If someone were to ask me to name one piece of clothing that I absolutely could not live without, it would be Spanx. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, I’m referring to an item of clothing that helps smooth out imperfections underneath clothing. It has magical powers to make your bridesmaid dress look as though you did not, in fact, sneak in a third trip to the buffet line the night before. In the same way, I would also list concealer as my most-prized beauty product. This smooth, creamy liquid can hide even the darkest of flaws in the skin, turning a blemished or tired face into a bright beacon of youth. I would love to tell you that as your worship leader, I am above such vanity, but the reality is, I’m still working on that part of my soul (#FixItJesus). However, I don’t think vanity is the true root of the problem. What is it about these items that I love so much?
The fact is, I am the queen of all perfectionists. Trust me, I know I am not alone as I believe this plagues many of us. Countless articles have been written imploring readers to move beyond the Pinterest/Facebook phenomenon, which leaves a frazzled mom crying in a bathroom after her third attempt at constructing an origami Elsa centerpiece for a “Frozen” birthday party. However, what we don’t talk about is the dark underbelly of perfectionism. For some of us, it doesn’t manifest itself in cute, chick-shaped deviled eggs that we spent hours on Easter Eve crafting (okay, yes I have done this). For some people, perfectionism can be a crippling spiritual sickness that results in leading a life filled with secrets.
Culturally, we have classified certain problems as “safe” to share with the world, but that leaves out many real life issues. Alcoholism, abuse, infidelity, greed, drug addiction, gambling, debt…the list could go on and on of things that seem too shameful to share in a weekly Bible study group when others are praying for sick loved ones who are in a terrible situation due to no fault of their own or others. However, what happens when some Big Thing happens in your house that shakes everything to its core, including that picture-perfect Christmas-card version of yourselves that you have created?
I was faced with that reality last year. I was new in my job as worship leader at Floris UMC, and I convinced myself that the church did not want someone leading others who did not have all the pieces of her own life together. I decided to do what I do best: put on my game face and pour myself into my job. “Don’t air out your dirty laundry” had been a philosophy I was raised on, and this definitely felt like something that shouldn’t be aired out. I decided to bury it and do everything in my power to protect my secret so that I wouldn’t have to face it or run the risk of anyone else finding out how imperfect my life truly was.
The strategy worked for a while, but six months later I found myself slowly being eaten away by the Big Thing. With nowhere to go, it sat festering within my soul, spinning in circles of “what ifs” that only surfaced when the room was quiet and I allowed my brain a reprise from work. In moments of weakness, it crept to the surface as anger or impatience. It was around this time that I was reading a book by Jen Hatmaker (who is probably my spirit animal) called “For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards.” She wrote a chapter on truth telling and our tendency toward self-preservation. Hatmaker states:
“Pulling something difficult from its dark hiding place and into the light is innately healing…It is good to remember in community, and even better to practice individually, that light trumps darkness. If you’re concealing a dark struggle, you guarantee its power if it’s shrouded in secrecy. Buried, it is free to hinder you, grow in your imagination, and truncate your future. It can hold you back, destroy relationships, and break your spirit. It can absolutely wreak havoc on your authenticity, as the inside contradicts the outside day after day, month after month. Secrets are wild and free in the dark.”
Whoa, get out of my head, Jen. She then goes on to spout the powers of speaking truths out loud and embracing vulnerability. There is beauty in creating a safe space for others to be honest with their struggles and take the masks off, because the truth can diminish the paralysis that often follows an internal struggle. Around that same time, I witnessed a woman in my small group share something so deeply personal, that the air seemed to actually shift in the room. I knew that Jen was right, and I was the biggest culprit.
Each week during Lent, we have been discussing the need to deny ourselves, and I have always thought of this in a limited manner related to obvious sins. However, what if God isn’t just talking about denying ourselves from the typical list of negative behaviors? What if God is calling me to deny my own unhealthy tendencies of self-preservation and perfectionism? Ultimately, we are seeking transformation through Christ, but how can that happen if we never admit to the problems plaguing us and truly surrender?
I decided it was time to break the silence and seek some actual help during a problem, rather than doing my typical “wait until I’ve fixed it to talk about it” song and dance. It. Was. Terrifying. First, I had to do some discerning. Who can I trust, and who might have some experience that would be helpful? Obviously I needed someone who was farther on his or her spiritual journey to help me gain a biblical perspective. Once I determined my best outlet, I then chickened out about twenty times before I finally reached out and said, “So, there’s this Big Thing. Is this as bad as I think it is?”
Now, I would love to say that everything was easy after that, but that would be a giant lie. Once I spoke the truth out loud, I spent a few days feeling really terrible, because the reality was that I couldn’t un-speak it. However, once the vulnerability hangover finally passed, I was able to sit down with this person again and actually air out the problem. It was quite liberating to have someone else to bounce ideas off of and to encourage me to take some challenging, yet necessary, steps. Rather than ignore the Big Thing, I actually uncovered it, exposed some light on it and explored a biblical way of handling things. Energy that had previously been spent spinning in unproductive circles could now be used in a productive and Godly manner, and the result has been incredibly empowering.
So what is it that I’m proposing? Please hear me—I do not recommend that we stand on the street corners shouting about all of the Big Things in our lives. However, I am suggesting that we be a little more honest with ourselves and recognize that we are, in fact, not capable of solving problems on our own. The enemy loves for us to be isolated, for that is where darkness can flourish. However, God is greater than any Big Thing in our lives, and he has placed people in our lives who can speak truth to a situation and be a beacon of light in times of struggle.
Is my life perfect now? Of course not. However, I can tell you that it feels so much better standing in the light of Jesus and community than it did huddled in the dark by myself.