My friend Kelly is not what you would call churchy, but she and I do have interesting conversations which sometimes provoke spiritual insight. I have been troubled that Sunday morning church activities often leave me wrung out rather than strengthened and enlightened. She suggested maybe I am overly focused on others (teaching, helping, managing, welcoming, all as if my life depended on it.) It took a few hours to soak in, but she makes a valid point. On a plane, when the oxygen masks drop down, you put yours on first and then help the others around you. The woman drawing water at the well might die of dehydration if she serves everyone else before taking a drink herself. Mary as opposed to Martha.
I grew up reading and watching a lot of those “Moment of Truth” stories, where the hero’s actions at one decisive point make the difference between triumph and tragedy, possibly for the entire planet. Top that with “The Horseshoe Nail” ditty, the one that informs us that one never knows what tiny detail will be critical. Impressionistic and dramatic, I came to believe that I needed to be perfect in all things, or else. No one ever told me that, I picked it up all by myself. It is a terrible strain, being personally responsible for saving the world through good behavior. Ironically, striving desperately for perfection results in some pretty imperfect qualities. Fear of the fatal misstep winds me up tight and leaves little room for joy. It would be too embarrassing to reveal all the ways this unfortunate default thinking affects my personality, but suffice it to say if you met me during a fit of perfection stress you might wonder if I was nuts.
My thought is that, to varying degrees, a lot of people (especially women) have this same thinking. We take responsibility for our families, our communities, our fellow human beings. Many of us are acutely sensitive to perceived judgment from fellow human beings and from God. If we do everything perfectly, if everyone admires what we have accomplished and how fabulous we are, surely we won’t be judged wanting? But that is so wrong. Whenever I realize I am losing it, I remind myself of the Big Two: Love God, Love Others. Loving God has nothing to do with performance. Also, God’s goodness isn’t like a plate of cupcakes where you want to make sure everyone else gets served first in case there isn’t enough to go around. The well is bottomless and full and we need to draw on it. Loving others is second, because if you are full from loving God, you have plenty left over to share.
You prepare a table before me…you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5