I know this topic is not original among bloggers and authors out there. I’m not even going to tell you what you’ve probably already read a million times. I’ll just tell you what I think about this from my perspective, from my story, and hope it doesn’t add to the noise but rather that it enlightens someone who might need my words, my heart, to bring truth to your story as God is using it to bring truth to mine.
I’m reading Lysa TerKeurst’s book, The Best Yes. I’ve mentioned that in a previous post, I think. I’m also going through the study with about 70 women from our church. I arrived at the study this week, parked my car strategically for a hasty exit should I need one, and sat in the parking lot for about 10 minutes watching the women file in. Some alone. Some with friends. But pretty much all of them seemed happy to be there. Those 10 minutes for me were spent mustering up the courage to open my car door.
Maybe some of the other women did the same thing. Who knows. But because I’m a grown up and I know how to do grown up things, I put my big girl panties on and opened my door and walked into a building with about 70 other women all seeming happy to be there and chatting with one another. What holds me back more often than not is being found out. Someone figuring out what a mess I really am. Someone noticing that I am not perfect and worse, me facing the reality that I am not perfect. I don’t tell you this to feel sorry for me. I tell you this, all of this, as an emptying of myself in hopes that it will fill someone else, That in my telling, someone else might be able to muster the courage to put their big girl panties on their imperfect self, grab the door handle, breathe deep and go.
I’m not a newbie to large group bible studies. I’ve led them, participated in them, written them, taught them, you name it. But it seems like over the last several years fear has enveloped me in a way I couldn’t pin point each time I tried to get involved in a bible study group. The courage and sheer will of all I could muster would get me there but nothing could keep me there.
This past Tuesday at the study, I’ve actually made it 3 weeks in a row!, I sat on what I thought would be the back row of a grouping of round tables. Well, wouldn’t you know that the facilitator came and sat right. by. me. This means that all eyes would be on her and thus, all eyes would be on me unless they had zero peripheral vision. Ugh… I’m convinced God has a sick sense of humor. I say that in all reverence. haha! But isn’t it just like Him to know right where we are and do whatever it takes to not let us stay there?
Tuesday’s lesson was about “showing up to practice”. The way to be a wise woman is to practice being wise. One of the questions was about perfectionism. I don’t remember exactly how it was worded, but it made me think about my own history of perfectionism. Why did I feel this way. Why is perfectionism an issue for me? I have no clue why so much is written about perfectionism and we know well the lie that it is, but we continue to live in it. Perfectionism is unattainable. It sets us up for failure all. day. long. It is so unfair to expect perfection of ourselves or others, yet we do it all. day. long.
The question or statement up for discussion was something about hindrances that we face in practicing wisdom. I spoke up to the group, which is as rare a cold day in July. Actual words with sound came out of my mouth sharing that although some people don’t struggle with perfectionism, some of us were raised that way. Teachings in my church upbringing played a big role in my tendencies toward perfection. I mean, how often did I have the scripture “Be perfect as Jesus was perfect.” spoken over me with the weight of that 20 lb family bible that sits on the entry table? Matthew 5, The Beatitudes, is this whole long list of rules, we Southern Baptist folk love our rules. I don’t mean that in a bad way because rules are good. We need rules. Rules create order and a lot of us like order. Order is a good thing. But all too often in the church we are taught rules over grace. Legalism over love. Expectations over excellence. And all too often, the balance in these gets off kilter.
Combine the teachings and upbringing in the church with being raised in a home environment of high expectations combined with a personality of insecurity and desperately wanting to measure up, to be enough… and you have on your hands a recipe for disaster. You have on your hands an almost 50 year old who knows more fear than freedom.
What I’ve come to discover is that perfectionism is at its core is fear. Perfectionism is performance-based. Perfectionism is a lie from the depths of hell.
and… drum roll please….
I am not perfect.
And I don’t have to be.
And neither do you!
Living in the freedom of not being perfect doesn’t give us excuses to disregard right living. We shouldn’t taunt and abuse grace. God treats us both lovingly and justly based on the posture of our heart. In realizing our inability to be perfect we can let go of the life of fear. We can let go of continually trying to achieve something that is humanly unattainable. Lysa T. teaches in her study that we need to release to receive. We simply cannot hold all of this at the same time. Some of it we simply should not be holding in the first place.
What about Matthew 5 you ask? “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 Well, it turns out that it’s really not a list of rules. It’s a list of love. Jesus gives us this list to show us how to live well and to love well, not to be perfect. I’m not scholar but now when I read “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” I now read “Be perfect in love as your Heavenly Father is perfect in love.” And it’s not even that I have to be perfect in that because well, I am not God. I cannot be perfect. It is a human impossibility. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but it does mean we should realize that we should let go of the misconception and unrealistic expectation that we can achieve it. Matthew 5:48 and others like it, like 1 Peter 1:15-16 which calls us “to be holy like I am holy”, tells us to be LIKE God, not to BE God. Did you just exhale relief with me? I sure hope so! There is such freedom in this!
Today, I choose to focus on progress over perfection. On love over legalism. On grace over rules. On excellence, not expectations.
Now I will go tell myself this like a broken record today because almost 50 years of mental and emotional perfectionism and fear-based scripts run deep. On this particular day, fear grips me. I started writing this post at 3:30am because I woke up in the grip of fear. I got up because staying in bed, in the darkness would set my mind into a pattern I know all too well. Fear of not being the perfect wife. Fear of not being the perfect mom. Fear of not being the perfect friend. Fear of not being the perfect writer. Fear of losing something that I’ve held firmly and can no longer hold on my own. Fear of letting go of my past and the pain and hurt (turned anger) that has become my constant companion for so long. And if I let that go, the fear of the unknown replacement. Fear of leaning into and embracing a not so perfect future. Fearful that even God may not be able to handle this. Yep, I just said that. I just said that I don’t trust God with some of this (I’m not proud of that, btw). Fear feeds me/us the lie that I have to be in control. That even God cannot be trusted. Goodness, think about Adam and Eve and that slippery serpent. Isn’t that why we’re so messed up in the first place??? Perfectionism, fear, control, performance-based living… none of that is real living. It’s all a lie that, like Ann Voskamp said, “will kill your soul” – will kill my soul and it’s done a pretty good job of that so far. I am intimately in touch with the feeling of an underwhelmed soul. While our bodies are finite, our soul is not. We only get one soul and it is eternal. Lysa T., in The Best Yes, talks about how we spend our souls. Lord, help me spend it well.
“If you think that something has to be perfect to be excellent, it’ll never happen. Perfectionism is an ideal. It doesn’t exist in the real world.” ~Michael Hyatt
PRACTICE DOES NOT MAKE PERFECT (whoever said that is a perfect idiot and I’d like to perfectly punch them in their perfect face). But practice does put us on the path to progress.
While practice doesn’t make perfect, it won’t hurt to try. Not trying is like dying. But I won’t be setting my bar for perfection, only progress. Today, I will show up to practice.
Here are some additional resources to encourage you on your quest for progress, not perfection.