Earlier this week, my talented daughter Katherine wrote an article for The Witness about her fight to be perfect. I’ve gotten more feedback on Katie’s article, “A Perfectionist’s Guide to Being Perfect,” than on just about anything I’ve ever written. You can read Katie’s post here, but the gist of it is that she has felt pressure her entire life to be perfect, and the harder she tried, the more she seemed to fail. So she gave up trying and rebelled, damaging her relationships with her parents, teachers, and even some friends.
After the article was published, Katherine called me to make sure I was okay with it. I think I said something like, “Well, it was kind of hard to read. I’m still processing a lot of what happened.” I did try to look at her article objectively as a writer and acknowledge it for its merits on that count. The truth, though, is that I crumpled a little inside when I read it.
I wondered why she felt the need to share such a personal story with so many people. Though clearly not the main point, what hit me the hardest was this: None of this would have happened if her dad and I hadn’t pushed her so hard to be perfect. And there it was, laid bare for all to see. My failure.
That’s the other side of the perfection story. It’s not just our children who struggle with it. Parents struggle to be perfect too.
Have you ever seen the movie “Monsters, Inc.?” It’s based on the premise that monsters need the screams of children to power their city, so they sneak up on kids to scare them. At the same time, the monsters all believe children are actually toxic creatures, who can poison them with the slightest contact. So they have a monster hazmat team in place to deal with unexpected human contact. When monster/child contact occurs, they slam a red alarm button, shut down the scare floor, and scream “2319! We have a 2319!” 2319 is their code for “this must be contained.”
When Katie began to rebel, my mind screamed “2319! We have a 2319!” I wondered what people would think about me if they knew what was happening within our family. I ran around in my little hazmat suit, trying to reach anyone and everyone she came into contact with so I could assure them of two things: 1) Her dad and I do not approve of condone her actions. 2) We are dealing with it objectively and firmly.
Of course, I couldn’t possibly “contain” a situation with so many moving parts. Eventually I had to do what I should have done right from the start. I had to turn it over to MY perfect and powerful Parent – my heavenly Father. I had to trust in his promise that if I trained my child in the way she should go, she would not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6) Katie’s article was a joyful recognition of how God is faithful to keep all His promises.
Perhaps is seems to you that I have not really learned my lesson if I feel the need to write a blog post about what happened. It may well seem like I’m still running around yelling, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Let me explain my side of it!” For several days, I’ve gone back and forth on what to do. I don’t want to say I don’t care what anyone thinks anymore because as a Christian I would never want to offend with my words or actions. Yet in a certain way, I really don’t care. I don’t care if you know my daughter and I are infected with sin. I don’t care if you know we sometimes want to hide it. I don’t care if you know we don’t always see sin for what it is.
I care that we own up to it. I care that we all know the truth about sin, its real and serious consequences, and that the only solution for it lies in Jesus Christ.
Over and over throughout the past year, I have tried resist the “2319!” mindset. (Yes, I usually failed.) Because the truth is that, despite Katie’s sins and failures, and despite my sins and failures, we are both forgiven, cleansed, made new every day. In actuality it was this, and not my parenting failures, that was the real focus of Katherine’s article.
How amazing it is that we are sustained and held firm in the grace of our God, Who… “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy…He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers we are dust.” (Psalm 103:8, 10-14)
I currently have 4 teenagers, and 3 up and coming. I have a feeling I’ve haven’t learned everything there is to know about the other side of the story. (I’m a little afraid to find out!) I pray that I have a least learned the lesson that when my children sin, it is not a reason to panic. Rather it’s an opportunity to examine my own heart and remember that both child and parent need to turn to Christ for forgiveness and healing. For “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Ephesians 1:7