Letting Go of Perfectionism and Embracing the Process

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.

Me too!

I’m worried about money.

Ugh, same!

I argued with my husband today.

Been there!

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.

When My Husband Is Away for His Calling

Every parent of littles knows what the hours between 3:30 and bedtime look like. Kids start to get tired, stir crazy and hungry. Often Mom does too. Patience wears thin and tantrums become more and more frequent. Believe me, no one sings “I’m So Glad When Daddy Comes Home” more enthusiastically than Yours Truly. I look forward so much to having a reinforcement, someone to help with the most hectic stage of the day – dinner, clean-up, and tuck-ins for three children under five.

Shortly after we moved into our current ward, my husband received a calling that requires a lot of him. Often he will be gone two nights a week for meetings and visits, Saturday mornings doing service (like moving someone or painting or yard work) and Sunday mornings for meetings before church. He serves willingly and enthusiastically, without a sign of complaint.

For most of our first year here I was pregnant with our third child. The pregnancy was a challenging one.  I experienced intense and constant morning sickness which was coupled with some complications that put me on modified bed rest. 700 miles from the nearest family member and still new and without close friends, I felt like I had no support system other than my husband. I desperately needed his help and support in the evenings when he came home from work. I was unable to be up and about cooking and cleaning very much, which meant a whole lot of chaos in our house with two constant mess-makers.

During this period, it really felt like a sacrifice to support my husband in fulfilling his calling. I knew our family would be blessed through his service, but I murmured in my heart. Because he was still new in his job and working later, our evening family time window on such nights was very small. He would often come home, eat dinner with us, and leave straight from the table to fulfill his responsibilities. With a grim smile I would send him off and then face the bedtime circus solo – feeling nauseous, exhausted and resentful.

I did not complain verbally, but I sure murmured in my heart. I remembered Sariah and how she sometimes gets shamed in Sunday School lessons for murmuring about the things Lehi was called by God to do. I felt like now I could understand where she was coming from. I was feeling resentful over some evening and weekend hours without my main squeeze. She, on the other hand, left her home, belongings, relatives and everything she knew to journey into the desert with her family. Then she watched her sons leave for Jerusalem, knowing they were risking their lives and might never return. Her husband was a prophet, but he was also human. Surely he had made mistakes and bad judgement calls in the past. How tempting it must have been to her to question his judgement in that situation and to murmur at him fulfilling his calling in the way he understood he needed to.

I recall one evening after our daughter was born, my husband had left after dinner to attend to his calling. I felt discouraged that the kids had only seen him for 30 minutes that day. I was lonely and desperate for adult conversation with my best friend. Our newborn was crying inconsolably and the other two would not fall asleep and kept calling to me and crying from their beds. Everyone was crying. Everybody needed me. And I felt that there was none of Me left to give.

After I managed to get the baby calmed down and the other two finally fell asleep, I went into our bedroom and sunk into the armchair in a totally exhausted state. My thoughts wandered towards my husband’s calling and I felt resentment begin to bubble inside me. The Holy Ghost interrupted my thoughts and I saw the situation clearly, perhaps for the first time. I had always known it was a blessing to serve. But the Spirit made it clear to me that night that in fulfilling his duties to God, my husband was also fulfilling his duties to us.

Having a husband who is away fulfilling his calling does not mean I have a husband who does not love me or care about our family and our needs. It means I have a husband who is keeping his covenants.

Having a husband who is gone to administer a blessing to someone means that I am married to a man who can call down the powers of heaven to bless me and my children. He is worthy to exercise the priesthood.

Having a husband who is away at a service project means that I have a companion who loves to serve the Lord and his fellow men and who will likewise serve our family with every chance he gets.

Having a husband who fulfills his duty to the Lord means that I have a husband who feels deeply the call of duty and will always strive to protect and provide for us.

That evening, when I was feeling so drained and spent, the Lord opened my eyes. I realized that underneath all the exhaustion of raising a young family, I am so deeply grateful to have a husband who serves God and others faithfully. His character, obedience, and commitment bless our family on a daily basis.

Of course, there have been occasions when I told my husband that I was the ward member who needed him most that night, and he rearranged his appointments to stay home and minister to me. The stake president and his counselors have made sure I know to communicate to him when I need him to put his calling on hold. I have done so when I have felt the need. But on the evenings when he does take off after dinner, I now strive to remember what the Spirit spoke so clearly to me that night. I have a new perspective on his service and on the opportunity I have to be a “helpmeet” in helping him meet his responsibilities to serve others.

I know he will hold a number of different callings in the future, as will I. Whether he is gone for a campout, service project, meeting or home teaching, I hope to retain the gratitude I have felt to have a husband who serves. And I hope he will extend the same patience towards me when I am the one who is called away to serve.