Every amazing writer I know who teaches about the craft says the same thing: no matter what, just sit down and write. Stare at a blank screen until something pours out of you and onto the page. A la Hemingway, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Most advise writing at the same time everyday, teaching your creativity to kick in and know that it has a safe and consistent place to express itself daily. In the past there would be long stretches of me not writing because, well, I didn’t feel that I had anything to say. Or at least I didn’t have anything good or inspired to say. I would wait until the moment of inspiration hit me, which could be as little as once a month, and then I’d write. Forcing myself to write consistently I have found not only bolsters my creativity, but it forces me to pay attention, forces me to observe the things in my daily life that I would otherwise overlook going about my day in a haze of routine, numb to the beauty that is present if we just open our eyes.
This is the cloak of perfectionism, screaming at us to not begin. Perfectionism keeps us stalled, robs us of the life we could have if we just got comfortable in the mess of it, rolled up our sleeves, and began. Perfectionism tells me that I shouldn’t start writing until I have something profound to say, that I shouldn’t start my own blog until I am able to write consistently amazing posts, that I shouldn’t start my own business until I have built a solid platform, blah, blah, blah. I shouldn’t begin until everything is perfect. We forget that the only way to get good at something is by first being very bad at something. The only way to make progress is to start slowly, meagerly, and daily build momentum. Dare I say it? Perfectionism is about protecting our own vulnerable, child-like egos (and I think it’s well past time for us to grow up). Our childish ego cowers in the corner, rocking back and forth repeating to itself, “But what if I put out that crappy first draft and no one likes it? What if I try to start a business and it fails? What if I risk it and go for my dream job and land flat on my face? What if I take a leap and go for it in my relationship, only to be rejected?” If you fail, so what? Then you learn what doesn’t work and you are able to perform better next time. But when all you do is hide and never begin, you never learn and you never advance. Your precious ego stays in tact, though, and you don’t have to risk rejection.
There are two planes to everything in life: the horizontal and the vertical, and one always directly affects the other. Our relationship with God (the vertical) will always bleed into our relationship with the horizontal (ourselves and others). How we view God will always be how we treat ourselves and how we treat others. If your God is sitting on the throne, distant, uninvolved and judging every move you make and hitting you with thunderbolts each time you make a wrong move, you may very well be paralyzed to even begin. How much of us feeling like we need to have everything perfect, all our ducks in a row before we ever begin is related to the way we view God? I’m willing to bet it has more to do with it than we think.
On a mission trip to Costa Rica once I was talking to a man about Jesus and His insurmountable love for him. The man said he had heard about this Jesus, and tears formed in his eyes as he told me His love was the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard of. When I asked the man if he would like to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and turn his life over to His care, he rejected the offer. When I asked him why, he said there were things he needed to do in his life, things he needed to tidy up and clean up before he could present himself to Jesus. I tried to explain to the man that this was the very reason Jesus came, that he could never be “clean enough” before coming to Jesus, but he still walked away without accepting Christ.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus’ morality and integrity was consistently questioned by the law-abiding, “good” citizens of the day because He chose to hang out with such unsavory people. He hung out with tax-collectors, adulterers, harlots, and generally the worst of the worst sinners. I don’t see one example of them “cleaning themselves up” before coming to Him. In fact, what I see are these people being sought out by Jesus, in the midst of their mess. It’s their encounter with His unconditional love that changes the course of their life. The direction of their life is radically different after encountering His radical love, mercy, and grace. I never see Jesus condemning these beloved children for coming to Him ragged and worn, but I do see Him condemning those who come to Him thinking they had “cleaned themselves up” for Him already. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For you pay the tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Matthew 23:23-25, emphasis mine. Coming to Jesus with all our shortcomings and failings, pouring our heart out to Him and accepting His grace allows the inside of the heart to be cleansed, which in turn cleans the outside. When we present a white-washed exterior and come to Him with our noses in the air thinking we have no need of Him, no internal cleansing can happen. And when no internal cleansing happens, the weightier matters of the law such as justice, mercy, and faith don’t get extended to others. We have checked off the boxes of our doctrine, but forgotten to love our God and our neighbor. We have strained out a gnat and swallowed a whole camel.
What areas of our lives are we stalled, refusing to begin, refusing to move forward because we are insistent on being “cleaned up” enough before we do? Coming to the Lord just as we are and encountering His grace for ourselves allows the inner transformation to take place that empowers us to live out a new and different life. Instead of protecting our own egos and cowering in fear, beginning where we are allows His grace to infuse us, by His Spirit, with what we need to proceed forward. Anything else is just blind self-dependence and self-effort. We must be humble enough to show up, just as we are, to offer up what little we have, and watch as Jesus turns it into more than enough. How can we show up just as we are with both God and man right now? How can we trust Him enough to start something that’s been on your heart, believing that it doesn’t have to be perfect, but that His transforming grace will show up and enable you every step of the way instead of depending on your own gumption, know-how, and perfectionism? Can we trust Him enough to begin where we are, far from perfect, but trusting in His perfection for us, trusting His Spirit to provide whatever we need along the journey?
Write. Start your business. Take a sick friend a meal. Help an elderly woman with her groceries. Listen to a friends current struggles without trying to fix it. Be present. Love radically, even in the small things, right where you are. Begin.