HEALING: Perfect Hell

My Writing

Perfect Hell

I am not obsessive-compulsive.

I have actually been tested.

The same test, however, showed that I am a perfectionist.

When I saw how high on the scale of perfectionism I tested, I felt an urge to sit down right there and write tearful apologies to my children.

I had always considered myself a patient parent.  But perhaps my patience had really been aimed at generously waiting for them To Get It Right.

As I wrote, tearful apologies are way overdue.

Back in the days when I roamed the Earth in Brooks Brothers suits, with gleaming nails on hands and feet, when I found myself having to meet the challenge of working with both attorneys, with their own ideas, on one end of the spectrum, and printers, with their own ideas, on the other, being a perfectionist was clearly an asset.  I could remember everything.  And not just that.  I could remember everything accurately.

I once defined a print-production manager as Hitler in heels.  And I meant it.

But then came the “signs.”  I began to feel impatient with layouts of menus in restaurants.  And, when I drove about, I would edit the copy on billboards.

I couldn’t stop myself.

I liked having something for my mind to straighten up and get right, but when the urge to straighten never changed to enjoyment or even boredom, then I knew my time in the corporate world was over.

And when Bank of America called and asked me to write a letter saying that I really, really wanted the job as Manager of All In-House Publications that they really, really wanted to offer me, I changed out of my suit, packed up my belongings, and drove out of Dodge.

Well, Berkeley, really.

In one way, though, I was very lucky.  I had God in my life.  Whenever I wanted to work with him, or not work with him; whenever I wanted to get closer, or get away from him, no matter what I did with relation to God, I always found myself tangled up and flat on my face, proving me, yet again, impotent and wrong.

Perhaps it was a good thing that I was a perfectionist.  Instead of letting being always wrong get me down, perhaps because I was trying so hard to straighten out God and my visions, being consistently kicked in the shins just sobered me.

Humility comes hard to a perfectionist.

But it comes.


I like to take sunshine as a model for perfection.  I mean, how can sunshine be considered anything else but perfect?  All it does is its job, consistently.  And it keeps doing its thing no matter what.

No matter how many clouds clog up its path, its there, shining away, waiting for a hole, or a parting, or even a clearing to appear so it can get back to satisfying its customers.


The warmer, human side of sunshine as Model of Perfection is how it doesn’t insist on being everywhere at all times.  There is darkness, even in the middle of the day, beneath a bush or in a cellar with no windows.  And it will shine on everything.  Everything.  Just think about it.

It doesn’t care if when it shines through a window the window is squeaky clean or streaked with dirt.  And it doesn’t discriminate between shining on a field full of wildflowers or a trash heap.

I learned, slowly and with much discomfort, that when one works with God, how one works is not the same as how one works in the world.  Perfection becomes an entirely different thing.

One’s goal is to get through the experience with sanity and with as much health as possible.  Think of Abraham.  Think of Job.  Think of Jesus.

The path is there before him.  And he must accomplish it.  In truth, he doesn’t know what is going to happen.  But accomplish it, he must.

So learning to get through a God experience is a long, long lesson in moving gently.  In stopping and listening.  In allowing trust to refill your heart and soul so that another step can occur.  It is a practice of learning to touch others so that no harm comes to either them or you.  Which is the greatest challenge sometimes.

In the “real” world, the goal is to get what you can.  The brass ring.  The vacation home at the beach.  A retirement fund.

With God, the goal is to piece together what is in front of you so that you can get home again to a cup of tea.  The path is the getting, not the stuff gotten along the way.

It makes us all the same.  Unlike in the material world, where education and cleverness and ambition can separate us from one another.  With God, it’s a matter of willingness, faith, love, and gratitude, things that we all have in our packs if we just search, that shape the accomplishments.

And there’s attitude.

Always, there is attitude.

We can treat our life in the world as a long, arduous toil, blinking in the hot sun.  We can count each and every drop of sweat that falls off of us as marks of our suffering and endurance.  We can resent the effort.  Curse the demands on our time and energy.  Kick those around us.

Or, we can see ourselves as gardeners, tending a garden.  Our families can be the rose bushes; our work the beds of perennials.  When someone from church calls to ask us to help on yet another task, we can see it as a gift of a begonia, to put on the windowsill and watch blossom.

Life doesn’t always have to be an act of giving.  It can be a relationship.  With everything around us.  Even the dirty bathtub and the silent neighbor.

All flowers under our care.

Of course, perfectionism isn’t something that goes away.

I am in my first few months of learning Biblical Greek, and just the other day when I saw an advertisement for the store, The Gap, I didn’t see the word, Gap.  Instead, I saw, γαρ, and thought, γαρ: for (postpositive).

In the end, there’s always room for a sigh.


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