When I dreamed up the idea for this blog post, I was planning to start off with an enthusiastic declaration that I’m a reformed perfectionist.
But then, as I was tidying up my living room before bed last night, I caught myself diligently lining up a pair of flip flops (like in a way so that the top of the soles were perfectly even) that my Mom haphazardly kicked off her feet earlier. Truth is, I’m far from reformed…and far from perfect.
I’ve struggled with perfectionism since I was a kid. Growing up, my Dad, a former Army officer, ran a tight ship. While I vividly recall his advice that ‘no one is perfect’ and ‘the last perfect person, Jesus, died on the cross,’ a lot was required of me early on.
I was never a star student but I was expected to do well in school and go to a four-year college. Because my Dad had a very successful career as a student-athlete in high school and college, I was expected to excel at sports. Sidebar and funny story: after a few months running outdoor track my sophomore year of high school, my Dad saw how much I hated running (and how slow I was!) so he agreed to let me quit.
Our home was always spotless, with never a crumb in sight or dish out of place…so much so, my friends didn’t believe a family of four lived in our house when they came to visit.
Because of his military background, my Dad was a perfectionist; everything had a place, everything should be done a certain way and at a certain time or it was wrong, there was an order and reason for everything, and I, subconsciously, came to adopt many of his behaviors.
As an adult, perfectionism manifested itself in my life as debilitating anxiety. I was wrought with worry all the time, about things I couldn’t control.
“Do they like me?”
“Am I good enough?”
“What should I say?”
“Why did I say that?”
“Do I look okay?”
Those questions were just a few concerns that played on constant rotation in my mind. In my early twenties, my anxiety was so bad, I felt forced to withdraw from friends and family. I dug deep but I couldn’t find the energy to be a good friend or an interesting person to be around. I canceled plans regularly because the idea of spending time with someone was exhausting.
And I while I consistently expressed interest in crafting, I didn’t have the energy after a day or night spent ruminating on something seemingly insignificant. I felt alone; isolated in my own thoughts with nowhere to turn.
Then Jesus spoke to me. I was saved in high school and, as I’ve been seeking him throughout my life, He’s constantly revealing himself to me in new, unbelievable ways.
“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” Ecclesiastes 11:4
I picked up my Bible and read this one afternoon and had an epiphany – perfectionism is a self-destructive behavior that inhibits us from living out the Lord’s plan for our lives. I began to throw myself into once neglected hobbies. Whenever, I felt anxious or worried, I’d make something or paint or cook or dream up my next project.
Sometimes I mess up a meal or glue something incorrectly but the satisfaction of just doing it, laying down my fears and accepting the imperfection that comes with being human feels so good that I just can’t stop. In the past several months God has placed the desire in my heart to create more – so much so that, and I know this seems odd, I’ve felt like my fingertips were on fire because creativity was shooting out of them like electric sparks.
A few months ago, a friend and I got together to work on a couple projects. She helped me build a blanket ladder and despite our meticulous measurements and certainty as we were assembling the wood, one side somehow ended up shorter than the other. I thought it was hysterical.
Ordinarily, I would’ve freaked and abandoned the project but there I was, delighted in our hard work and all its imperfections. I remember saying, “This ladder has character.”
Through the gospel, we understand that we are all sinners, and unable to save ourselves. Because of this, Jesus was sent to us and sacrificed on the cross to bear our sins. It’s true that God calls us to be holy and perfect but not on our own.
God is perfecting us in the character of Christ, which isn’t the same as striving for worldly perfection. If we trust in Jesus and accept Him as our Savior, He forgives our imperfections so there is no need for anxiety and perfectionism. It’s pretty amazing that there’s little else we need to do (apart from living a Godly life) to reach true perfection in the eyes of the Lord.
Ever notice how messed up and flawed the characters of the bible are? I have.
And for a while, I had a hard time explaining away their stories to nonbelievers. But here’s the deal. Jesus isn’t interested in perfection. He didn’t reveal himself to perfect people. He revealed himself to the totally flawed, epically messed up folks he met on the street. The raw, everyday people.
The Holy Spirit touched and transformed those people because that’s what God knew they needed, a redeemer to heal them so that they could turn away from sin and get back to the important stuff: living out the Lord’s plan.
Everyday I’m learning to relax in God’s grace because in Him, we have complete freedom to let go.
In Matthew 6:33 it says to, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all things will be added onto you.”
This promise brings me so much peace. As children of God, we are created for purpose, not perfection. I’m here, writing this to you, pursuing a long-time dream, by design and not by accident…choosing to live my life in the most meaningful way by using my gifts to glorify our Creator!