I have a confession to make. I don’t actually like writing. It’s tedious, time consuming, and requires seemingly endless editing. Agonizing over finding just the right words to convey the desired message, or just the right metaphor to describe something can be headache-inducing. Then there are issues of order, flow and organization – the constant rearranging trying to get everything to fit just the right way. Given my apparent disdain for this subject, why then am I writing a blog? Good question. The simple answer is because it’s good for me.
Several years ago, on January 1st 2012, God told me to start writing in a journal daily. Here’s how that conversation went down:
“Jeremy, I want you to start writing in a journal every day.” God said.
“Do I have to?” I responded in about the whiniest, most petulant child-sounding voice you can imagine. “I don’t like writing, it’s a lot of work, it’s tedious, it’s time consuming…” I drolled on, attempting to sound pitiful at being given such an odious task.
I was met by silence.
I knew what this meant, that God had made up his mind and I wasn’t going to change it with my carefully orchestrated lobbying attempts. So with a huff and a sigh of compliant resignation, I gave in and sat down at my computer to start typing. Right before I pressed the first keystroke, God interjected.
“I don’t want you to type it.” He said with a calm voice.
“What do you mean you don’t want me to type it?!” I shot back, outraged that he would give me such apparently contradictory instructions. As I thought about his instructions a little further, I realized that they weren’t actually contradictory. Instead, they meant something far worse – that he wanted me to write the journal by hand. So with a second huff and sigh of annoyance, I begrudgingly located a sheet of notebook paper and picked up my pencil to begin writing. A second time God interjected.
“I don’t want you to use a pencil.” He said in the same calm tone as before.
“What do you mean you don’t want me to use a pencil?!” I shot back again, annoyed that he yet again thwarted my attempt to follow his instructions. However, having learning from our previous interaction, I regained my composure more quickly and set my mind to trying to understand what he meant. I then realized that his prohibitions left me with but one option – to use a pen. Given this, I decided to inquire about God’s choice.
“Why do you want me to use a pen?” I asked with genuine curiosity at this point.
“Because I want you to be free to make mistakes. Jeremy, I was perfect for you so that you don’t have to be.”
My perfectionism had been exposed.
See if I wrote the journal on a computer or with a pencil then I could simply erase my mistakes. However, in writing it with a pen, there was no way to cover my mistakes – they would become a permanent part of the record. That’s what this was really about; that I didn’t want to have any mistakes in my writing – I wanted it to be: perfect. At this point some of you may be asking “Well what’s wrong with that? The people who produce the best work must be perfectionists or their work wouldn’t be that good.” Let me give some clarification about why perfectionism is unhealthy. Here’s what one of my favorite authors, social worker Brene Brown says about perfectionism in her book Daring Greatly:
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move. It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement and shame. Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.” Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle.”
See that’s what’s really going on; I was thinking that my writing needed to be perfect to earn approval; from another person, from God, or whomever. But the great news is that it doesn’t. Jesus already lived the perfect life for me, died for me, and gave his righteousness to me. So I don’t have to be perfect to earn God’s approval, he already gives me his approval freely – not because of what I have done, but because of what Jesus has done for me.
Now at this point, some may be tempted to think “Well what’s the point of even trying? Should I just not even try to produce quality work or try to keep God’s laws at all?” There’s a quote from Dallas Willard that addresses this where he says “Grace isn’t opposed to effort it’s just opposed to earning.” If you notice the difference, effort is an action whereas earning is an attitude. So two people could be doing the exact same action (like following God’s law) but one person is doing it with an attitude of earning which makes it destructive to them. This was actually the exact problem with the Pharisees. Their zealous keeping of God’s laws (an action) wasn’t the problem – that was actually a good thing. The problem was their attitude that in so doing they thought they earned God’s approval and earned their righteousness.
God has brought me a long way with perfectionism since I first started journaling several years ago. I still don’t particularly like writing, but I know that it’s good for me to do because it forces me confront my own imperfection – and accept it. It is ironic to me that so frequently things I don’t want to do end up being really good for me to do; like when a coach makes you do all those sports drills you hate, or a parent makes you eat the veggies you loathe. While at the time we don’t like doing it, later on, we see that there was tremendous benefit to having done it.
Accordingly, despite my profound lack of fondness for writing, I plan to continue doing it and sharing it with the knowledge that even though it’s imperfect, that’s okay.