Saturday, January 11, 2014

Beautiful Failure

            There’s another big thing that helped me through that “four-month funk.”  Another lesson that I remember every time I walk down our stairs.  And I smile. 
            When we first moved into this house over two years ago, the first purchase we made was new paint.  I had never owned a home before, never been able to pick out wall colors and make a place “my own.”  And I was really looking forward to this project.  But unexpected repairs came up that meant I had to put it off.  And so, two-and-a-half years later, I was thrilled to finally be able to engage in this wonderful right and joy of home-ownership.

            I had just finished painting the second coat of the tall stairway hall and ceiling.  This is a big job for one person, especially when I have to watch four kids while doing it.  But after hours of standing on a high ladder perched on the stairs, climbing up and down to get a snack for the boys or help one on the potty, I was done. 
            After it was dried, though, I noticed one hand-sized spot that looked different from the rest of the wall, as though the roller went over it in a different direction or without enough paint.  And every time I walked past it, it stood out to me like a sore thumb.  The more I looked at it, the more I hated it.  So I decided to do what I could to fix it. 
            But when I added more paint over that spot, it filled in the middle just fine but left that “different” look all around the edges, making the problem bigger.  So I tried to repaint those edges, making the problem even bigger and with many different variations in how it looked depending on how much paint was on the roller, which direction it went, or how hard I pressed on it.  So what was just a hand-sized problem became watermelon-sized. 
            Looking at it made me nuts.  And I knew that it would continue to drive me nuts every time I went up and down the stairs.  Plus, I really didn’t want my husband, Jason, to see my failure.  So, I decided the only way to fix it would be to repaint the entire wall.  So I dragged the ladder back out and put my painting clothes back on and started again. 
            But in my hurry to make sure that the paint didn’t dry too quickly as I added the rows of paints (because I feared that would leave “roller marks” again), I painted too fast, not adding enough paint to the roller every time.  And the roller ended up skipping over spots as it rolled.  So when all was said and done, it looked a lot worse than before.  Over the whole wall, not just a hand-sized spot.
            Well, I fumed about that for a while.  I was so angry at myself and I began to feel totally defeated.  It pretty much echoed the way I had been feeling for months anyway.  I was deep into that “four month funk,” feeling depressed and like a failure in every area of life.  “Nothing I do is good.  I can’t win.  It’s just like this the rest of my life, a big failure.” 
            And as I was washing dishes, I was trying to figure out what to do.  “How can I live with that wall, looking at it every day?  I don’t want to repaint it all again.  Besides, if I did, it would probably just have other spots that are bad, I’m sure.  I can’t get it perfect.  I can’t expect perfection.  So I guess I only have two options: take my chance repainting it a fourth time and expect that there will still be spots that I am unhappy with, or . . . learn to accept it as it is.” 
            And that’s when it dawned on me, the wall itself was not the problem, but the way that I was looking at it was.  If I chose to look at it and see the problems and the failures and the mistakes, and if I chose to let them anger me, then it was my perspective that was making me angry.  The wall was “just a wall.”  Paint is just paint.  It didn’t have to make me mad.  But I was letting it get me mad because, to me, it represented failure.  My failure.  I was a failure.
            And since I really didn’t want to paint it again (especially knowing that I would just find some other flaw on it when I was done, and I would probably run out of paint anyway) I realized that the only way to live with it without screaming every time I saw it was to embrace it the way it was.  Flaws and all. 
            And I began to think that that’s how it feels to be human.  We all have spots and marks and imperfections.  We cannot expect perfection no matter how much we try.  And if we zero in on a flaw, it becomes bigger.  We make it worse when we look at all the bad things about us and our circumstances, when we try harder and harder to cover them up, letting them consume our focus and our energy. 
            Yes, we need to work on improving ourselves in any areas of sin, but there are many parts of ourselves that we don’t like but can’t really do anything about.  And being human, we will always fail and have shortcomings.  But the key to being content is to simply focus on trying our best in what we can do and then leave the rest up to God, living in His grace for everything we can’t do and aren’t responsible for.  And that means living with the things that make us human.  The physical imperfections, the things that we can’t achieve or obtain, the un-meetable expectations that we have of ourselves, etc. 
            Sure, as believers, we need to constantly strive for godliness.  But we also need to learn to let God’s grace, wisdom, and love cover the flaws and make something beautiful out of the imperfections.  And this means a lot to me.  I put too much pressure on myself to be perfect, to be “right and acceptable and polished,” to try too hard to do things that I can’t do outside of God’s grace, to become something I’ll never be.  And I need to be okay with being human.  With being me.  And that’s what this wall has come to symbolize for me.  I call it my “being human” wall.  And, you know what?  I kinda like it the way it is.