Perfection. Just reflecting on that word, what is the first feeling that sneaks in? I think if we are being honest, the initial feeling that many have would be defeat. There’s a discouragement when we first see that word, because quite frankly, it’s unobtainable.
I struggle with perfectionism. I was raised where a lot of my self worth and identity depended on how I performed, how I behaved, and what I achieved. As a result, I have high expectations of others and my family. I’m not sure that ALL of it is terrible, but I can certainly see how I need to reign it in so I don’t set my children up for failure, and most importantly…hurt their spirits and their heart.
While most mothers “ooo and aaahhh” over their child’s crafted cards and gifts, with glue dripping off, buttons lopsidedly placed in random spots, glitter randomly thrown all over it with no color scheme, and crooked letters misspelling all the words, I had to dig deep to smile and say thank you, while mentally trying to figure out how long I had to keep it before I could file it away in the garbage. While many mothers have their child’s first drawn pictures, or cute little crafts from Kindergarten, or plaster handprints in a keepsake box, I have their first 100% spelling tests, their first report cards, and pictures of them winning awards and their custom math book questions I made them when they were five years old. Over the years, I have had to learn to “ooo and aahhh” over the drawing of dinosaur that I thought was a drawing of what they threw up in the bucket last night. I had to learn to stand and clap when they went up for participation ribbons. I had to learn how to smile and give standing ovations during their piano practices when what I really wanted to do was take a Q-tip and swirl it in my brain.
These are the little things. But what about the big ones? What do we do and how do we treat them when, or if, we find out they are doing drugs, bullying at school, having sex, looking at pornography, stealing, smoking, drinking, or sneaking out? What happens if they REALLY fall short of what we expected of them and how we raised them?
I asked a good friend of mine this morning as just a thoughtful topic of discussion, “How do ‘right choices and actions’ factor into Jesus’ expectations of us, without ever compromising His desire for us to know that He loves us first and foremost apart from ‘performance’?”
Her response: “Right choices and actions directly align us to Jesus’/God’s character. So, walking in obedience draws us closer to Him because of our heart’s posture. ‘The right choices’ changes our posture to Him. He doesn’t change His position if we don’t behave correctly. There is fruit from obedience, but it’s not more love. We think more fruit means we are loved more, but that’s not true.”
Her response challenged me to reflect on what this means as a mother. When she said, “He doesn’t change His position if we don’t behave correctly”…it struck me straight to the core. This is true…God does not reward us with “more love” when we do “right”…nor does He withhold love when we do wrong. In fact, His REACTIONS to sin cause me to pause and reflect often. Jesus was never void of compassion and grace. Are we?
As I reflect back, I put so much expectation and pressure on my oldest son to be perfect…to aim for the 100% and forget to celebrate the 96% he brought home, to never allow him to move on to another song until the one he was working on could be played without mistakes, to discourage books with pictures, when I knew he was capable of reading novels, and to sweep the floors a third time because he continued to miss spots. As a result, I have A LOT of undoing to do. Over the 9 years of his life, while he is exceptionally bright and capable in so many things, I didn’t see a love of learning. I saw a hesitation from him to try new things, for fear he might fail. I saw his disappointment in himself when he fell short of perfect. I saw him place unrealistic expectations on his little brother and his peers, and then frustration when they fell short of his idea of what “should be”. As I noticed these things, it broke my heart. I realized that how I parented him, was so far from how God parented me, and how IF that was how the Lord had treated me, it would be so easy to stray away from faith and have a misguided view of the love of the Father. If perfect was what was required, there would be no desire to even try and get started.
I always thought that we must have high expectations of our children and teach them to strive for excellence by making them practice and redo things until it is done right. I quickly learned, especially this first year of homeschooling Samuel, that perfection and an expectation of perfection frustrates the heart, wounds the spirit, and breaks relationship. So, I changed. I learned to celebrate my son’s efforts, to encourage him without “but”, “if”, “what about”, and “maybe”. I took away “perfect” and just started loving him with patience, grace, and joy. The results were tangible. My son didn’t need to be nagged to death about a wrong choice to teach him how to make the right choice. My son didn’t to practice until frustration to learn how to play a song properly or learn a scale. When I replaced the word choices above with, “good job!”, “sounding good, son!”, “you’re improving every day”, “True, this one is not correct, but I was impressed that you got these ones correct!”…I saw that him start to love learning again. He started to play the piano, experimenting with new songs and trying to write his own. He was excited to learn the next math lesson, rather than dread it. He had a better attitude about doing corrections. He began to do chores while singing and whistling, rather than with attitude.
You might be thinking, “Okay, but what about his grades? In a world that emphasizes feelings now, are we just going to allow stupid?”…Well, here’s the thing… His performance in regards to grades and testing, went UP. He made less mistakes in his work, and the quality of what he does across the board has improved. Why? Because, I’ve taken away the fear to fail. And he’s willing to try new things and get the wrong answer, and it’s OKAY! The better fruit that came from this was our relationship. There was a softness, trust, and vulnerability that was restored between him and I. He learned this past year at home, that his worth and his value in our family is not based on his behavior or his achievements. His value in our home and in our family exists purely because he is a GIFT from God to us. His choices do not dictate how much we value him and invest in him. We are not waiting for perfect in order to show up for him everyday.
Jesus was not blind to Judas’ heart or behaviors. It shocked me that Jesus not only continued to entrust him with the money in the group, but he INCLUDED Judas in His ministry, sowing into him, teaching him, loving him, right until the very ended. Jesus never alienated or excluded Judas.
When our children perform less than…or when they hurt our feelings…or when their actions disappoint us, do we alienate and condemn? Are we waiting for perfection? Do our kids sense this from us? Or do they know and EXPERIENCE our love for them, despite their imperfections…in small and big ways?
Let us love without perfection.
“Let all that you do, be done in love” – 1 Corinthians 16:14
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