Dear New College Student... (Please Don't Be Perfect)

THE CURB

I’m watching a car wreck as I type.

I’m sitting at a window in a coffee shop in Fullerton, CA and a car crash just happened outside. It’s a white car and a red car.

The red one is in front, partially on the curb, and the white one is crumpled behind it, windshield wipers thrust on in the impact. It’s hood looks like a disheveled blanket, bent and wrapped up into itself. A fender is lying in the middle of the intersection.

Police are just arriving on the scene, taking stories and damage reports. Cars are streaming around the accident, inevitably trying to make it on time to piano practices, soccer games, and early dinners. Bystanders stand by and gawk for a moment, taking pictures of the damage then walking around it. The world moves and buzzes over the accident like a river over a fallen tree.

But the white car, the one in the back with the disheveled-blanket-hood, just sits there.  Beat up, broken, helpless. It sits there with an entire world streaming around it; the same world it belonged to moments earlier. It seems different now, like it no longer belongs. Its hood is too bent.

 

THE COLLEGE

I went to college excited to meet friends and take classes and get married (not necessarily in that order). I showed up the first week and started meeting people like a politician. Smiling, waving, kissing babies; the usual.

I observed the upperclassmen and took notes on how to be popular and respected on campus. They always seemed to be in a loving mood, ready to make a joke or have a serious conversation. They had big muscles but pretended like they didn’t care. They had beautiful girlfriends but talked about purity a lot. They were perfect. How could someone struggle who knew everyone?

That would be me.

Two years later I was the older one on campus. I was the one who looked perfect and acted perfect and, through my actions, told everyone that Christianity meant perfection; that it meant smiling a lot and hugging everyone you see.

The only problem was that I was really hurting inside. I felt like I was moving too fast, making too many plans, trying too hard. I felt my body barreling down a narrow road that only seemed to get narrower. It became harder and harder to look and act perfect the more I did and the faster I moved. I felt close to a breakdown but kept smiling.

 

THE CAR

I often feel like that white car with the world streaming by. I spend so much time washing my hood and rims with a toothbrush without knowing why I wash them. I catch the sun glinting off my windshield and look down at my machine with a pride. I did this. I perfected this. I am the captain of my soul.

But then I crash.

I watch my perfectly detailed hood get crumpled and tangled up. My airbag fails to deploy because I never thought I would need it. I sit in the intersection and watch while I wait for help to arrive. The world continues to move around me, and I sit in surreal abandonment, numb to the crash.

I sit and wait and stare into my crumpled hood. And as I sit I begin to think.

I think about how good I looked only moments before.

All that time cleaning. All that time obsessing over the looks of my little white car only for me to sit in an intersection and stare into scrap metal and crumpled time.

I sit and I think and I realize that my car crashed because my brakes failed. I had spent so much time trying to look perfect that I neglected the insides.

 

THE CURB, THE COLLEGE, AND THE CAR

My breaks went out on a curb outside my car.

My best friend Mitch (the same one who’s married now) asked me a question. He asked, “Drew, what are you actually worried about?” He told me I was good at pretending to be worried about things I wasn’t actually worried about. He said he thought I was covering up my real insecurities. He was right.

I didn’t want to share my real fears with him because then I wouldn’t look perfectly put together anymore.

Mitch listened to me speak out loud my pain. I told him how lonely I was and how I felt like I wasn’t able to love anyone because I was tired all the time. I told him my real worries and emotions and he said he was sorry. I began to feel better then.

It was all so weird. I felt better when I wasn’t perfect.

It was like God scooped me up in his giant, world-holding hands and told me, “I’ve got you. You are mine. I love you.” It’s a feeling so beautiful it makes you want to cry.

 

THE CAR AND THE CONCLUSION

I believe Jesus was with me in college. I believe that when our brakes fail and our little white car comes crashing to a halt, God can bring change. Good, hard, front-hood-replacement change.

I think we try so hard to be perfect that we forget how to be ourselves. We act like the Pharisees, comforted by their rules and lists. But they were the ones Jesus said didn’t have the answers. We try and hide our weaknesses and insecurities, forgetting that when Paul begged God to take away his weakness God replied with, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

It seems like God doesn’t want us obsessing over the outside of our cars, the gloss of our perfection. In fact, it seems like God would prefer that we be honest and show our dings and dents. It lets others know that they, too, can have some flaws. They don’t have to cover them up. Perhaps God doesn’t need more “perfect” Christians but more authentic Christians. Christians who accept struggle and hard times.

Because when we are able to accept struggle we are able to accept grace.

And sometimes we don’t realize this basic truth until our brakes go out and we’re staring at a crumpled hood with the world streaming by.