I have a white cat named Coconut who sheds profusely everywhere and always. Sometimes I wonder if my life is a just a battle against cat hair.
I am also a perfectionist, which means I like to get rid of ALL the cat hair.
And when I get frustrated with not being able to eradicate all the cat hair, my mom likes to remind me of middle school.
When I started sixth grade, I followed the teacher’s organizational suggestions to the letter. I had a three-ring binder with dividers for every class, used the weekly planner to record my homework, and I loved every aspect of that organization. Every day, I came home from school and immediately started on my homework. I did everything a good student should do, and my grades reflected my efforts.
At the same time, I began experiencing insomnia. I couldn’t sleep at night, or I’d wake up and be unable to get back to sleep. It was my first experience with anxiety: the anxiety of missing something: a deadline, a test, notes in a class.
My mom says that one day I came home and looked out the window at the other kids in the neighborhood playing, and I said, “You know what, Mom? I can go play right now and do my homework later.”
And I left. And I played. I did my homework later. The world didn’t fall apart.
Mom says that it was like a light bulb clicked on inside my head. I began sleeping through the night again.
If only I had to learn this lesson just once! Alas, I think I’m in this one for life.
My perfectionism extended to the kind of Christian I tried to be. In churches especially, I find that people (including myself) pretend to have it all together. And we don’t. We just don’t. It’s impossible to clean up all the cat hair every day. We struggle, we doubt, and we fail.
My failure as a Christian came when I recognized that I did not meet all the expectations for what a good Christian should do or should be. I prayed, read the Bible, volunteered, etc., but I knew that I did not do these things as well as people around me. I wasn’t as kind as I should have been, I still worried, and I didn’t pray nearly enough. I saw cat hair in my heart everywhere.
And Christian culture taught me that that was the way it should be. I should see my flaws, should see where I still needed Jesus, should understand that I wasn’t good enough. In that way, I would know that I would need Jesus.
But I was miserable. And I was angry. And I cried ALL THE TIME. Christian culture taught me that brokenness was to be desired, and so I thought that crying all the time was a good thing.
What I thought was brokenness was actually Depression. And as one wise counselor told me, “Depression is God’s mechanism in our bodies to alert us to the fact that something is wrong.”
When I started attending yoga classes, I began hearing a different message: I heard that my body had limits that were to be respected. I heard that it was a good decision to be in the class taking care of myself. I heard that I was good enough even if I couldn’t do the pose perfectly. I heard that every pose looks different on every body.
In yoga, I began to learn that there was no such thing as failure: there was only being.
I once heard Brennan Manning, author of Ragamuffin Gospel speak at a conference. Manning emphasizes how God finds us especially through our failures—that God is not for people who are perfect and have it all together.
In his lecture, Manning told a story about a nun friend of his who has a banner on the wall of her bedroom: “Today I will not should on myself.” The way he said it—and he played with it—the sentence sounded like, “Today I will not shit on myself.” Please pardon the phrase, but I think the homonym-pun makes the point clear: shoulding is not a desirable thing.
When I should on myself—whether it be about cat hair or homework or being a good Christian—I’m setting up expectations for myself that are often unrealistic. There are many things we should be. But to be honest: we’re not.
Is it good to clean cat hair? Yes! But maybe not every day. Maybe vacuuming once or twice a week is all that’s needed. The homework doesn’t have to be done NOW.
There’s a balance here. In some ways, what I’m talking about could just be a license to be lazy—and that’s NOT what I’m talking about. If you’re not a person who puts pressure on yourself, this blog post is probably not for you. I’m talking to the overachievers, the people who place their own merit on what they do.
YOU ARE STILL GOOD ENOUGH EVEN IF IT DOESN’T GET DONE.
God still loves you.
I’m still learning this stuff. I’m still looking for my own balance between doing and being. Yoga often helps me find the balance by showing up and being. It’s so hard. I should do more yoga.
Today, I will not should on myself.