Anybody wanna buy a heart?
I can't speak for yals church experience growing up, but when I was growing up, church was the epitome of boring. I mean if the "Anyone. Anyone" scene from Ferris Bueller's Day off was a church...our services were it. Mind you I was young at the time. So I never knew, understood or cared about what the pastor was preaching. All I knew was my ploy to fake sleep through the entire morning to avoid church had failed and now, once again, I'm trapped in service. Prayers lasted the entire first half of a school semester. The praise and worship portion was jammed and stuck on repeat. All sermons were spoken in Charlie Brown (wah w-wah wah) and don't get me started on the alter call. The pastor was so determined to inspire people to join the church, he would stand like the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil for twenty straight minutes. All the while I'm in my chair asking please Jesus send somebody to the altar so I can go home. Lunch is calling my name.
Welp! at some point, I learned to entertain myself by doing dumb stuff like counting how many times the pastor said "Father God," in a prayer. "Father God we come to you in the name of Jesus Father God. Father God you are Father God. Father God we just thank you Father God. Father God we praise your high and mighty name Father God because as Father God you have blessed us with your grace Father God. Your Mercy Father God. Your Love Father God..." Judge me if you want to! You know you did it too when you were younger. The point of my previous shenanigans is that I find it so interesting that no matter how many times I heard Father and God in the same phrase, sentence or topic of conversation throughout my entire childhood, I never once saw God as a Father. The same is true for God being a loving God. How many times did we hear "love is patient. Love is Kind" growing up? And yet when God played the song "Buy a heart" in my head, I realized that even at 26, I never thought of God actually having a heart. But of course, this revelation didn't just come up at random. There is a whole story behind it.
*Insert my panic over having a potential cavity here*
The "Book your dentist appointment today!" printed in big bold letters on the side of the van that pulled up beside me in November of 2019, couldn't have been a clearer instruction from God to hurry up and book my dentist appointment before I aged out of my insurance. I had every intention of doing just that, but life had other plans. At the top of that list was a constant need to malfunction every other day on every other level. Add procrastination to the mix and viola! You have me aging out of my insurance, missing my last chance to go on someone else's dime. It would be months before I could finally afford to go back, during which time the torment of a possible cavity was unreal. Every few days or weeks I would find myself worrying about whether or not I had a cavity. When my tooth would ache or my gums would do something weird, I would wonder if it was because I had a cavity. Then I would immediately beat myself up because I knew I wouldn't be worried if I had just gone when he'd warned me to.
I should've known that I didn't have a cavity. The result of my procrastination was my staring down a barrel of what if's and worries which, overtime, built into the physical manifestation of aching teeth, feeding the false narrative that I had a cavity. The result, or fruit, in my worrying about having a cavity was clear evidence that I didn't have cavity. When God tells you or warns you about something bad, there is no fear after the fact. There is no worry, shame, guilt or condemnation to follow whatever he says. When something comes from God there is a strange sense of peace like an "oh okay. Good to know," that follows, no matter how bad it is. The fact that I was utterly freaked out over a possible cavity was clear evidence that I was fine. It wasn't until later that I realized he'd only told me to go because he knew I wouldn't have the money to go in the coming months. He knew I would torture myself about the possibility of a cavity. If I had gone when he'd warned me to, I would've been saved from the torment of the unknown. That was all his instruction was trying to save me from.
Of course, I didn't know that at the time. At the time, I spent a lot of time worrying about it and beating myself up over it. I say beating myself up over it because at some point I felt as though I deserved the cavity which is why I could not be convinced I didn't have one. As far as I was concerned, I did this cavity to myself. Had I just gone when God told me too, I could've found out whether my teeth were healthy and gotten them cleaned. I wouldn't have had to worry about the state of my teeth at all. Since I didn't go, I felt as though the cavity was the consequence for my "disobedience" and that I was sure to have a cavity because I was "disobedience". If anyone else was in this situation I would've immediately preached grace and launched into a speech about God making room for mistakes. When it's me making the mistake, I am the queen of "you made your bed now lie in it."
Naturally, I didn't want to lie in anything. Physical pain has never been the move for me. Under no circumstance did I want a giant needle in my mouth. In light of that, I was desperate for a reprieve, constantly asking God to keep them from finding a cavity. No matter how much I prayed, or how much he kept reminding me the worry was a clear sign I didn't have one, I really thought he was going to punish me for not going. Welp! I get there and guess what....I. Didn't. Have. A. Cavity. So much so this lady actually had the ironic nerve to praise my teeth. After she finished cleaning them, she literally told me I had beautiful teeth. Then, without me so much as mentioning some of the things I was concerned about, she just randomly started educating me about the natural aspects of my mouth, what this and that was called and why this and that looked the way it did. All of which resulted in a loud proclamation from Heaven, "Ma'am, you are normal!! Stay out of your mouth and quit worrying!!" To say I rolled my eyes at my damn self would be an understatement. I spent months worrying about my teeth, just for this lady to say they looked great.
