As we close one year and open a new one, I think back over some of the events of 2017 – things we did, things we learned, how we approach this brand new baby year. I found one important meditation from this past summer. May it bless you.
We woke to a beautiful morning on August 21 packed a picnic lunch, our solar glasses and cereal box viewers, and bounded into the car. On that day, just fifty miles south of where we live the solar eclipse could be viewed in totality. We hit the road, looking forward to seeing this once in a lifetime event.
A steady stream of cars crept along from Omaha south on Highway 50. Our destination was the town of Syracuse, Nebraska, population 1,942. This town was on the northern boarder line for viewing the eclipse in totality. In order to see the show, we needed to be at our spot looking to the sky by one o’clock.
Around noon we pulled into Syracuse. We found a spot at a local park, devoured our lunch and attacked the playground equipment waiting for the clock to tick closer, closer.
12:30 and counting. A few equipment checks to see if the tin foil was holding up on the cereal box viewers. System – check. Many families were converging on the park. Parents were talking, children were playing, everyone was checking watches. It was a festive, expectant atmosphere.
We were fortunate enough to be sitting next to an Air Force meteorologist. He had precise details for the perfect viewing experience.
-Total coverage eclipse time =1:03:36 PM.
-Position for optimal viewing= Latitude 40° 55′ 30″ N Longitude 98° 20′ 31″ W.
He also had access to the most accurate, up-to-the minute weather conditions. And according to his information, there was a large storm 40 miles to the west, quickly approaching our area.
12:45 Now, along with checking watches, people were looking at the sky. Clouds… and darker ones moving in with no breaks in sight.
12:50 waiting, looking, checking, hoping
12:52 The clouds were so thick we couldn’t see the sun at all. The solar viewers were of no use, the solar glasses were pointless.
12:55 We began to assess the situation more intently. Clouds overhead. There was a chance that they would blow over in time to see the total eclipse or maybe they would break enough for us to see it. As the clock ticked, a decision needed to be made- stay in the totality zone or leave the totality zone and head north to try to catch the “regular” eclipse. No one around us was leaving. The Air Force gentleman and his children were sitting in their camp chairs, ready and waiting.
With the pressure of the clock we weighed our options and decided to leave our spot and head back north. But now we had to move quickly, there wasn’t much time. We packed up, stuffed into the car, and headed north where we could see lighter clouds and beyond them blue sky.
We drove until 1:02 and pulled over to experience the unearthly darkness that had settled in the atmosphere. The air, the grass, the roads, the cars all were tinted as though in some kind of yellowed antique photograph. The world was hushed. But still no eclipse was to be seen through the clouds.
Back into the car again heading north for lighter clouds and blue sky. After 5 minutes of driving, the clouds began to thin and we could see the eclipse through the back window of the car. Again we pulled over, scrambled out of the car with viewers and glasses, and there it was – the eclipse! We had missed seeing totality, but the moon was still in front of the sun and it was a spectacular sight. Sometimes thin clouds would blow in creating a smoky looking affair in the glasses which was quite beautiful.
And so I reflect on the day…
We had one goal – that was to see the complete, total eclipse. We had taken the necessary steps to attain our goal. Weeks ahead of time we had researched the best spots and times for viewing and knew with mathematical precision what was needed to view totality. We had our viewers made. We had solar glasses in hand. We knew where to be and when to be there.
Our quest for the perfect view was what drove us, but it almost drove us too far. Reality had moved to the side burner when we ignored the cloudy skies. But whether we liked it or not, reality took precedence. We had to be in Syracuse at 1:03 viewing the sun…without clouds. On that day, it was more important to look up and look around – to assess our situation- than it was to hit perfect viewing coordinates. Our reality was clouds. When we finally took this into account our perfect scenario was put in its place and we were able to set a better course. By acknowledging our reality and re adjusting our outlook, we gained what we almost lost.
Had we insisted on our end goal of total eclipse, ultimately we would have missed the whole experience. No doubt, we had made the sacrifices necessary for perfect total eclipse viewing. Our pure hearts desire was the total eclipse, but by blindly continuing on that course we would have gained nothing. Our goal became our focus to the point of jeopardizing our entire purpose.
And doesn’t perfectionism work that way sometimes?
Perfectionism that has a mark to reach, but ignores the realities of life.
Perfectionism that puts checking off the box over the experience of joyful relationship.
Perfectionism that takes an honorable and desirous objective and warps it into a maddening, losing game.
Perfectionism can be a hard driver, a slave driver that doesn’t look to the skies. Its eyes are focused solely on the object, looking at watches, checking data sheets, aiming for total eclipse or bust. The cloudy reality is thrown out the door.
