I’ve lived my life believing that making mistakes meant I wasn’t good enough, and I was too scared to try something I knew I wasn’t good at. And forget working at something to actually get better; that meant I would have to endure the self-talk of “not ____ enough”. Needless to say, boredom from slow progress struck, and I would return to what I’m good at. At the Outcry tour in Fresno, Christine Caine spoke about shame; she shared that it was the first repercussion of sin (when Adam and Eve hid from God in Genesis 3). And when she countered “shame on you” with “shame off you”, I realized that the only one (almost) who had shamed me was myself.
What even is a perfectionist? When I was young, people defined it for me. They would say I was a perfectionist because I was too distraught about my mistakes. And it sounded pretty. It sounded perfect–like something I wanted to be. It sounded like I wouldn’t have such a hard time if I just didn’t mess up. And that’s what started the hamster wheel of achieving.
Achieving has shown up in sports, in music, in writing, in my relationships, and in my marriage.
Achieving creeps into my heart when I choose the wrong words with the wrong tone. It creeps in when “it’s just taking me too long to get this right.” It creeps in when I have to answer a fifth person that I am still not graduating from college this year. It’s when I realize I’m not okay with my flaws.
I know I am not the only one who has thought these ugly lies. And dare I say that I know I am not the only one who has let these thoughts define me. They do not show the truth of God behind them, and they hang on shameful thinking.
Brené Brown speaks about perfectionism in her book, Daring Greatly:
“Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, sports, appearance). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: ‘I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.’ Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle” (Brown, 129).
I’m disgusted with perfection, yet I run back. When will I stop running back? How do I stop running back? As I asked myself this question, God interrupted me and answered, “Run to me.” Can I be honest? I kept myself from writing about this because I haven’t mastered this progress of mine. How ironic, right? When God first started speaking to me about this, I didn’t want to pretend to have overcome this and preach about how you can fix it too. So I wont. I won’t tell you how to overcome it; I will tell you about the journey of progress God is taking me on, and I’ll invite you too. Progress is another way to say, “this stuff doesn’t happen overnight”. This is my daily progress of telling the enemy he can not have a bite of my perfectionism sandwich. It does not ruin my identity, because my identity is not found in being perfect. It is being found in being created by God.
So here is progress: there are no strings attached–just grace from God and a little grace toward myself too.
- God names us for his purpose. I love that Peter’s name means “rock”, yet his lack of faith made him unstable when he was walking on water. Jesus calls us by His identity, not ours. If we live allowing Christ to define us, we don’t have to compensate failures for our next successes. We can just rest in His perfection. With this new identity we can be free of our own impossible standards, and God receives the credit for it.
- He has given us freedom but we have to walk in it. In the Old Testament, there was the law. This was the closest they could get to God: to obey it, and sacrifice a clean animal when they messed up. But then Jesus came. He erased this because he was that perfect sacrifice we needed to live in freedom. I have been marching up ladders of perfection for too long without remembering and living in the grace and freedom of Jesus. This compensating for failures is no longer our responsibility as believers. I am so thankful for the cross.
- I can be excellent, but it won’t be perfect. Philippians 3:12 reminds us to take hold of living a life to please God; we can do this because Jesus has taken hold of us! As believers, our goal in this life is eternal thinking, but our source is Jesus, not our flesh.
- God has a way of reminding us where our source comes from. John 4 is one of my favorite passages. Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. She maintains her lifestyle by replenishing her own needs, yet Jesus tells her that he has living water to offer her that will never leave her empty. I know I run back to my standards; I think that my idea of “perfect” will satisfy. But the truth is, it leaves me empty and I have to keep up with my own race. This is not what God intends. It’s not who he’s created us to be.
- Know God’s voice, not man’s. 1 Samuel 3:1-21 (for more context read 1 Samuel 1 and 2), Samuel is staying with Eli. He lies down and hears his name, but repeatedly runs to Eli. It was in fact God’s voice speaking to Samuel. God has very important things to speak to us, and if you’re like me, you’ve allowed people’s voices and outside opinions to be louder than God’s voice. I want to be marked by listening to the voice of God.
- God stands alone. And he created us to need him. The enemy will lie to us and say, “If that is less than perfect, it doesn’t need to be displayed.” I am starting to realize this as his weak plea to sabotage my calling of sharing my words. And I know I’m not alone. Perfection might halt your next steps too. We see it plastered all over social media and commercial ads, tempting us to attain its photo-finish. It puts “me” in the place of God who stands alone. All too often, we have lived as if we stand alone.
This sticky progress is changing my life. It is never perfected, and I am starting to think that God loves this silly irony–me trying to perfectly outsmart perfectionism and live more grace-filled. It is the journey I’m inviting you on too. This journey is a lot of mess-ups, a lot of “no filters”, and if we’re honest, this journey is rarely pictured. But the grace is so much sweeter, and it’s the kind of sweet that tastes bitter at first. If you let Him, He will expose you to His perfection and you’ll find it’s an overflowing “enough” that you couldn’t make on your own.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
-1 Corinthians 12:10