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Playing a game of Wordle has become a morning ritual for me. I love the game enough that I considered whether I might be able to write this blog post entirely in five-letter words. Sadly, not even the game’s title is a five-letter word, which makes the task particularly difficult, though I did eek out a Wordle-inspired, five-letter exclusive haiku.
Click phone. Begin. Think!
Lucky green makes heart pulse quick.
Final guess. Doubt rises.
Not too long ago, I broke an 85-day Wordle winning streak. I am a bit embarrassed to admit just how upset this made me. I also realized, as I saw my current streak reset to “0” and my win percentage drop, that maybe this little game has become a metaphor, or possibly a monster, for my Enneagram 3 checklist-loving, achiever self. Maybe when so many things feel broken and complicated in the world, I’m a little too thrilled from the hit of dopamine I receive each morning from a word-game win that promotes the false illusion that surely I am in control of my own life. Maybe too much Wordle success perpetuates the myth that if I play all my cards, or in this case, my letters, just right, my sheer effort and intelligence will allow me to outmaneuver any obstacles that come my way.
This false sense of control is closely connected to its sister vice of perfectionism. My favorite explanation of perfectionism comes from my personal saint, Anne Lamott, who in her classic, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, describes perfectionism as “the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.” She writes that perfectionism is “based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
I wonder how much of life I miss when I’m staring down at my feet, or at my phone, rather than paying attention to the world around me. I wonder how the fear of getting things right or looking good impedes my ability to notice the gifts around me.
In an attempt to combat this tendency, I’ve posted this Henri Nouwen quote above my desk at work: “When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence – the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends — I will always remain tempted to despair. . .The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises. But the promise is hidden in the shoot that sprouts from the stump, a shoot that hardly anyone notices.”
Recently, while doing some pedagogical reading about why learning is fundamentally hard and uncomfortable, I came upon the argument that while growth mindsets and “learning from mistakes” are often preached as highly valued and necessary, our personal experience often proves otherwise. The world does punish us for our mistakes: the cop hands us the speeding ticket, we lose the trust of a friend, we miss out on the job, we trip and fall and break a bone.
And yet, a desire to grow doesn’t allow us to dodge the risk of pain. Walking into the messiness of vulnerability may ultimately get us a richer life, a life more in line with the life that Jesus calls us to, but the path is rarely straight or without bumps and bruises. Using Lamott’s perfectionism metaphor, living into faith may mean missing a few more stepping stones; it may mean sitting huddled together in our soggy shoes. But being resolute and stubbornly independent will likely bring the same result — though it will also make it a lot harder to laugh at ourselves, a lot harder to accept the grace of someone offering a hand up.
I’ll wake up tomorrow morning, and I’ll likely still play Wordle. But maybe I’ll play with looser hands and a more open heart. Maybe I’ll not let the fear of losing stop me from making a few extra crazy (but possibly correct) guesses. And maybe if I miss a day, if I break a streak because I was too busy listening to an audiobook, admiring a sunrise, or sitting with my sons to eat breakfast, I’ll be more apt to celebrate the chance to begin again with soggy shoes and a clean slate.