Asking the Right Questions, Worship 1

Dot Syndrome

“Have you ever heard of the dot syndrome? Look at a newspaper photograph and notice that it’s made up of many dots of ink. Now focus on only one of those little dots. See how you miss the ‘big picture’? The dot syndrome is just like that. You make a little mistake and keep replaying it in your mind, crucifying yourself over and over for it. It’s a loss of perspective. Instead of looking at the big picture, you’re obsessed with one tiny dot. For the perfectionist, one thing gone wrong means everything’s going wrong” (Noland, 1999, p. 124)

When I create, my chord progressions must perfectly match with my ideas, my lyrics must be crisp and clever, and my riffs must be somewhat original. When I record, each piece must sound as I want it to sound, each instrument must be in tune, and each track must sound good with every other track. When I paint, my work must reflect the beauty that I imagine, each stroke must be considered, each shade chosen to blend with the next. This is how I see the dot syndrome in my life as an artist.

However, I’m afraid that it has outgrown artistry and has also taken over many other things in my life. It shows up when I am working on my homework assignments, gets cooked into my food, is overheard in the prayers that I pray out loud, and creeps into my relationships with people.

For example, when I was interning in New Orleans, I worked on a team. Most of the team was incredibly nice and accepting of me. They complimented my guitar playing. They affirmed the ministry that I was doing among the people who had lost their homes. They enjoyed spending time with me, and I enjoyed spending time with them. However, there were two girls who sometimes acted like I didn’t exist. This began a downward spiral of me not thinking that I was good enough to be on the team, that I was not a good enough Christian to even be there, that I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile, that I wasn’t worthwhile…all because these I thought these two girls were ignoring me. I began to think that everything was wrong. I couldn’t find anything positive about the situation that I was in – it was all negative.

Towards the end of my internship, I sat down with these two girls and told them what they were doing and how it made me feel. They didn’t realize that how they were treating me was hurting me. Things started to get better after that talk, but I learned something valuable from going through such pain. I needed to count my blessings.

So today, as I sit here and type, I am blessed to be drinking hot cocoa in a warm apartment while it is cold outside. I am blessed to be receiving a wonderful education and to have relationships with the people here. I am blessed to have roommates that put up with my quirkiness. And if I really think about it, I am blessed that God gave me a tongue to taste the hot chocolate, nerve endings that feel cold when it is cold and hot when it is hot, a mind full of analysis and creativity, and a heart that gives and receives love.

How has the Lord blessed you today?

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How Then Shall We Live?, Identity, Worship 1

Perfection VS. Excellence

I imagine perfection as the color blue, light & icy. At first, it appears to be a positive motivator to work hard but slowly chokes me with cold lies that I am incompetent and lousy. Perfection leaves no room for mistakes.

I imagine excellence as the color green, vibrant & spring-like. It’s a constant reminder in my face, pushing me to move forward to grow in all areas of life. Excellence allows for learning, often times from failures.

My intrapersonal dialogue jumps back and forth between icy blue and bright green, changing like Arkansas weather. Some days, I can encourage myself to live confidently because of the change I’ve seen in my life. Others, I burden myself by replaying negative scenarios while asking how I can change. What’s wrong with this process? My motivation to perform well is unhealthy.

Often, the motivation that pushes me to live righteously is performance focused, rather than living out of God’s love. I find myself setting high expectations to meet the needs of my responsibilities. I sacrifice sleep to complete a design project. I give up extra social events to build community on my hall. I replace time in the Word with emailing authorities. In this lifestyle, I exhaust myself by living to fulfill my expectations, even God-honoring ones.

I am learning that freedom from obligations comes when I live in the outpour of God’s perfect love. His love is enough to satisfy my deepest needs. He fills my cup with forgiveness and grace. When I work hard to push forward out of a deep appreciation for God’s love, it is natural. Giving to others from an overflow of God’s love means surrendering my burdens to God & carrying His “yoke [that] is easy and…light” (Matthew 11:30.) Choosing to work hard out of motivation from the Gospel creates space for grace that I can choose to extend towards myself.

I find hope in the Gospel described in Matt Maher’s song Lord I Need You,

“When sin runs deep Your grace is more

Where grace is found is where You are

And where You are, Lord, I am free

Holiness is Christ in me”

As I feel burdened by my sin, I recognize that God’s grace extends beyond my failures. As I accept His grace for my mistakes, I find Him. As I find my Gracious Father, I am set free from obligation. As I am set free, I am reminded it is all by Christ Jesus’ holiness in me.