance today He asks for my presence…for my practice.
Nicole T. Walters is a wife, mom, and writer from metro Atlanta who writes about faith, culture, and being on mission wherever God has placed you at A Voice in the Noise. She is passionate about Jesus and His heart for the nations, and loves to experience the messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not my own. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, you can find Nicole writing at a number of places online including The Mudroom, and SheLoves Magazine. You can connect with Nicole on Facebook and Twitter.