I’ve never been a perfectionist; or so I thought.
When I think of perfectionism, I think of my sweet mother, who made certain her quilt’s corners were flawlessly square and cringed as I eye-balled all of mine; or, my brother adjusting every setting on his camera until the exact balance is achieved while I snap away, happy with any of my kids in focus; or, that writer who agonizes over every word while I write furiously in the cracks of my life and send it out to the world without (likely enough) scrutiny.
See? I am not a perfectionist. I have not cared for the externals of my life to be perfect, and I have been happy about that.
Recently though, at the age of 34, I was confronted with a woman I idolized. I loved how she patiently and gently mothered her children, the way she always looked beautiful, how she thoughtfully cared for her husband, how she cheerfully set the tone in her home daily, how her home was tidy and her children obedient, how much she could accomplish, and how calmly she handled the many stresses of her life. I could not get her out of my mind; her perfect life tormented me, and I felt I could not measure up.
It was the perfect version of myself; the version I can never quite seem to be. It was the woman I wished I was, and the one I measure myself against. Her existence is in some supernatural realm I never could quite access.
In Rising Strong, Brené Brown wrote something that undid me: “One of the greatest challenges of becoming myself has been acknowledging that I’m not who I thought I was supposed to be or who I always pictured myself being.”
For me, marriage and motherhood have been the avenues that have revealed the depths of my heart; both my capacity for deepest love and my innumerable shortcomings. My heart has broken many times over my own failures; I have tearfully repented, and continued to sit in my own self-condemnation, agonizing over my lack of all the things. This, friends, is not of Christ.
Looking through the virtual window into the world of another, and measuring myself against what I see there rarely leads me to greater godliness or contentment. Rather, I come away with a greater sense of inadequacy, a deeper sense of my lack, a stronger temptation toward discontent. We know that comparison is the thief of joy, and yet we do little to curb the thief. This, friends, is not of Christ.
If the gospel is the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for the redemption of my soul and for the restoration of the world, then self-condemnation, comparison, and perfectionism have little place for the gospel-clinging Christian.
Rather, the gospel-clinging Christian looks within herself, and rather than seeing all of her many inadequacies, she sees the adequacy of Christ.
Rather than focusing on her repeated failures, she rests in the gentle and persistent mercy of Christ.
Rather than sitting in self-condemnation, she fixes her gaze on Jesus, who is the author and perfector of faith.
Rather than imaging a perfect self, she clings to Christ, who is perfect already.
Rather than bearing the weight of her sin, she lays it aside, and runs with perseverance.
That woman I spoke of earlier? Her fictional self does not torment me anymore, at least, not on a regular basis. I have come to acknowledge that my inward expectation of myself was one of perfection, clouded with pride, and self-love, and far from godliness. I am more gentle with myself, reminded of Christ’s gentle and lowly heart, and his deep, unending love for me. I am remembering that I am doing my best, with the help of Christ, and slowly, slowly, being transformed into a greater likeness of him.
So, see? I am still not a perfectionist. 😉
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.