Photo by Tim Gouw
Since the beginning of my mortal existence, I have been blessed with the gift, or curse, of perfectionism. I soon discovered that when my perfectionism collided with the subjectivity of music and the performing arts…things didn’t always go to plan.
Despite my best intentions to practice, practice, practice, for the perfect classical performance, the final product was never guaranteed to go as I wanted. I seemed to have a knack for momentary lapses in concentration and coordination which at the crucial moment, would result in the most amazing wrong notes ever to be produced! Following this I would go home and literally chain myself to the ivories, intent on overcoming those unmanageable passages by sheer blood, sweat and tears…only to be disappointed the following performance with feedback such as “performance lacked expression”. My desire to ‘play the right notes’ dominated my playing, and left no room for appreciation of the beauty of what I was producing.
Fortunately since that time I’ve grown to learn that the admirable quality is not a mistake free performance, but the willingness to put on public display the ‘realness’ of flawed abilities. A desire to make something beautiful despite the imperfect skill base. Now when rehearsing for a performance, I work at the challenges with diligence with the expectation it likely it won’t go to plan. I aim for perfection…but in the real performance, I rarely get it, and that’s okay! The uniqueness of my performances and the experience of putting my work out there for others to critique, and hopefully enjoy, is where the spiritual gifts of patience and humility are refined.
In a world where we are brainwashed into thinking the ultimate success is to plaster the best staged moments of ourselves for all to see, including our picture perfect sets and moments with our co-stars, I’m not so sure that’s the way it should be. When this can’t always be achieved, we can still feel pressured to take this further by hiding the imperfections at all costs, making an exhibition of our suffering, or proving there was a happy ending to it eventually.
There is nothing wrong with the above, however as my life has progressed I now know there’s another option! I refuse to bow to perfectionism any more and will be at peace with the brokenness! This does not excuse poor attitudes, character or abandoning my God-given purpose in life, but it means I’m giving myself permission to perform the musical movements of my life without the expectation of relentless excellence! My personal life sonata could even be re-arranged, with certain new motives developed, diminished, augmented, inverted, accented or transposed to create the ultimate, messy masterpiece!
It’s taken me some time to learn that it requires more sacrifice and character development for our pride to be challenged by realness, and to possibly admit we will not always be able to reconcile all of the wrong ‘notes’ of life and their long-term legacy. Sometimes bad turns to good, sometimes it stays the same for a long time, and sometimes it gets worse. No matter the strength of our faith or how much we nag God to rid the script of these inconveniences, they do not necessarily end in a perfect finale performance.
I can hear you….‘call yourself a Christian?’ Yes…I know! However, isn’t it even more so a test of our faith in Jesus to place our trust in him despite not having the assurance of getting things our way? Isn’t it the highest sacrifice to deny our human desires? Jesus himself explained that “anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of their father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27 The Message). After all, God promises to “bestow on them (us) a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61:3 NIV) so what do we need to fear about being real?
As Christians, if we were to expect perfect performances in all the acts of life, we would deny ourselves true creativity, agency and blessings. The ability to work through and with our imperfections and messy masterpieces, requires us to put ultimate trust in our Father, which in our current world is arguably the highest level of spiritual enlightenment.