You would think my fears would have been alleviated. That I could walk out of there with my head held high, knowing I was a normal human being with good teeth. Mmm. Yeah. No. When my dentist double checked the hygienist assessment and concurred I had no cavities, I didn't believe him. No you didn't misread what I said. I, a creative with absolutely no medical history or training, was convinced that the dentist, with decades of expertise, had missed something. Yeah take a second and let that sink in. By the time I got home, I was like ma'am you have lost your mind. That man has been cleaning you and your family's teeth since you were eight. Why on earth are you seconding guessing his assessment?? Why are you so determined to mark yourself judged and condemned for a mistake you made. A tiny mistake at that?
Would you believe me if I told you I didn't believe I should've been cleared of the cavity? I told you, I thought I deserved the cavity because I'd let time slip by and didn't do what God told me to do. I could not for the life of me fathom that God had allowed me to escape "disobedience" without a consequence. Even after everything we'd been through and how much time he spent trying to teach me that he does not sit around waiting for me to fail, I still could not be convinced that he wouldn't set me on fire for missing an instruction. And that's when he started playing Nicki Minaj's "Buy a heart" in my head. He specifically played the hook, "Anybody? Anybody? Anybody wanna buy a heart?" I knew he was presenting me with the idea of him having a heart and by heart I mean compassion and empathy. It was the first time I'd ever given real thought to God having a heart. 9 years I've been on this journey with God, and it never occured to me that he might have compassion.
I never thought that he might empathize with why I made my mistake. 2019 was hands down thee! hardest year of my life. I was facing eviction. I was finding out the truth about the people in my life and losing relationships left and right. I barely had any money and was struggling to put together a full meal. My business was busted and my heart was broken on several levels. 2019 was so bad, I started to question whether or not God was even real. So it was only natural that time would slip away. My teeth weren't exactly high on my list of priorities. Forgetting was inevitable.
I didn't see it that way. I saw these things as a list of excuses to get out of the consequence of being "disobedient" and as I'm typing this out, he's pointing out why. Compassion and empathy is not something I grew up with. Forgiveness and mercy were foreign concepts to me. Hell, I didn't even learn what it was to want, much less, receive kindness until God introduced it to me himself. I grew up with punishments that often didn't fit the crime. Why I had or had not done something didn't really matter. I was given an instruction. The lack of execution warranted punishment, even if it wasn't my fault. So now I'm 27 years old, making honest mistakes and deciding that I deserve whatever punishment should come along with it, no matter why I made the mistake.
It's still to this day catches me off guard when I make a mistake and the result is God looking at me with a smile on his face like I'm a five year old who's made an innocent mess in the kitchen. There have even been some deliberate mistakes I've made that I just knew! was going to result in God going in on me. And yet again, all I got was a smile like I was a five year old making a mess.
He would always say to me, "You know what you did. You understand why you did it already and why it was wrong. I don't need to make you feel bad about it or punish you for it because I can see you've already decided you aren't going to do it again or you're at least going to give your best effort not to do it again. All I wanted was a change of heart towards ill mannered decisions. Your hearts already changed which means your decisions will change. You're okay and I am okay with you."
The "I am okay with you," part is still hard for me to fathom, but the cavity situation didn't end with that statement. In this situation, he looked at me, who was standing in my bathroom still not convinced I hadn't been punished, and said, "You know what your problem is? You don't know how to let me serve you."
....Skiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrtttt....Let you...serve me...What?!?!....Fam. Who are you??
I've been in the church from the time I was born till I was 18. All I have ever heard is how we were put on this earth to serve God. Our every thought should be on how we can best be obedient to God. Confused about what to do? Think of Jesus. Turn the other cheek. Sacrifice yourself. *cracks whips* Die on the cross. Nobody ever said anything about God serving us. Then again, the more I thought about it, the more I remembered Jesus himself was a servant. He served to heal, teach and open people's minds to new wisdom. He is where we get this idea that we too should strive to serve others. If Jesus is God in the flesh, then it would make sense that God would be a servant to us as well. After all, if we are made in his image and given a servants heart, that heart had to have originated from the original servant which would be God. As much as this was an enlightening revelation, because it certainly took some of the pressure off of me to know that God and I were meant to live in a harmonious relationship of serving each other, I still had questions. The main one being serve me how?