Charlotte Mason Educators might, at times, find ourselves in a similar situation as we seek to implement the philosophic principles and the detailed methods. Trying to do things perfectly sometimes becomes a master rather than a helper. Sometimes our good desire for the fullest Living Education turns on us and we stray into the perfectionist way of thinking. Somewhere along the way our focus changes from seeing the beauty of an eclipse to accepting nothing but the full eclipse. We trade a pure CM Education for a perfectionistic CM Education. Our Living Education dies as it becomes a formula, an education that adheres to rules rather than relationships. It slips into an education of schedule completed rather than an education of Living Relations and Ideas. Our good desire to strive for the best, moving toward our perfect goal, is replaced with a dictator requiring perfection instantly at all costs. If our drive for perfection overpowers peace, joy and hope we forfeit that which we so desired.
There is a story in the Bible of a woman who let her good and honorable intentions run her into the trap of perfectionism. In Luke 10 we read the story of Martha. Jesus had been invited to Martha’s home to fellowship. Mary, Martha’s sister, was also there. Mary and Jesus were talking while Martha was consumed with getting a meal prepared and served. Fussing about, Martha badgered Jesus to have Mary come and help her with the meal. Luke 10:40 says, “Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.”
Perhaps Martha sought to serve this guest in her home in an honored, special way – and rightly so, for she knew He was deserving of honor. Jesus, understanding Martha’s humanness and even her good intentions gives Martha the answer that would clear her vision and give her an uncontaminated focus. “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Somewhere in the process of honoring Jesus, Martha lost sight of relationships and joy. Perfectionism does that. It takes the focus off the lasting things of value and squeezes out the joy of being together. Perfectionism stifles deep growth leaving our efforts to hover on surface issues. The things Martha wanted to accomplish were desirable things, but she lost sight of her reality – the reality of the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Messiah in her home.
There is a marked difference between doing something to perfection and doing something in a perfectionistic way. The definitions of these words show us the difference.
Perfect is defined as having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.
Perfection is defined as the state of being perfect with freedom from fault or defect; maturity.
Perfectionism, on the other hand, is defined as refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.
The first two definitions, perfect and perfection, give us breathing room. They allow us to move, change, grow, reach, develop, stretch. In these definitions, the use of the words possible, mature and freedom give us a picture of attaining what we desire in a state that sheds off what hinders us, clearing the way for progress. On the other hand, there is no freedom in perfectionism. It is never as good as it can be because perfectionism is never satisfied as it refuses what we can give pushing and prodding, demanding and commanding. The control of perfectionism renders it unable to move with the tide.
Our worthy goal for a full Living Education might get caught in the web of perfectionism if we refuse to accept anything but the total eclipse ignoring the realities that God has placed in our lives.
This web will show itself when the honored guests that God has placed in our homes become second class citizens.
Around and around the strands circle.
Lessons will lose their luster and become check boxes to complete.
Frustration… fussing … and fighting will surface.
Around and around, circling, entangling.
Comparison to other homes…. panic…. guilt…. worry….. more trying…..
Fatigue will set in…. stress….. hopelessness….. burnout.
The web of perfectionism often anchors its first strand with an honorable and worthy intent, but its end is a corrupted focus.
In a blind quest for perfection, doubt, fear, and eventually hopelessness paralyze and threaten all that is really worth attaining.
As Charlotte Mason Educators keeping our focus pure rather than perfectionistic is what will grant us safe passage to a Living Education. We need an aim that applauds a perfect CM Education, but doesn’t quit in discouragement and guilt when the goal doesn’t come quickly or smoothly. A pure focus is uncontaminated, unmixed, undiluted, unpolluted, clean and clear; this is our foundation. Each of these synonyms for pure is a vital picture of the mind set of a Charlotte Mason Educator. A pure focus can move with the ebb and flow of the realities that enter our lives. We want to do every facet of a Charlotte Mason Education perfectly. In that desire alone we can rest if we accept that it is a journey to arrive to our perfection – sometimes it is an all out struggle of staying afloat, sometimes it is a stream ever flowing, gradually imparting its deposits over our lives. When we don’t reach the perfection we desire, the answer is not to look away from a Charlotte Mason Education but rather look to it with a lens of purity sifting out the hidden truths in the Atmosphere, Discipline, and Life we long for. With a focus and purpose to implement a pure Charlotte Mason Education we are granted a Living Education custom fit for our lives while staying true to the practices and methods supported by the philosophy and principles.
And what if in your attempts to bring the Living Feast to your home, you find yourself in the tangle of perfectionism and nagging guilt and stress come knocking? Turn aside and re adjust your focus as you strive for the pure CM Education you desire. Keep your eyes on The Teacher who will guide you. We know if discouragement and guilt are coming from perfectionism it is not of the Father. We know He places in our lives the realities, the challenges, the circumstances we face. And, dear mother, He has seen fit to make you the one to set the feast, to feed His lambs. He has promised not to leave you. The clouds will come – clouds that are extraordinarily dark, so thick they block the sun. They come, they are your reality, He will guide you through to reach the most pure, the most perfect, the most worthy goal.
King James Version
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Christ at the House of Mary and Martha – Jan Vermeer