Winning the War Against Perfectionism

Ahh…Friday morning. What a joy it was to finally make it to Friday after a long first week back at Tech. I slept pretty well and woke up refreshed despite waking up a few times during the night. I snuggled up in my bed with a warm bowl of brown sugar oatmeal, my journal, & God’s word. It was truly exactly what I needed after a long but productive first week back to school. I ended my quiet time excited to start the day….then it hit me: I had completely forgotten about my Chemistry class at 8:00 am….

Immediately my mind started racing: “Oh my gosh… I can’t believe I completely forgot that I had Chemistry this morning…..I was awake at 7:00 it’s not like I overslept.. what in the world, how could I be so forgetful? How could I possibly forget about one of my most important classes….it’s not like I have that much going on right now. Oh no…what if we have a pop quiz today? What if she took attendance? What if I get a zero for the day? What if she thinks I am lazy? What if this absence makes the difference in a letter grade for me? What if it ruins my GPA? What will I possibly do if I don’t graduate with a 4.0? What if it causes me to not get into a dietetic internship?”

I texted my mom, sister, and Josh telling them about the mistake I had made. Their responses were as follows:

  • Mom: “And that is totally ok. It will be just fine! Remember we are perfectly imperfect. Leave the past behind! Love you!”
  • Josh: “It’s too late now to do anything so don’t worry about it! Can’t change it now and your lecture will be posted online so it will be fine!”
  • Julia: “Em people skip on purpose all the time; you’re fine.”

I immediately thought to myself….why do they not understand how big of a deal this is!? Why are they acting so calm and excusing my actions… why are they telling me everything is going to be okay?? Then I remembered: I am constantly waging a war against my perfectionistic tendencies.

Perfection has been an idol in my life for as long as I can possibly remember…I’ve been told that I am my biggest critic & it is 100 percent true. Nothing is ever good enough. If I got a 98 on a test I should have gotten a 100. If I ate a grilled chicken salad with a cookie for dessert, the meal was ruined because it wasn’t perfectly “healthy”. If I went on a run and it wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be, I might as well not have even gone because I wasted my time. If I had a disagreement with a friend or family member I assumed it was all my fault and I should have done something better. In my relationships, I expect myself to be perfect, & I expect others to treat me perfectly as well. One could imagine, this has lead to a lot of pain, frustration, and guilt in the past. If something disrupts my schedule I have a tendency to get frustrated because it isn’t how I perfectly planned it. I desperately try to have everything in my life tidy, planned, prepared, & you guessed it, perfect.

This summer my therapist gently threw out the idea that I might struggle with a little bit of perfectionism. I admitted that, yes, I definitely struggle with perfectionism, but I just don’t know how to stop it. I understand the concept that I am not perfect and that I will never be perfect. I know that Jesus is the only perfect person that walked this earth. I know that I am striving for something that is completely unattainable….yet I still do it. Yesterday morning I was able to recognize that I was placing unrealistic expectations on myself to never mess up. I understood that I was being too hard on myself and that I needed to move on and stop thinking about it. But….I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop asking “what if” & making scenarios in my head that were highly unlikely to even happen. I knew that I needed Jesus, & that is the only possible cure to my anxiety over being perfect.

I got on my hands & knees and started to pray, asking God to help me understand why I was go upset and why I couldn’t just move on and start my day. In the middle of my prayer the Lord gently reminded me of the scripture I had read just 20 minutes ago (oh how easily we forget…)

The scripture is found in Psalm 46:10 and it reads, “Be still, and know that I am God.” I remembered that the Hebrew root for the phrase “be still” is “raphah”, which can be translated into: forsake, cease, leave, or let go¹. 

I was reminded in that moment that God was calling me to let go of my idol of perfectionism and know that he is sovereign and in control. He was asking me to release my death grip on something that was stealing my joy and peace. He was wanting me to repent of my pride & acknowledge that I spent a lot of time worrying about the wrong things. He was simply asking me to trust Him, and act upon the things I say I believe. In that moment, I knew it was time to surrender. I knew it was time to humble myself & ask God to continue to change my heart. I know that this wasn’t a one time fix; I know that I will have to surrender my perfectionistic tendencies to God every day, sometimes multiple times a day. The surrender means that I don’t have to figure out my life, and if I am honest, that is such a HUGE relief. 

I praised God because He alone is perfect, and his power is made perfect in weakness. I admitted that I was being prideful in thinking that I could be perfect, and thinking that my thought process was better than my creator’s.  I confessed that perfectionism has been an idol in my life for so long and that I was ready to let go of it. I asked God to help me stay positive and to have a good day even though I made a mistake.

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As you could have guessed, I didn’t die from missing my Chemistry class. We didn’t have a quiz, I was able to watch the lecture online, and I was able to still have an enjoyable, joy-filled, productive day. My teacher didn’t take attendance, I didn’t get a zero, and I didn’t fail. Ultimately, I am glad that I missed my class because it was a good reminder that I am not perfect and that I wasn’t created to be. God has a weird way of teaching us even when our hearts are stubborn.

If you struggle with perfectionism, you are not alone. The world we live in demands perfectionism in virtually every aspect of life. The world wants us to be as perfect as possible in school, our careers, our social lives, our Christian community, our families, our workout routines, our diet….the list goes on. I can’t help but think about sweet Gabby Douglas, who performed less than perfect at the Olympic Games this year. She is an olympic athlete, has won multiple gold medals in the past, & won a gold medal this year, but others were still tearing her down and criticizing her with their harsh words because she wasn’t perfect. The good news is that as Christians, we are called to be in this world, not of this world. We don’t have to fall into the vicious cycle of perfectionism and the guilt, shame, and condemnation that comes with it. It takes time (trust me…. a lot of time…) but when we start to let go and trust God to do what he says he will do, the burdens and unattainable standards that the world demands from us aren’t overwhelming because we know that we can rest in our perfect, sovereign God.

Some of you may not struggle with perfectionism, & that truly is a wonderful place to be in. Knowing how to rest in the perfection of Jesus is something I am truly striving for every day. If you can do this, I genuinely look up to you. However, I know that there are a lot more things in my life than just perfectionism that I need to let go of. I am guessing there are a few things that Jesus is asking you to let go of as well. Jesus doesn’t want us to let go so that we will have to lose something valuable. He wants us to let go of the fleeting, temporary, unsatisfying things that we desperately cling to in order to grab hold of Jesus, our eternal, satisfying, saving, healing, powerful, and never-changing savior. The question I challenge you to ask yourself today is: “What is God calling me to release into his hands?”

Happy Saturday!!

-Em

References:

  1. http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/.cfm?Strongs=H7503&t=KJV

 

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