Last year, our high school formed a girls soccer team for the first time. Because the team was newly formed, their skills had not yet solidified. The coach is Denver Green. Adding to the challenges of a new team with a new coach, the team is small. Often there are only two or three girls to rotate in while the opposing team can have upwards of 7-10 extra girls. This means, our team must run continuously for a full hour and half, and their mental agility must remain acute. Unfortunately, the team lost every single game last year.
Coach Green and the girls could have been demoralized, but they weren’t. They continued to work hard despite their continued losses. And they grew their skills, and they let their relationships gel. They continue to play because they love to play. Rather than being a team of catty girls, Green taught them kindness and respect for each other.
My daughter is a freshman on the team this year. When her grandmother had a stroke and my husband and I unexpectedly flew to South Dakota, the whole team banded together giving her grace when she was emotional. They gave her a care package. Seniors made sure she had rides to and from practices and games. As other girls encountered difficulties I watched the team support them, too. I watched them blossom. But, despite all of their growth as players and as young women, it looked like they might have another full year of losing.
I wasn’t expecting them to win the game against Newfound. Yet, as one goal turned into two, the excitement became palpable. I found myself with a spark of hope in my throat; with intensity I watched them play their hearts out. I swelled with gladness and pride as the girls squealed for a full five minutes in their excitement at the close of the game when they realized they had won 3:1! Even Denver was jumping up and down! Happiness is contagious!
Sometimes love takes the form of joining in celebration with the people you care about. But here is the thing: celebration does not always feel comfortable. Sometimes it means dancing at weddings - even if you can’t keep a rhythm. Sometimes it means singing happy birthday - even if you are tone deaf. It can mean giving hugs and speeches - even if you aren’t touchy-feely or articulate. Joining in celebration is an act of letting go of your own insecurities and desires in order to focus your love on others.
I was asked to celebrate with this team I have grown to enjoy, with this coach I have grown to respect, and with my daughter who I love fiercely. The girls wanted a team portrait to celebrate their big win. It felt a bit awkward. I don’t paint people. I especially don’t paint sixteen people. People are hard to paint. Every line and curve matters - especially when painting faces. And I was painting in pastels, which does not lend itself to photo-realistic precision.
Over the years, I have struggled with perfectionism. From the get-go I was pretty nervous. I didn’t want to feel inadequate in my abilities as an artist. I want to be perfect. I say I don’t - that I am only human - but when push comes to shove, I really have an unhealthy desire for my work to be perfect. I don’t want to make something “craptastic”, so I mistakenly don arrogance with the use of that word and seperate myself from other artists. I cast judgment. I develop a false sense of self-worth. I misplace my identity.
In my mind, my work is never good enough - I am not good enough. As I painted this painting, I kept seeing my inadequacies and my lack of skill. I was particularly frustrated by how the faces were coming out. I was tempted to hide my work; I didn’t want the world to know what kind of artist I really am. Perfectionism is a crushing habit that tricks us into believing that inadequacy or lack of skill is synonymous with shamefulness. It destroys people by emotionally separating them out, isolating them and then suffocating them. But perfection is literally unattainable. Consequently, my twisted desires spiral into a mental self execution. It reminds me of the lyrics of the José González song Killing for Love.
What’s the point
If you hate, die and kill for love? (kill for love)
What’s the point with a love
That makes you hate and kill for?
You have a heart on fire
It’s bursting with desire
You’ve got a heart filled with passion
Will you let it burn for hate or compassion?
Will I feed hate for myself or compassion for others? While I do want to do my best and strive for growth and improvement, I do not want my art to be a narcissistic expression of self-grandeur. It is truly my desire to create beauty born of goodness and offer it as a gift in love.