On Sunday, I sat up in bed and stared out the stained glass window for a while, unsure what to do with myself. Since I had spent most of Saturday in online shopping mode for Christmas, I wanted Sunday to be a day of redemption and contemplation and heart. But where to start?
Eventually Kirk joined me in this place (he'd already been up and getting things done that morning), and I told him I felt restless, like I wanted to work but didn't want to feel driven. Like I wanted to bow to the holiness of the day but also wanted to be fully alive in it. I told him I felt drawn to work on my book project, but unsure (again) where to begin.
Most people, when I share that I don't know where to begin on this book, tell me that I should break it into smaller chunks, like chapters or individual stories. And perhaps that is the way it will eventually play out. But isolating stories isn't helping me get started right now because of the many angles from which those stories can be told. I feel like if I don't know the ultimate angle and theme of the book, I can't write the story so that it drives toward a meaningful end. It feels like relaying mere facts and movement and dialogue without any undercurrent of truth.
Kirk said he thinks my perfectionism is getting in the way of all this. That I seem afraid of letting things get messy. That maybe it takes a willingness to let myself freewrite without any knowledge of where things will go, trusting that eventually I will hit upon gold. Isn't that the way most authors work -- in darkness? Have I ever known an author to do otherwise? Can I maybe trust that the process itself is beautiful, that it's just as much about who I become along the way as it is about what finally gets written?
He would be right. I don't want a messy, unformed, confusing mass of process. I want to know the thing I'm about, to write it out completely, and then to send it off. Pronto, presto. And, no, I don't want to trust in a process that rests in obedient blindfulness. What if it doesn't turn out all right? What if I freewrite 300 pages of crap? I screwed my face up and shook my head, even crunched my body in half at the thought of writing badly for a really, really long time.
As we talked, though, some of his words stuck with me, and eventually they helped me to reopen my eyes and sit up again and ponder. First, there was the notion of messiness. Then there was the trust in a process. And then there was the beauty to be found in all that messy process.
All these words and notions seemed very familiar. And slowly, it came back to me. These are the same truths I learned through my first go-round with perfectionism, when God first began working at my heart's overhaul. These are the same deep-seated values I embraced on the other side of that long discovery, heartache, rebellion, and healing. They are the mercies I eventually bowed in gratefulness to receive, and they are the mercies I sought to offer with hope and understanding to others imprisoned by chains.
Haven't I learned that life is one big process of learning, healing, and growth that plays on repeat, the old issues just showing up in new places, every few years? Haven't I learned that my knee-jerk reaction to the unknown, to the fear of my failure, to the fear of my overwhelming inadequacy is to torque and tweak and harpoon my mind around until I've somehow mastered a thing and believe I cannot fail? Haven't I also learned that this is my attempt at the superhuman, at negating the truth of my humanity, at rejecting the reality of my existence, at turning my nose up at God's intention for me, proclaiming it just isn't good enough? And haven't I learned the utter mercy of allowing imperfection, the heart-searing beauty of a soul who does not know all things, the relief to be found when we allow ourselves as common equals, uncomprehending every nerve of existence, and the compassion we can offer and receive as great treasure as we shoulder together in this curious and ever-unfolding life?
I felt sad that I was in this place again, struggling with perfectionism and coping in just the same old way. But I knew enough of my previous experience of growing through it, remembered enough of the conviction I eventually held about the prize of this messy, disorganized process to be willing to step my toe into its waters once again. It will be hard, and I will have to keep remembering and choosing. I will catch myself back on dry land without knowing how or when I got back there, and I will have to willfully venture back to the shoreline, entering into the water again with only a belief in what I used to know. I will have to keep believing that what I learned before is more true than the feelings I feel about all this right now. And I will dare to hold onto a hope that this new spate of fumbling and blindness will also one day, too, serve its good purpose.