The Poison of Perfection

Attention to details. 
Exquisite presentation.
Every little thing—plans, dreams, goals, emotions—in its cookie-cutter place.
Flawless execution.
No room for mistakes, tripping up, falling down.

 
Doesn’t sound so bad on the surface, does it?
The result could only be a job well done, right?
None of these things are bad in and of themselves.
Until we bundle them all together,
tie ourselves to the load
like a prisoner to a ball and chain
and call it
perfectionism.

  

 
My goodness—what a dirty word it is.

 
It sounds pretty.
It even looks pretty.

 
The very formation of it—all those curves and soft edges—make it flow right there on the page.

 
(You’re humming that John Legend song, now—aren’t you? Admit it. I won’t tell.)

 
Perfectionism.
We buy into it.
I bought into it.
We think we have to live up to it.
I thought I had to live up to it.

 
Perfectionism.
It lies to us, friends.
Perfectionism seductively whispers that we have to achieve it in order to be accepted or to be successful.
Perfectionism sneaks into our psyche, often early on in our lives, conditioning us to just try harder to be perfect, unfailingly good at everything.
Perfectionism chokes our ability to admit our helplessness.
Perfectionism paralyzes us with the fear that we can never measure up.

~*~

He sat across the table from me, composition book open before him, pencil in hand.
I spoke softly to him.
“All you have to do is try. It doesn’t have to be right; it doesn’t have to be perfect.
All I want you to do is try.”
His tears fell faster, sobs caught in his chest.
“You can do this. I know you can. I believe in you.”
~*~

Perfectionism is poison.
It makes us believe we can’t succeed before we even try.

I’m a recovering perfectionist who knows this all too well. It’s been an underlying current in my worldview since pre-adolescence years.

I know how difficult it is to live under this largely self-inflicted mandate to be the best at it all, to mask the less-than-pretty emotions, and to strive for impossible standards.

And when I see my students—at the very young, impressionable ages of 5, 6, 7—falling prey to the same mindset, my heart breaks.

It breaks when the simplest task releases a torrent of tears because the student can’t bear the thought of not getting it right.

He doesn’t know what I know, now—that the process of getting it wrong—is exactly how he will learn to get it right; getting it wrong will unlock the freedom to fall and get back up again. Getting it wrong will allow him to learn how strong, how smart, how resilient he is.

  

I sit across that table from him, silently praying for those lies to fall away, willing him to just try. Because I know he will succeed; he won’t get those words spelled correctly every time, but he will succeed. He will succeed because all he has to do is try his best.

~*~
Quietly waiting for him to calm down,
that still small voice whispers to my own heart:
You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have all the answers.
You just have to try.
Listen to what I’m saying to you—and just try.
Don’t fight so hard,
just rest in knowing that I want the best for you.
~*~

Our Heavenly Father doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He knows we can’t be. He came to the cross to be our Perfection through salvation. Any other attempt at achieving perfection is futile. We will chase our proverbial tails until we’re exhausted by pursuing perfection. It’s not worth it. I’d rather be imperfect and free to be who God created me to be than to spend all my energy stuffing that person into a package that appears perfect.

Friends, as we are running headlong into a season of trying to measure up, check all the boxes, prepare all the decorations, gifts, and parties, don’t give in to the lie of perfection. We aren’t perfect. Not one of us. We can’t be; we’re human. We can do our very best to make the most of the season. But what really matters is that we listen for His voice, follow His leading, and lay down our perfectionism for His holiness.

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