I sit here staring at a blank screen feeling the pressure to be wise, thoughtful, profound, and entertaining. I fear that if my blogs aren’t all of those things, then people won’t read them or worse, criticize them. The irony that I feel compelled to write about this very struggle is not lost on me.
Perfectionism is the voice inside me. It tells me I’m not enough. It tells me I should do better next time. It tells that my worth is found in my accomplishments. Perfectionism keeps me up at night. It is the stress between my shoulder blades and the bags under my eyes. It drives me to workoholism and makes me believe that taking care of myself is selfish and lazy. Perfectionism lies and says that if I am faultless and perfect then no one can hurt me or judge me and find me lacking.
As humans, we discover the disease of perfectionism early. We go after trophies, ribbons, and merit raises in an attempt to feel worthy or full. We start with gold stars in preschool and progress to eighty-hour workweeks and unhealthy eating habits. The drive to be the best, most, perfect infiltrates every aspect of our lives and leaves us feeling lost and woefully inadequate. We live in fear that someone will see that we are not the best, most, or perfect and thus condemning us to insignificance. Someone recently admitted to me that his or her worst fear is appearing in any way incompetent. Well, crap. That’s my greatest fear as well. I spend my entire life trying to believe and make other’s believe that I am enough. Enough for what? I’m not even sure. I realized that sometimes I won’t even attempt something new or different because I am not already good at it and therefore not perfect. I can never live up to everyone’s expectations for me, but I sure can’t live up to the unrealistic expectations I set for myself, as it is an impossible goal.
I thought I had kicked the habit of perfectionism that drove me to sleepless nights in high school chasing accolades and a perfect GPA, but I recently fell off the wagon. I don’t think I’m alone. I think many people are struggling right along with me. I love to watch videos on YouTube or on my social media newsfeed where it is an endless stream of objects being cut into perfect symmetry. I watched one this morning completely enraptured for 12 straight minutes before coming up for air. That video had over 3 million views. 3 million people were calmed by seeing that perfectionism is possible. And maybe it is, but it definitely comes at a high price. When I am at my best and can appear perfect, maybe no one can criticize me, but I definitely am critical of myself. But mostly I just feel exhausted. I am harming myself.
Perfection isn’t a goal or prize, it’s a burden that binds us in chains. This isn’t the Gospel and it isn’t grace, it’s arrogance. Perfectionism is based in the belief that if I work hard enough and do good enough, than I can save myself from my faults and my sins. I can’t. I never could. Grace tells me I don’t have to be perfect, because my Savior already is. Mercy tells me that I don’t have to be enough, because the cross was. Upon discovering that I have fallen victim to the belief that I need to be perfect, I have taken steps to remember that God frees me. As a pastor I have learned that most people know that they are sinners, but few know they are free. I have turned to scripture and allowed the Holy Spirit to remind me that I am being made perfect in love by my Creator, and resting in God’s mercy. John 10:10 proclaims, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Is your perfectionism stealing your joy, killing your spirit, and destroying your self-esteem? Then remember that Jesus came to give you joy and life and longs to set you free. Rest in God’s perfection. Rest in the cross.