Growing up, I was such a perfectionist. I was a good kid with high expectations for myself. I remember studying & memorizing my notes verbatim. I would spend literally hours doing homework because everything had to be neat and perfect. I also remember the first time I failed an exam in junior high. I was feeling sick that day and didn’t get as good of a cram session in before school (I only studied the morning of). I was both embarrassed and humiliated as I uncontrollably wept and was on the verge of hyperventilation in the lady’s room. Needless to say, I had a problem!
Somewhere along the way as I got more lazy with my homework and still got high grades, I began to realize that I didn’t need to be so hard on myself. My first semester at college solidified that understanding. I worked my tail off reading and taking notes and still only pulled a B in my history class. Little things like that along the way made me realize that as long as I did my best and still got good enough grades to support my scholarships, that was all I cared about.
Looking back, I see how my perfectionism was largely pride. I think that is why it is so dangerous. In fifth grade, a few of us had received so many A+ exams, that we were able to take a pass on one of the exams. If I was any normal non-perfectionistic child, I would have and should have taken that pass with gratitude and enjoyed a study-free night before the exam. But in my perfectionism, I enjoyed the pat on the back and attention that I received from getting that A+. I kindly refused the pass. I said , “I enjoy earning the A+ because I studied hard for it,” which was true, but deep down it was because I thought it somehow made me better than the others.
Perfectionism also put so much pressure on me to have everything perfect–in my relationship with God, in my obedience to my parents, and in cleaning my room. I would clean my room for hours, and still can, because when I start to clean, I am a perfectionist about it (as long as I am doing it out of my will, otherwise I am stubborn). My defense growing up when my sister called me a “Perfect Angel” as if it was an insult was that Jesus said to, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Yet, pride and false expectation is not what I think he meant.
Even today I see how perfectionism has affected my life. Except now my life is riding this perfectionism swing that sways from the far end of being the perfect “Martha & Mary” to barely keeping up with life and letting everything fall apart around me. It usually starts out like yesterday. I notice that I need to make changes, and I intend to make changes. I do really well at first. Then eventually, I burn out. I go too hard and expect so much, but, rather than getting back into the swing of doing things right, I let it slip away. It is like I just fall off the swing but the swing just keeps swaying back and forth until it comes to a complete stop above me usually as my world is in complete chaos. I came to that realization about myself today as I was talking about it with one of my superiors at work. I began noticing my MO.
So I suppose here is to once again striving to make myself better, not because of pride or because I have to be perfect (because that is an impossible feet on my own), but rather to striving to be the best God has called me to be, to taking care of myself and my home, and to finding the sense of accomplishment again, a good sense of pride. I believe that when God said to “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” He knew that it would be an impossible task for us to do without Him, especially since it is said in the same paragraph as “Love your enemies,” arguably the hardest commandment Jesus gave us to do. I think He knew the limits of our flesh and it is only by God’s grace that we can rise above our own ability and come close to obtaining that “perfection.” And when we miss the mark and mess up a bit, it is by that same grace that He still lovingly calls us His sons and daughters. So here is to being a recovering perfectionist in the arms of the Perfect Father.