Okay fine. I never actually prayed those exact words. But boy did I pray for perfection. I prayed for perfection without realizing it or naming it. I felt this heavy burden, this sinister desire to be perfect. A perfect missionary kid for my parents, for my family’s support churches, for the mission, for people around me and especially for me.
I prayed for perfection daily.
For most of my life, I have struggled with the need to be perfect. Whether it was taught to me, asked of me, or an ideology implanted into my head. It has just always been apart of me. Be perfect because you’re a missionary kid. That was the script.
And the script, well I could follow that, most of the time. I had a “missionary kid mask” that I was able to put on and keep on when I was around people that it affected.
Thinking back I felt a lot of pressure of perfection when it came to being a missionary kid, not when I was at home living in my hometown of Wewak, playing police and rascal with my neighbors and cousins. You see I am a missionary kid, but I also am from the country my parents were serving in. I, for the most part, lived a normal life with half of my extended family surrounding me, my friends, my town. The pressure came when I had to see myself as a child of missionaries and not as a quirky weird kid living in one of her passport countries.
The great expectation of Christianity
When new missionaries are commended (sent or commissioned) into the mission field, they are almost always sent off with this verse, like a mission statement, a creed, something to live by,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (AND DO IT PERFECTLY)” – Matthew 28:19-20a (NLT)
Oh, my bad! The part in the parentheses is not in the bible? Wait, what?
Unintentionally, slowly, my words above, have been indoctrinated and filtered into mainstream Christianity. “AND DO IT PERFECTLY” is a pressure put on missionaries, pastors, and spiritual leaders by themselves, and truthfully by Church (the collective Christians).
And I get it, we all want our missionaries, our pastors, our spiritual leaders to set good examples for the people they are serving. They do too. And we hold them to a higher standard since they hold power in the spiritual community. And I’m sure they hold themselves to that higher standard.
But….. It’s trickled down to their kids.
Missionary kids (and kids of the other roles mentioned above) inherit their parents’ calling and commitment to the mission field and with it comes this unspoken rule of perfection.
As a kid, I felt anxious that anything I did bad, my actions, if I sinned, if I wasn’t perfect, I would hurt my family and their impact. ‘If I’m not perfect than how will people see God or believe in Jesus?’ How naive right?
But I doubt I’m the only missionary kid who felt that their actions directly reflect and affect their parents, the church, and the people that their family was ultimately there to “serve.”
Pressure much! That’s high stakes for a kid!
2 types of perfectly imperfect MKs
Being an MK myself, and coming to know many MKs and TCKs throughout my life I’ve seen and experienced two different ways of handling this pressure of perfection.
#1:‘I will fail to be perfect so I’m going to try everything to show that I’m not perfect and never will be’.
Some MK’s choose to rebel against their parents’ commitment to missions and probably this expectation for perfection. These were the “bad”, “misunderstood”, “rebels.” on the mission field (read with sarcasm, please). To the outside world, they disrespected their parents, the mission, God, and more. But, do we know their hearts, their desire, or what drove them to “rebel.” The answer is no. We don’t.
I had a small rebellion streak. To be honest, it was pretty minor, hidden rebellion because I was stuck in the need to be and look perfect always. But when I did try to rebel, I just wanted to be seen. I wanted to be loved and accepted for me. Not to be perfect, not to keep that mask on, but to take it off and feel free. Free from condemnation, free from judgmental eyes, to just be a kid.
I wanted to be free from the pressure that came with being a missionary kid. That creed, that my parents signed up for, I inherited. I didn’t choose it willingly, but most of the time I tried to honor them and their commitment by following the path they chose. The times that I chose to fight against it was an act of rebellion against that pressure of perfection, it was too much, too hard to handle as a kid.
Maybe, just maybe, some of those “bad”, “misunderstood” rebels, just wanted to be kids. Just kids, free form that pressure, free from the burden of perfection on the mission field.
#2: ‘I will never be perfect but I’m sure going to do everything I can to hide it, and hopefully, no one will see that I’m a fraud’.
This was me! I knew I could never reach perfection. But I strived for it. And I was not going to let anyone know that I didn’t have it all together. I put on that mask, that perfect, blemishless mask, and spent 18 years of my life trying to live up to the expectations of perfection.
On paper, I was perfect, a loving, supportive, helpful, kind, dutiful missionary kid. And I kept up the facade even into adulthood. I wanted to be a good person, a good friend, a good sister, a good daughter. But it broke me. Because I was a fraud.
I strived for perfection but could never reach it, never quite grasp it.
If I keep trying hard enough, I’ll be perfect, please God, make me perfect.’
In high school, I hit a very low point in my life. I wasn’t sleeping, barely eating, barely functioning. And I thought I was skating by, hiding my pain, hiding my “imperfections”, but it was that very act of hiding me, who I am, my pains, my sorrows, my laughter, my joy, just to look perfect, that’s what broke me. I kept hitting that low point through college and on into adulthood. I kept hitting the low point, hoping to bounce back and be happy and normal and grounded. But unbeknownst to me, my “low point” was a spiral of despair and brokenness that wasn’t going to disappear.
In January 2018 my pastor confronted me with a truth that helped turn my life around. After being stuck for so long, unable to name my torment, my pastor’s words hit me and my husband like a ton of bricks, it shattered and tore away my mask and I had to face the hard, cold, truth of reality, “Jodie you struggle with depression.”
What? That’s not a thing. That’s not something that missionaries, Christians, or good God- following folk struggle with. Depression is for the weak-minded, people who can’t work or push through it. Right?
Daunim feelings blo u na noken wari tumas. (Hide those feelings and don’t worry too much).
That’s what I believed for most of my life. If I was a good Christian, a good missionary kid, then I wouldn’t have issues, problems, pain, or suffering. What I go through isn’t as bad, or as hard, or as painful as other people around me. If I just put on a smile, push through the pain, I’ll be fine. And even if I have pain or problems or suffering, If I just show everyone I’m okay and “perfect” all will be well. It will go away, right?
However, that need and cynical desire for perfection left me lonely, isolated, and completely broken.
You see putting on this mask of perfection meant that no one could really know me, not family, not friends, not even God. I couldn’t be authentic, I couldn’t be real – that would break the script. Then people would see that I’m a fraud.
The mask of perfection doesn’t allow for authenticity or vulnerability. It doesn’t allow for truthtelling and truth-seeking. It doesn’t make room for authentic relationships, growth, healing, or change.
Instead, the longer I kept that mask on, the more I withered away, losing my sense of identity, losing my love of people, of God, and my love of life. Death seemed easier than taking off that mask, shedding that perfect persona I created.
But when my pastor confronted me with a truth that I had hidden even to myself, I knew I wanted to be honest with myself and with my entire world. I am slowly, painfully cutting, scraping off that mask of perfection, of loneliness, of isolation. I want to live an authentic, vulnerable life.
My prayer of perfection went unanswered, for twenty-four years before I realized that I was praying the wrong prayer. God never asked me to be perfect, never wanted me to strive for something that no human can achieve.
And he doesn’t want that for you either.