If We Didn’t Always Have to Be So Dang Perfect: By Lana Hope

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If We Didn’t Always Have to Be So Dang Perfect: By Lana Hope

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on October 11, 2013.

I’m reading Hayden White’s The Content of the Form. Over my dead body. Actually I love his book. I just can only take so many pages of theory day after day before I go insane. So I’ll stop and blog here a bit.

He said this:

Everywhere it is the forces of disorder, natural, and human, the forces of violence and destruction, that occupy the forefront of attention.

Dang!

Sometime I feel like that pessimist.

I’m always repeating such dark stories. Fundamentalism does this.

Fundamentalism does that. Have to dress modestly, not date, smile every second, mom shames, dad yells, sister cries. Just whatever.

So then when I read this quote, I started to think of the space that is not yet narrated. Just as kids still picked flowers during the 30 Years War, what did I do so great and wonderful all those years trapped at home?

No doubt I still did pick up flowers and read interesting books and bruise my feet running around barefoot.

But you know why I don’t narrate those stories enough?

Because the great moments were still occupied with the “dang perfect” syndrome.

No, for real.

If you are a fundamentalist kid, and if you want to be real, you have to be alone.

Otherwise if you are with anyone else, you have to be perfect. Maybe you can be non-perfect with a sibling. If the sibling doesn’t tattle. But with outsiders? Forget it. Because they will judge you. Even your thirteen-year-old friend will judge you.

And even the whole alone thing is questionable. I used to try to impress myself when I was alone. Because, if you are fundamentalists, you believe that God is hovering over you, watching you, holding you accountable.

“God’s not pleased with me!” I’d fall on my own bed at night, weeping. I was haunted with this. For years.

We used to always say, echoing Bill Gothard, “You aren’t all dressed until you wear a smile.” I even had a post of this on my own bedroom door. The implication was smile even if we weren’t happy.

Or we’d have to say our manners, then get shamed if I did not.

Or we’d memorize scriptures. Stuff our brains with it. Of course, the message was always, more character traits to keep. That I could not.

Then add the sheer fakeness of it. “So-and-so is coming over, put on a skirt.” Or we’d go out in public and laugh and fake it all out. After we had thrown the algebra textbook across the room and practically cussed at it.

As a kid, I knew I was unhappy. I never remember thinking, “Oh, I’m so happy.” Never. I kept a journal, never missed a day, for most of my teen years. Basically it was full of pain.

But even before I was a teen, I’d freeze up in public because I was such a screw-up in God’s eyes. “Raise your hands and promise to be attentive,” we were told at Bill Gothard’s Children’s Institute. I was tired of the crap and didn’t bother raising my hand.

I guess it just goes to say this:

If we did 100 million fun things as a kid, but all of those 100 million fun things required me to be perfect, consciously Christian, a warrior of God, and demanded my full attention and happiness, then it wasn’t worth it.

Think of it like this. Suppose you are a woman who loves to travel. And a man says he will pay for you to travel the entire world. But you have to marry him, submit to him, and wear a head covering all the time. He is nice and kind, but you still have to wear the head covering and submit? Would you do it?

Probably not. Unless you grew up that way.

And that’s exactly my point. I think we did a ton of fun things as kids, but when I think of my childhood, I see a wall of unhappiness.

And my parents were not trying to be jerks about it, either. They never tried to stop me from crying as long as I did it, as I said, alone.

In public I was told. Smile.

Depressed kids just don’t belong in fundamentalism. They can’t get help. They are trapped.

“We are an entire generation with the broken pieces of our religion scattered on the floor around us. We are the children who learned fake smiles too early, who found all the right answers dissatisfying, who know what it’s like to sit in a pew with our hearts a thousand miles away.”

~ Micah J. Murray, “Why We Left The Church”

5 comments

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Lana, I came out of a completely different family situation, with only one thing in common with yours: The Expectation of Utter Perfection. (In my case, Kid Genius syndrome.) To this day, no matter how much I do, it is NEVER enough. No matter how perfect I do something, it is NEVER good enough. Because for so long Utter Perfection was the minimum expected of a Kid Genius like me.

    To this day, I freeze up like you did when you were a teen. I also learned never to attempt anything, because if you never attempt anything you can’t catch hell for messing it up.

    We used to always say, echoing Bill Gothard, “You aren’t all dressed until you wear a smile.” I even had a post of this on my own bedroom door. The implication was smile even if we weren’t happy.

    Or we’d memorize scriptures. Stuff our brains with it.

    Lana, you have summarized why during my attempts at dating I found Christianese girls literally repulsive. The constant phony smile, the constant neurotic “I’m so Joyful Joyful Joyful”, the MP3 loop of constant “SCRIPTURE(TM)” quotations instead of a brain. Major turn-off.

    • Kid Genius syndrome – I identify. Oh the standard was so impossibly high for me 😦 I could never be perfect enough to match my pretty substantial talents/brain. And I could never make mistakes without derision.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        And you learn that if you NEVER attempt anything, you can’t screw it up.

        Expected to know everything about everything without ever having to learn it; expected to master everything perfectly the first time you ever attempt it. And there’s the side effect of emotional and personality retardation; as far as your IQ runs ahead of your chronological age, the rest of your personality falls behind. And everyone looks at you as a Giant Brain in a Jar, which only makes the emotional/personality retardation worse. (At age 20 I estimate my emotional age as around six.) Here at HA several former homeschoolers have written of relating only to adults as they grew up and having little or no peer interaction with other kids; after a while, it was like they were aliens with completely different thought processes and language than other kids their age. I am very familiar with that “Growing up Martian” feeling.

        Wesley Crusher and Jimmy Neutron are the FANTASY of the Kid Genius; Dallas Egbert III (of college steam-tunnel disappearance fame) is more like the reality.

    • haha! Exactly. If your happy and you know it clap your hands!

  • I just had a huge flashback to my ATI days and how forced the smiles were! Awful and painful is all I can say!! Still makes me cringe.

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