Let there be light.
Four simple words spoken by the God of the universe. When I began praying Genesis 1:3 asking God to “let there be light” in my life, little did I know what I was truly asking…
For my entire life, I’ve been performance-driven and perfection-obsessed. I believed anything less than 110% was failure and was always striving to exceed expectations because that’s where I found my value. When I was twenty months old, the church nursery staff called me, “the little girl who knows all her states.”
Growing up, I studied piano and classical ballet for fifteen years – two arts valued for their mastery of attention to detail and near perfection. If you made a mistake, you were trained to not break composure and keep going to achieve a flawless finish. And there was no team to fall back on – it was all on you. I learned so many valuable life lessons from my training – artistry, expression, grace, drive, discipline, and determination. But I also felt like I was only as successful as my last performance and competition, and to always put on a good face because the show must go on. I was an artist and a performer, who labored behind the scenes to make difficult things appear effortless. While praised on the stage, that mentality also became my belief system that eventually founded, shaped, and defined every single area of my life: my academics, my relationships, my career, and my identity.
When I was eighteen, I began my four-year journey competing in Miss Texas, a state preliminary of the Miss America Organization. Another world that praised perfectly proportioned bodies, perfectly performed talents, and perfectly articulated speeches. And I believed that if I wanted to win, there was no margin for error. I competed for four years – placing in the Top 10, Top 5, 1st Runner Up, and then 1st Runner Up again on my last year of eligibility. Despite also winning Overall Fitness, Overall Talent, Overall Evening Gown, and Overall Preliminary Awards, I felt like a complete failure. Why wasn’t I enough? I did all I could. I even took off a semester of law school to train with my team full-time. And despite fully believing in God’s providence and trusting in His plan, a little part of me still felt like my efforts clearly weren’t good enough. I still wasn’t good enough.
After I picked myself back up and moved on with my life to finish law school, I still struggled under the weight of a burden we were never meant to carry.
A pressure to be perfect.
This obsession with perfection seeped into every other aspect of my life and it was eating me alive. I felt enslaved. No matter how hard I worked, or how much I sacrificed, it was never good enough and I felt defeated. I had borrowed one of my life mottos from the ancient Greeks, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Latin for “Swifter, Higher, Stronger”) but I was constantly falling short. I felt like a failure at work for not constantly exceeding expectations. A failure of a friend for having to miss a birthday dinner. A failure of a “pageant girl” for gaining five pounds. A failure of a Bible Fellowship Class director for asking for help. A failure of a twenty-something for not having the perfect, Instagram-worthy life.
I found my value in how I performed at everything, for approval from everyone. Fretting over every detail in life I needed to accomplish and conquer. Bypassing quality time with people to build my empire of perfection. A total “Martha.” And I was exhausted.
Several years ago, I began praying Genesis 1:3 asking God to “let their be light” in my life, and it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks, knocking me off the pedestal of perfection I spent so many years building up:
If I felt like I had to be perfect all the time in order to be worthy, to be seen, to be valued, and to be loved . . . then I’ve never fully understood the Gospel.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (II Corinthians 12:9)
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…” (II Timothy 1:9)
In our weakness, we are made strong. By acknowledging our flawed, dirty selves and reaching out to Jesus, we are filled with His supernatural power. But only until we fall on our knees, and surrender our sinful hearts and tired bodies do we have access to His strength. He gives us grace so we may extend that same grace to others, and also to ourselves.
I realized that every time I was choosing perfection over grace, I was choosing myself over God.
I have a piece of framed art in my bedroom that beautifully inscribes the words, “Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound.” I’ve had it for years, casually glanced at it every day, but only then did I finally understand it.
I can never be perfect. I will never be perfect. But I have the love of the Creator of the Universe not only in spite of that imperfection, but because of that imperfection.
Our value is not dependent on how successful we are in our careers, or how others perceive us, or how well we try to effortlessly balance the dozens of plates we have spinning in the air. None of that matters. Titles are forgotten and trophies collect dust. We have nothing to prove.
We are flawed and we are loved. We are seen. We are heard. And so profoundly cherished, because of His grace.