Perfectionism.... why it's bad.

Dear friends,

In case you're still getting to know me and haven't discovered this awful tendency of mine... I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. Does this mean I have an orderly home? no. Does this mean I have the perfect figure? no. Does this mean I have the best trained children? no. What it means is simply this... my heart CRAVES control. I want things to be perfect. I want to be the best I can be. Sometimes I feel like a G.I. Joe- Be all that you can be... But God in His mercy does not allow me to have things the way I want them. Why, you might ask? Because, if I did, I wouldn't need Him. Well, of course I would still need Him, but I wouldn't know it.

In watching my daughter Libby I so often see my own heart. She is extremely tender and sensitive and aware of when she messes up. I have to be careful in my tone of voice and how how I say what I say to her. If she knocks something over I need to be careful to not over re-act because she takes it into her heart. She gets upset when she doesn't do something right the first time.

At school yesterday they learned a really cool way to put their coats on. They lie their coats on the floor upside down, the hood closest to their feet. they put their arms in and "flip" the coat over them and it's on. It's really cute. Well, when she tried it today she did it backwards and freaked out and started crying and ran into my room to hide.

yesterday she accidentally knocked her brother over. When I asked her to come back and apologize she was freaking out. I told her I knew it was an accident but I wanted her to help her brother up and hug him and tell him she's sorry for bumping him.

this is so me, in miniature. Upset when I didn't do what i wanted to do or when I accidentally do what I don't want to do. Why didn't I send out any Christmas cards this year?! Why isn't my home in perfect condition with a place for everything, and everything in its place? Why didn't I write them a letter or a thank you card? Why didn't I call so and so? And these are things that don't even have to be done... just stuff I'd like to do. But what about when I make a real mistake.... or worse, what about when I sin? I love what Paul has to say about doing what I don't want to do Romans 7: 15-25 lays it out like this:

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

I tend to cling to my failures and imperfections instead of clinging to God's victories in my life and the grace He is extending to me. He's not waiting around to try and beat me up and say, "ha ha, you're so dumb. You messed up again." or even "ooops, look who fell?" Instead He's waiting with open arms to help me up and encourage me. Would I ever make fun of my son when he was unable to walk? No! I would encourage Him and hold my hands out to him. If he fell I would pick him up and give him kisses and tell him what a good try it was.

I really had my life planned out. I was going to get my Bachelor degree. I was going to have a career and maybe even own my own home. I was going to get married at 27 and have my first baby at 29. Boy, did I have some plans. But my life is not my own. God in His loving kindness had different plans for me. Like getting married at 23 and having my first baby at 24...and my second baby at 25. And now two more children probably when I'm still 27. Um, God I was planning on being married at 27, not having four kids.

But what a beautiful and wonderful thing that I wouldn't change.

God has given me some things I never thought I would bear. I never imagined losing Libby & Sam (my sister and nephew). I never imagined having a sick child who had special needs.

He also given me things I didn't know how much I would need... a wonderful husband and precious children, earlier than I thought I would have. I don't have my Bachelor's degree but I have experienced 4 years of college and I had the opportunities to travel to Australia, East Timor, China, Sweden, France, England, Denmark. I also am thankful that He doesn't allow me to boast in my accomplishments that I would have seen as important. I wanted a degree so that I had something to boast in. Don't get me wrong, I am all for college education. Heck, I am helping my husband get his master's. I am just saying for me it's something that at the time I'm glad He stripped me of. I think at some point I will finish my Bachelor's.

My faithful God has stripped me of my sufficiency. He has taken away my ability to do things in my own strength. He has made me desperate for Him. I had found in a journal an entry I had written before my sister died asking God to do whatever it takes to make me dependent on Him. To strip me of the things I would cling to and the accomplishments I could call my own. He has done that. He has broken me so that He can use me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says that, "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

What I am not saying is that God had to do "bad things" so that I would see my need for Him. He didn't take my sister's life so that I would be dependent on Him. He is using those bad things and making good come from them. do you see the difference? My God is not evil. Yes, evil things happen, but they are not from Him. He does allow things though that at times I don't understand. He has been showing me again and again that my definition of good can not be based on what I think of as goodness. He is goodness.

