Did your math teachers ever require you to show your work? I remember it being written across the top of each of my tests during my 8th grade year: SHOW YOUR WORK! Even if we got the problem wrong, we were given partial credit for writing our process.
Somewhere in the years between then and now, however, things have changed. Maybe not for math teachers, but for the rest of society. Now, it’s all about BEFORE and AFTER. “Before this product I was ____ but look at me now!” If you watch a show like Fixer Upper they fast forward through the process, glossing over the demolition and nasty rat poop under the floorboards, then quickly take you to the magazine worthy (though not lived in) home. Other than Bob Ross, what artist do you know who showed their process? Other than close friends and family, who ever tells you that they’re doing therapy? When was the last time that someone who wronged you (intentionally or not) apologized and talked it out with you?
Perhaps our highly edited world has perpetuated the idea that change happens overnight, perfection is attainable and admitting our faults is unacceptable. But I’m gonna say that my 8th grade math teacher had it more right.
My kids need to see me fail, try again, fail, try again, fail, try again, etc.
My kids need to hear me admit that something is hard for me.
My kids need to see me get mad/grumpy and not handle things well, then apologize and try to work through my feelings.
My kids need to see me disagree with their dad and watch us work through our differences.
My kids need to see that I can still be gentle with myself when I’m not satisfied with my body/temper/cooking/whatever.
We shouldn’t be ashamed of being incomplete. Failure may be painful, but it doesn’t have to be shameful. It’s more important that our kids see our grit to keep trying than that they see our success. Successes are really just ‘rest areas’ on the scenic highway of our lives where we can get out, stretch our legs and take in the scenery. Most of our journey is a long road with flat tires, gas stations and traffic. But we can make it more pleasant with good company and by choosing to see the lovely scenery we pass through.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times
I’m learning that peace and anxiety can coexist. Gratitude and yearning can coexist. Happiness and stress can coexist. And if that wasn’t all strange enough… I’m learning that happiness doesn’t always feel happy. At least not in the expected ways.
Since everyone else is on their own highway with potholes as well, whats the matter with acknowledging that we are all hitting them? It seems to me that its easier to notice the blue skies or the mountain vistas when I don’t feel alone. “Showing our work” doesn’t mean advertising our weaknesses, it means relating to one another’s humanity and saying “me too!”
I yelled at my precious darlings.
I’m worried about money.
I argued with my husband today.
I often wonder if I’m “enough” and other times if I’m “too much”.
I hear you.
“Showing our work” is really just another way of fulfilling that baptismal covenant we made to “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort”. It’s freeing to let go of perfectionism and allow ourselves space for our flaws…. space for our growth… space for connection.
*This essay was originally published at Christy’s personal blog, The Dispencery.