The Enneagram gave words to what I have always known about myself. I am a perfectionist in recovery. My greatest fear is failure. While it sounds dramatic, it feels like knife wounds to my soul when I am earnestly trying my best and pouring myself out towards an end but am still not enough.
I have gone through a few phases regarding my perfectionism. For a long season, I used it to my advantage, riding it as a thoroughbred to the finish-line of everything I attempted. I had to win and win big, or the grounds of my identity would be shaken to the core.
After I came to the end of myself and found God had been beckoning me there all those long, tiring years, I hated my intensity. As a new believer, I wanted it gone. I hated my need to be excellent. I wanted to be more type B, but my perfectionism just found a different lane in which to perform: I would be the perfect daughter of Christ and the perfect disciple and discipler. New aim, same self as energy source.
Then followed another bottoming out and a deeper understanding of grace. The doctrine of Union with Christ began to transform me on a much deeper level. Hidden in Christ, I could be fully myself with an identity that could not be shaken. Beloved daughter apart from success or failure. Knowing Jesus had secured my standing before the only audience that mattered freed me to try with all my might but still fail and falter. I could pour myself into whatever God called me to, knowing full well it would never be enough.
When I fall short of the measuring line even on my tippy toes, I am held. When my very best and earnestly prayed over process turns out a product that, when inspected under heavy scrutiny, is less than desired, I am secure.
Because knowing the Perfect One and being hidden in Him deeply transforms a perfectionist from one degree of glory to another.
This past week my perfectionism roared onto the scene in my life once again. I was reminded in myriad ways that my best was mostly laughable. Despite my best efforts to be a present wife, an organized mother, and an excellent leader for our women’s ministry, it felt like chaos on all fronts. Well-intentioned and honest feedback was pouring in and my soul was struggling to receive it well.
In God’s sweet mercy, this week He allowed me to read something that pointed to a painter that patched up my sore soul.
Jan van Eyck was a Fifth-century Flemish painter who worked with oils. Among other things, he worked as the court painter for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. He is well known for his Portrait of a Man and The Arnolfini Portrait. His Ghent Altarpiece, a work initially begun by his brother who died before it was completed, is one of the most stolen pieces of art in world history. When its panels are opened, it reveals some of the most beautiful artistic depictions of Adam and Eve and other religious scenes.
While I found all this interesting, what stunned me was the strange way Van Eyck signed most of his pieces. It was then highly unusual for a painter to use a motto, but van Eyck generally inscribed a motto in pseudo-Greek letters onto his works. Translated in the Dutch, his inscription read, “As I can,” or “As best I can,” or “As best I can, not as I would.”
My eyes literally filled with tears at his motto. I am taking it as my own as a recovering perfectionist who seeks to now point to Christ, the Only Perfect One.
I will do the best I can with whatever task or role He entrusts to me. I will pour all of my flawed and failing self into it. But I will do as one who knows that even my best is not what I would have it be. In my failures and in my many moments of not-enoughness, I will point to the One who did all He did as the perfect, sinless Son of God.
Oh, that my life would bear “As best I can” boldly because it is also inscribed as “Purchased by the Perfect One.”