This week I heard a brilliant description of how it can feel being a person who strives for perfection:
I watched an ice sculptor create this beautiful piece of art, bringing forth form from within the frozen block of water. When they had finished I thought it was perfect, but within two minutes it had already started to melt.
The imagery resonated deep down inside, not least because I considered myself an artist, albeit a lapsed one, but that reality that as soon as I finish something even if at that moment of completion there was fulfillment within two minutes that feeling starts to melt away. That ‘thing’ that I was striving for, that perfection, it was never something that I could attain or at least never something I could hold on to.
I believe this is true for a lot of people. We all have that ‘thing’ that we are reaching for, hoping for, waiting for, that perfect; experience, moment, relationship, status, piece of art, act of parenting, speech, idea…I could go on. That ‘thing’ that just seems forever just outside of our grasp or it just slips through our fingers like water.
Let us turn to Peter, poor Peter, (the individual not the letters) because he is the epitome, the (ironically) perfect human example of this reality.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
This isn’t the only example of Peter doing something amazing moments before failing miserably, go check out the gospels. And each of us have different response to our loss of perfection. Some give up trying believing that its better not to try rather than try and fail, others to slog away until it drains them and they burn out unable to live up other people’s expectations or their own. Whether you fight or take flight the likelihood is you dont find yourself in a healthy space, I think all of us struggle with some inner voice that tells us we are worthless. I wonder if Peter was this second kind as he seems to keep reaching to be good enough to stand alongside his Rabbi even after each time he trips over himself, I wonder if when he was on that boat after the crucifixion had taken place whether he felt burnt out, that there was nothing left to give after that last failure.
Except the problem isn’t failure, it’s not that we can’t achieve perfection, that we are unable to be good enough, or that we will always fall short. The problem isn’t that we mess up over and over and over.
The problem is that we don’t give space to the victories.
We don’t take stock of the positives and the blessings
Did you know that neuroscience shows us negativity sticks like burrs in a dog’s fur in our brains, that we will hold on to failures, they just get stuck in there, negative comments, disappointments. We know this don’t we? It’s probably why we are so good at distracting ourselves because as soon as we stop there they are, our regrets our mistakes staring at us shaming us. But you know it is the way our brains work, there was at one point probably some evolutionary advantage to this like; we learnt not to fight the tigers after seeing someone else get eaten, and even now, that person betrayed my trust I’ll remember that and I won’t rely on them in that way again.Fear and aggression are our most base emotions, so it makes sense right?
And did you also know that in the same way positive thoughts, experiences, compliments slide away, they run off and disappear like water on a waxy surface, like sand slipping through a sieve, we cannot help but let them go.
Unless you focus on it and hold on to it, apparently for at least 15 seconds. Neuroscience shows us this. Not philosophy, not religion, not a self help book (although they probably all say it too) but science tell us this.
It’s like we are addicted to negative thinking, and we need saving.
Another thing neuroscience shows us that if you spend time contemplating or meditating on a Loving God that you end up strengthening those neural pathways that will lead to you becoming a more loving compassionate person. Isn’t that amazing.
How many us actually take the time to reflect in this way?
What would happen if we spent time reflecting on a Love that wanted to tell us that we were wonderfully and beautifully made? that we were loved, that we were seen as good, and precious and worthwhile, what would that do?
What would happen if when something good happened, when we had that moment of greatness, love, happiness, grace, beauty, joy, peace, self control, (this list is starting to look familiar) and we just stopped and sat back to look at it, hold it, to appreciate just how far we had come?
Just 15 seconds?
Would it make a difference, if we were kinder to ourselves?