It started with a date. It felt like ages since we’d spent quality time together, just the two of us, and we suddenly found ourselves without any plans. I phoned as I left work and asked Aaron if he wanted to go out. Unbeknownst to me, he’d been thinking the same thing, so we brainstormed plans. A Google search and a train ride later I was sitting under fairy lights, sharing my heart.
I don’t know how it came up, but there is something about those nights when you just sit talking, with no other demands, that has a way of unearthing exactly what needs to be dealt with. What needed to be dealt with, for me, was perfectionism. “What’s the root?” Aaron kept asking me, as we talked around this deadly disease. It affects my life. It’s destructive, perfectionism. I’m not a natural completer finisher at the best of times, and when you put perfectionism in the mix, it’s hard to get started, yet alone finished. We talked about standards, work and hobbies, value, significance and where our beliefs come from. “It just feels to me that I should do the best that I can” I explained, knowing even as I said it that such an ungraspable infinite standard is never attainable. As we wandered home we wondered aloud why good enough just doesn’t feel good enough in my brain.
I realised that a big part of it is to do with what is valued, and what is valuable. I am always judging myself and what I produce by what is theoretically possible. We got home, talked a bit more and prayed, and while we prayed this picture flashed into my head.
When I say ‘came flashing into my head’ I mean exactly that. The picture, which I’ve since recreated, came as a whole, text wrapped around the globe and all.
As I reflected on it, I remembered that the phrase on the globe comes from The Beatitudes, the poetic and often confusing declarations of blessing that Jesus made during his Sermon on the Mount. I had heard it before – “the humble will inherit the earth” – and thought it referred to people who are “humble” as supposed to “arrogant.” This is relevant enough as perfectionism is pretty well rooted in pride, I think. That day, though, when I saw that phrase on the picture in my mind, I understood “humble” differently. I understood it to mean “ordinary,” or, as dictionary.com would have it “low in rank, importance, status…lowly.” I realised then that in the “upside down kingdom” that Jesus was presenting in the Beatitudes, it’s not the significant who ‘get it,’ it’s the ordinary, everyday people faithfully carrying out their day-to-day lives, however seemingly insignificant.
This is huge for me. I profess these values, but I act as though everything I do has to be better than average – as good as it can be. If that’s all related to value, then it seems that it’s a quest for significance, somehow. I thought about it in relation to my PhD: what if my PhD weren’t significant, what if that’s not what’s required? What if what is required is simply to be faithful with it (in other words, to actually do it). To do it with integrity and honesty, day-after-day. To write my best understanding of the data I’ve gathered, and submit it on time. What if my PhD doesn’t rock anyone’s world, but I do it, faithfully. What if it’s just ordinary?
In the “kingdoms” of academic departments that’s just not good enough, but there’s another kingdom, an upside down kingdom. There’s another thing going on, cutting against the grain all the time, that we simply don’t always see. That day I tuned into it again: the humble will inherit the earth.
In post image by Rachel Hughes Shah
Featured image by Pixabay user Gerd Altmann