Paintings and People.
I’ve been learning for quite some time the pitfalls of perfectionism — the added stress, the self-focus, the lack of grace for myself and others. Yup. Perfectionism can be a bad habit with some high costs.
And as much as I’ve been learning about perfectionism over the last few decades, Lysa takes it much deeper and more personal this week than I’ve ever been. She is helping me see that perfectionist expectations are a set-up for some major disappointments.
In the middle of Lysa’s dark season, she had a birthday that was to have marked some big milestones of life — a season she had looked forward to. Only life didn’t work out the way she’d expected. And her birthday became a marker of all that wasn’t…
So, her mom decided they’d go to the craft store, buy paint and blank canvases and make some art together. Even though Lysa felt dragged into this experience, she discovered that her art was mirroring her life.
“[Painting] was therapeutic in many ways — it was also a terrifyingly vulnerable experience. It was my moment to be the painter instead of the observer. It was my moment to face disappointment from the angle of an artist. And to be the painter I would both display my ability but even more scary expose my inability” (page 74)
She’d even found a book called Art and Fear that seemed to capture what she was discovering about herself and her experience. The book described the gap that exists between what we intend to do and what we actually do — and how that gap becomes a running narrative full of negative comments about our failures and inabilities…all those imperfections and disappointments.
It’s in those moments Satan loves to jump in and join in with the gut-puncher: not good enough.
When these negative scripts and taunts run through our minds, we need to take that step back and recognize that we have a choice, that we have power over these words. We need to recognize their source and combat them with the truth. Truths like “God wants us near, no matter our imperfections” (page 75).
It can empower us greatly to recognize that when we start to feel disappointed in ourselves, we can turn to God and His truths instead of giving into the emotions that make us want to put up our walls, get defensive, and become totally unmotivated or paralyzed by our failure (page 76).
As a friend told me, we can let our disappointment become a red flag for us. It can be our warning. Instead of giving into the mockery that perfectionism throws our way or its demands to “hyper-focus” on what doesn’t look or work quite right, we can CHOOSE to stop at the feeling of disappointment and CHOOSE, instead, the narrative God is offering us.
The enemy would love for us to choose his narrative of not-good-enough’ness.
But God offers us a beautiful alternative — to “find delight in what is right” (page 77).
Lysa shares, “I was struggling to make peace with my painting creation because I was struggling to make peace with myself as God’s creation. Anytime we feel not good enough we deny the powerful truth that we are a glorious work of God in progress” (page 77).
Like Lysa, I have too often let imperfections lead to the deadly self-talk of “not good enough.” I become so hard on myself that I get angry, I give up, I run away… And if that’s not bad enough, I can let other people’s imperfections cause a similar reaction toward THEM.
That’s not how I want to live my life.
That’s certainly not how God wants us to live our lives.
Lysa reminds us that God is patient with the process. This is such an empowering truth. And it means we can be patient too — in ourselves and in others. We are unfinished! And so is everyone else!
When we can lean into God for a patience and a grace to love ourselves and others in the middle of the process, we have compassion. Self-compassion as well as compassion for the people around us.
“We must get to this place of self-compassion if we ever hope to have true, deep compassion for others. Disappointment begs us to be secretly disgusted with everything and everyone who has gaps, everything and everyone who also wrestles with the ‘not good enough’ script. But what if, instead of being so epically disappointed with everyone, we see in them the need for compassion” (page 77, 79).
Lysa uses the phrase “break secrecy with fellow humans” as a way for us to practically take our disappointments and say to those around us that we “get it,” we understand. We can come together outside our self-constructed walls and realize we aren’t alone and that we have a power and a hope in Christ that gives us all we need to find comfort, compassion, and a way forward. We can step out of isolation. We can break secrecy.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 is a promise that reminds us that for all the comfort we’re given by God to get past our disappointments, thought-habits, and hurts, we can move forward, offering people around us that same comfort.
THAT’s the life I want to live. That’s what God wants for us, too!
And the greatest part of all of this? Our suffering doesn’t have to go wasted. It can strengthen us and give us what we need to make a difference in someone else’s life.
It all boils down to the “crucial decision: What will we do with disappointment?” (page 81).
Will we let disappointment do its ugly work of unraveling us? Will we allow it to mock us? Or demean us? Or control us? Or keep us from living life with love and hope and patience and compassion?
Or will we choose to trust God, to choose our thoughts, to choose to believe His promises? Will we choose compassion — for self and for others?
In a world where we’re all so quick to judge — in our cars, on our social media, even toward those we love — there’s an alternative.
Instead of being so stinkin’ hard on ourselves and others, we shift our eyes to the One who holds all the compassion, and we say, “Yes, please. I’d like some of that!”
We open His Word and let its truths absorb into our very being, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
If we in our imperfect ways and deep hurts can find healing and hope from a God who loves us and offers us His compassion, then we can go into a broken world, this life between two gardens, and be conduits of the compassion that gave us so much.
Instead of letting my imperfections dictate my “not good enough” attitudes and my “I can never do this right” actions, I can learn to love my imperfections. (Just writing that makes me laugh. I can love my imperfections? What??? Then I remember — in Christ I can do all things…even love my imperfections. I remember that if I want to live my life differently, I’m going to have to do some things differently!)
Getting back to it… I can allow my imperfections to speak a truth to me that frees me from Perfection’s grip because I remember that God doesn’t expect perfection. I can remember that the enemy wants me trapped by it. These truths are empowering. These truths are the HOW behind living differently!
And when I choose to live in God’s truth, I can live a life of freedom, I can love others well.
“People need you. People need me. People need to know God’s compassion is alive and well and winning the epic battle of good versus evil. People need to know redemption is more than just a word” (page 84).
Just as Lysa learned in her painting experience, we can learn that we don’t have to try to be perfect. We don’t even have to apologize when we’re not. And we don’t have to hide from our battles with fear and judgment. All we have to do is show up with compassion — for ourselves and others.
And, that’s what the chapter “Paintings and People” is all about.
Here are some great questions from Lysa’s Study Guide (pages 82-86) that help us think through and apply these truths. Try them on for size. Allow yourself some space and time to really answer these because if we want a life that is free of our perfectionist demands and disappointments, we need a way forward. These questions help launch us on those first few steps:
How are you learning to silence the negative voice of “Not. Good. Enough.” so that you can hear God’s voice instead?
Lysa writes “God wants us transformed, but Satan wants us paralyzed.” With that distinction in mind, what words do you think God and Satan are each trying to say to you in your current situation?
What are some of the enemy’s strategies for keeping you from moving closer to God? Other people?
How does the thought that you are unfinished and, therefore, imperfect encourage you?
Who needs your compassion for their imperfections? How can you extend it to them?
Opening myself to God’s compassion, Shelley Johnson