So, I’m still struggling with perfectionism. I find it cropping up everywhere, in everything. It’s annoying.
Awhile ago, my husband Nathan told me how when he was growing up, he built elaborate snow forts every winter. The entire backyard was dedicated to his fort-building and spy games. He would build his barricade on one side of the yard, and then dig a tunnel all the way from the house to the fort. Everyone outside of the backyard was a spy, so every time a car drove by they would crouch down in the fort to remain unseen. Here’s the kicker- the rest of the backyard had to remain untouched. It was off-limits from the time the first flakes fell. Not one footprint could mar the snow. The only way anyone was allowed play in the backyard was to crawl through the tunnel and camp out in Nathan’s elaborate entrenchment. This precaution was, of course, on account of the spies. If there was one footprint in the snow, their cover was blown.
As Nate finished describing this to me in detail, he confessed that the truth was that he hated trampled snow, and so his elaborate spy game had really just been a scheme to protect it and keep it “perfect”.
It was in this story that I fully saw myself and realized how deep my perfectionism ran. His trampled snow analogy was a perfect description of how I view life- relationships, in particular. A fight, disagreement, or disappointment is “trampled snow”, and I like to keep everything clean and unmarred. (It’s no wonder that I detest and abhor and avoid conflict!)
So what do we do about this? How do we attack perfectionism with a vengeance?
We trample through the snow! We fill it with our footprints and make angels in it! We LIVE wholeheartedly and we stop fearing failure. I heard this quote on a podcast yesterday, “Fail quickly and get it over with!” And that’s where the freedom comes. Fail! Dance in the snow! Make mistakes!
You may be asking, “Can I do this?”
Well, my fellow perfectionists…we can. But FIRST, we must better understand what perfectionism is and where it comes from- its root. What is the root of perfectionism in your life?
In one of her life classes, Brené Brown (author of Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection) was discussing the difference between excellence and perfectionism and she encouraged her students to ask themselves this question:
“Am I striving for excellence, which is internally driven (I want to do this and be the best that I can be), or is it about, ‘What will people think’?’”
Ask yourself that question right now. The answer’s not always cut and dry. I honestly think that I am doing “what I do” because I want to, and because I want to be the best that I can be…but then I ask myself, “Why?” Why do I want to be the best? Why do I feel this urge, this drive to do more and do it better?
If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that sometimes it’s not my internal “want-to” that drives my decisions and my achievements.
It’s the “what will people think?” question that gets me every time.
And that, my friends, is perfectionism. “What will people think if I don’t…?” “What will people think if I…?”
In other words, it is people pleasing. “Will she still love me if I don’t go shopping with her?” Or, “If I don’t follow through on this project, I’ll be letting them all down.”
Another word for this is expectations. Do you allow others to place the burden of their expectations on your shoulders? Do you sometimes feel like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, carting around the burdens and needs of others? Do you ever just want to live YOUR life, free of the heavy weight of the “shoulds” and “should-nots”?
There is so much needless guilt and condemnation when we live our lives based on the expectations of others. Even writing out that word and looking at it, I feel myself releasing a breath that I didn’t know I had been holding.
I have lived much of my life wanting to please others, love others, serve others, and help others. It’s always been easy for people to “guilt-trip” me into doing something for them…because I care. Too much, sometimes.
So the weight of expectations grows heavier.
Fellow perfectionists will connect with me on this, because perfectionism is wrapped up in that question, “What will people think?” And when you’re wanting to measure up to their standards, you pick up the load of their expectations without a thought. Perfectionism demands that you please others, at any cost, because pleasing others means that you’re doing it right, which then means that you’re a good person. (Read that last sentence again. Let that soak in.)
As Brené Brown emphasizes, the self-worth of a perfectionist comes from external approval of what you do. In other words, your self-worth depends on what others think of you.
So what happens when people DON’T approve of you??
A melt-down. A loss of confidence. And SHAME. Every time. Shame will beat you up and knock you down until you don’t want to even step into the ring again.
One of Brené’s famous quotes is,
“When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun, and fear is the annoying backseat driver.”
Shame and perfectionism go hand-in-hand. And that fear…is a fear of shame. A fear of not measuring up. A fear of being imperfect. (Horror of horrors!)
What does our dear Savior say about all of this? He certainly didn’t create us and redeem us in order for us to live under the weight of perfectionism. He didn’t save us so we could be perfect…He is perfect because we can’t be.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV
Then there’s King David…he was a man of weaknesses and shortcomings! Yet he was called a man after God’s own heart. God didn’t require perfection from David in order to lavish His love on him. David recognized this, and was so grateful.
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 103:1, 11-14, NKJV
What do Jesus’ apostles tell us about condemnation, weakness, and failure?
For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.
I John 3:20, NKJV
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I Corinthians 12:9-10, NKJV
We weren’t redeemed to be perfect! We were called by Jesus Christ to show His glory to the world. To display HIS glory…not ours! I’ll leave you with one of my favorite passages that always reminds me that it’s all about Him and NOT about me.
Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position.
But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence.
I Corinthians 1:26-29, NET
Dear Jesus, I pray that You would draw me into Your heart today and remove ever trace of perfectionism and my people-pleasing ways. Lift off the expectations that I’ve placed on myself. Erase everything that causes me shame and condemnation and keeps me from drawing close to Your heart. Replace the lie of perfectionism with an overwhelming awareness of Your love and grace, dear Jesus! I receive Your grace today! I love you, Jesus! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/lyle58/2224678972/”>Lyle58</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>