He brought up the fact that I am a self-control freak. There are some people who want to control everything everyone else does. I am the type of person who needs to be in complete control of everything I do. From the way I move to the way I think to the way I feel, I keep a tight, suffocating grip on all things me. It's my way of keeping myself from doing anything wrong. He pointed out that the math of my thinking was that if I keep a tight enough grip on myself, (aka assault myself with perfectionism) and keep myself in check then God won't have to check me. If God doesn't have to check me then I don't have to worry about being punished for anything. As soon as he finished showing me my own psychology, I knew exactly where I got that math from: My dad.
My dad was the type of guy who liked his time to himself. He would hang out with us sometimes, but he also liked to spend a lot of time by himself. When he was watching tv or napping or doing his own thing, he wanted that time as uninterrupted as possible. As the oldest, I was always in charge which eventually turned me into the 3rd parent in the house. Even if my parents were home, it was my job to keep my siblings from misbehaving or fighting. It was my job to make sure they were ready to go in the morning. It was my job to keep them from waking my parents up when they slept in or took a nap. My dad would always say, "If something comes up, yal better handle it. Do not involve me because if you involve me you won't like the results." Well I was a kid watching other little kids. There was only so much I could do to keep the peace before things inevitably got out of control. And when they did and my dad had to get involved he'd always get creative with his punishments. I was always getting in trouble for what my siblings did or didn't do. This is partly where I learned the "why" you didn't execute an instruction doesn't matter, you're still getting in trouble.
More than anything this is where I learned that I have to keep myself in check at all times. I could not allow my actions, thoughts or emotions to get out of hand to where a parent had to get involved in anyway because an involved parent lead to punishments. Naturally, time reinforced this understanding of a child-parent relationship and I brought this same mentality into my relationship with God. This, ladies and gents, is where God was saying I don't know how to let him serve me. I don't know how to let God be a parent. Not surprising considering just two years ago I realized I had no idea how to be a daughter for a lot of the same reasons but that is an entirely different article.
The point is, I have always had to be my own parent and a parent to my siblings. My parents did parent but they left the governing of my emotions, thoughts and actions up to me or else. I could not afford to allow myself to relax and make mistakes because I didn't have time for my parent's crazy punishments. If my parents punishments were too much, you can imagine how I feel about whatever craziness God might be able to come up with. Uhh fire and brimstone anyone? Yeah. I'd rather not. And God looked at me and was like you aren't the only one. He said he doesn't sit around waiting for me to make mistakes and he certainly is not interested in dishing out punishments for every little thing because that is counter productive. He started explaining to me that he needs us to make mistakes because that is the only way we'll learn to do better.
Think of it like this, the mistake is the door opener to a conversation between you and God. When you make the mistake, you naturally start trying to understand why you made the mistake which then gives God the time and resources to start helping you understand how it was a mistake, why it was a mistake, what the better options are and why they are better. God isn't looking to turn every mistake into a punishment. He uses them to teach you. By keeping myself wound up into perfectionism, I wasn't giving God the opportunity to work on those areas of my life. Contrary to popular belief, just because you have the excruciating self-control not to do something wrong, does not mean that the traumas that created the desire to do or think something wrong aren't there. The traumas are still very present which means you'll always be fighting the desires to do what you know you shouldn't. It's like a vicious cycle. At least if you make the mistake it creates room for healing from the original root cause. As you heal, the desire to do things you know you shouldn't do will eventually dissolve.
Now of course, I not saying you should let yourself run wild and free and shoot anybody or clock your manager upside the head, but the fact that you want to is cause for concern. That's where God comes in. That's part of where he serves us. Has a parent, the "Father", its his job to teach us right from wrong. It's his job to reach the innermost parts of our hearts and pull out what is detrimental to us. Not by punishing us left and right, but by teaching us the roots, working us through the traumas, teaching us the right way and then giving us the time to learn how to crawl, walk and eventually run in the new teaching. This is the heart of God, his compassion and empathy. He knows what we are dealing with. Just like how we do things in front of our parents and they laugh because they know we got this look or that attitude from them. That's exactly how God is with us. He has the empathy to understand where we got certain behaviors from. He knows we are blind to many of our own motives and has the compassion and patience to help work through it.
So to my fellow perfectionists, relax. Give God a chance to help you. It's not your job to keep such excruciating control over yourself. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit which means we literally need the holy spirit to gain healthy self-control over ourselves. You get to that self-control by understanding yourself and your why's. The only way you can get to your why's is by letting God in and being open to letting him show you the truths about your history and sometimes even your parents history.
SN: For anyone who wanted to hear the song I was referring to earlier, here is the link:
Let's talk and be honest. Are you a perfectionist in any area of your life? If so, why do you think that is?