How do you leave a place,
feeling as though you
made every effort to live
but aren’t sure if you ever
really got there?
Except for the time
at the magnificent tree in the fog in the field
with your daughter through the woods
or cried out
for divine healing on the lonely streets of an empty town
as you learned that
another step forward
along the path of
Weary and defeated, my interracial family hobbled away from the tiny town where we’d lived for a long eight years. Filled with feelings of isolation and awkward moments of misfitting, it had been far from a picture-perfect home. I left that place conflicted, pondering if we were socially inept or if we had just been too different in a place that prioritized sameness.
Years later, I revisit my feelings of uncertainty and brokenness. Time is indeed a steady healer, cautiously pointing out that my most persistent spiritual defect may well be perfectionism.
Having grown up a Christian, I absorbed unspoken messages that spiritual strength meant unwavering certainty and unshakable faith. This foundation became a significant problem when my certainty wavered and my faith shook. How could I be a Christian if I questioned its validity? How would I remain faith-full when the very ground I stood on felt as though it were crumbling? Everything felt unsure. The great hymn of my faith was failing: Christ was no solid rock; I found myself sinking quickly in the sand.
Each new decade I enter reminds me how some lessons play on perpetual repeat. The perfectionism of my twenties wore masks of agnosticism, insecurity, and unrealistic expectations of the world. I faced these realities head-on and entered my thirties with a greater confidence and calmer heart. But the thirties, they are relentless–and exhausting. My faith wobbled this decade because I thought my mothering, wife-ing, friend-ing, or professional-ing had to be flashy, impeccable, and resentment-free.
The gift unfolding from my fourth decade is a fresh lesson that my temptations toward perfection don’t ever go away, they just reroute themselves. But this time around, the holy contradictions of mystery and paradox shape how I tightly hold them. Both belief and doubt share space within, sometimes in a fierce battle for territory. The veil over tomorrow still feels like a shelter one day and a road block another.
Nothing is perfect or certain, but these days, I call my perfectionism by name, welcome it as a worn-in old friend–maybe even tease it a little for tripping me up and giving me a hard time. It knows me well by now, but the years are beginning to round its edges, softening the blow of my (sometimes unrealistic) expectations of both myself and others.
These days, when a scar tinges, reminding me of days limped by, I think of the perseverance that has grown before I remember the ache of the uncertainty. Perseverance must finish its work, right? That’s how we mature; but it doesn’t quite look the way I thought it would back when my dreams were tight-fisted and hopes undashed.
Life’s rerouted moments continue to teach me that sometimes living looks much less like appropriately placed smiles, cellulite-free thighs, or well-behaved children and far more like an honest and gentle conversation between old friends.
I spend many of my moments analyzing college essays, debating the use of semi-colons, or swimming in email; but in real life, I most enjoy sitting by my fireplace with a good poem, sitting near the sea, or going on a walk with loved ones. Sometimes, I write about intercultural life on my blog Between Worlds. I also recently published a book titled Pondering Privilege: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Whiteness, Race,and Faith.