I am tempted to place a certain amount of trust if I see a certain result. God I will say you are good, IF you keep my children healthy and alive. God I will say you are good, IF these babies don't come pre-term. No, He is good in spite of whatever happens. the conditions I want to place on Him are ridiculous. They reveal my willingness to trust Him when things are "good" or "easy" but not when the challenges come. Then I want to turn from Him. God how can you be good when this or that bad thing happens? But He is good.

I feel like I've mentioned these verses a million times throughout my blog but I love them and will repeat them now because I feel like ten is my life verse. It starts with what I have already stated 2 Corinthians 12:9 but its verse 10 I'm wanting to state for myself:

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(notice though he says content with, not thrilled about, but content with.)

During Women's Bible Study on Wednesday I was struggling with something the speaker said because it spoke to me so personally. She was talking about Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone. She was saying how easy it was for the Sanhedrin (Pharisees & I believe Sadducees) to want to add tradition and rules to Scripture. They were making up things that God didn't even intend for them to be law. She was saying how God is after their hearts.

He is after my heart. He isn't worried about if my house is perfect or if my to-do list is done. He is more concerned about my heart. He isn't worried if I did fun crafts with my kids or if I made gourmet meals or if the laundry is done. He isn't worried about my appearance. He is after my heart. He knows that it is in my heart is where the true things lie... Out of the heart the mouth speaks... and Jesus says that what defiles us. It comes from the heart. So true. It's easier for me to want to make up laws and rules and things that I think God desires instead of examining and dealing with my heart. I want to work on my appearance so I will eat right or exercise... but God knows when I'm turning to food for comfort or using it for nourishment. He knows when my house is clean so that I can boast in myself.

He also knows that my son is screaming that I should fetch him from his nap instead of concluding this lovely little post. So, um, think on that for a bit... all you perfectionists out there :)


Sarah said…
Great post Jennifer - I think I am going to have to come back and read it again - there's so much in it! Lots that rings so true and challenges me too...

Thanks for sharing - big hugs xxx
Anonymous said…
Thanks Jen for your transperancy and using God's word to minister to us as well as to yourself. It was timely in that I have been reading a good book that has been rebuilding my Faith.......the walls have been untended and there are breaches that allowed the enemy into the courtyards.......But God........But God in His mercy and kindness does not leave us unto ourselves but through His Word, His Love and His Body, we have hope.
I so appreciate your words and your use of Scripture.....keep preaching the Gospel to yourself and the rest of us. A challenge to us all.
love you
Michelle said…
Who me? haha. I heard a radio program called "The Perils of Perfectionism" the other day. One of the things they touched on was how it could be (not always) generational. A caller said she decided she needed to change when she saw how it affected her children. When I heard that I felt it ring true for me. I don't have children, but I hope to one day. I'd love for them to feel the freedom to make mistakes and learn, something I don't give myself yet. So... I'm with you on working on it. :)
Wendy said…
So, would you say "perfectionism" is pride and the antidote would be humility?

I am so glad that you touched on the indwelling sin in our hearts that are the true battle. So often it is easy to say I am a sinner, but do we really get what that means? Pride is one of the sins God hates most. It is basically telling Him I am enough. I am not enough, I am hopeless and unless God moves on my heart to turn me to Him I will continue to go in my own direction. Thank you God for all the things you bring us to turn us to you, over and over again. But for God I would be running the other way.
Wendy said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
I found your blog in a kind of "6 degrees of separation" kind of way. :)

Your post reminds me of, well .. ME! This really spoke to my failed perfectionist heart. I try so hard to be the perfect wife, mum, christian.. and fall short. I am learning too that I need to lean on His strength and quit relying on my own.

Thanks for the reminder

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