He reached down from on high and took hold of me;Psalm 18:16-18
He drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.
I finally acknowledged my mental recordings and failure spirals perhaps weren’t quite normal (see Part 1: Grace Set Aside). After heading back to college for sophomore year, I started going to counseling. It was a humbling walk across campus to the little white house, but I needed help. I was simply worn out from the haunting memories.
Ms. June so kindly and gently helped me go back to my very first “failing” memory when I was around 7-years-old. Through tears, I verbalized to her every detail of that memory. In future sessions, I sat in her office and cried as I talked through each specific memory, the ones replaying in my mind for years. Most of them I had never spoken out loud to myself or to anyone else before. Each failure and embarrassment was finally coming into the light.
Spoken words from the deepest places. Revealing light of understanding and of God’s presence. Honesty about the true internal struggle. Truth from God’s Word and from the heart of a friend. Compassion and assurance I was not crazy or alone or unloved. That was counseling for me.
My wise counselor encouraged me to write down all of the ugly lies I believed beneath the surface. Here are a few I wrote down in my journal many years ago:
- I should get an “A” in all my classes
- I should not do anything that would embarrass me or other people
- I should run a relationship a certain way because there is a right way and I need to do it the right way
- I should have a different hairstyle every day
- I should look put together all of the time
- I should not forget anything important
Quick story to illustrate: freshman year I completely forgot an assignment for Spanish class. Literally, the room started spinning and I felt like I could faint while devastation and shame poured over me. One unintentional mistake (hey Jana! everyone makes them!) but I was crushed. Years later, talking to my husband, he said he would have just shrugged and said: oh well. And I honestly thought: wow! Some people can actually make a mistake and then keep having a normal day. I had no idea that was even possible.
How freeing to write down those lies, to actually give words to the “shoulds” holding me captive for years. The sinister and sneaky voice in my mind, the one who whispered, “You are a failure. You never measure up. You are unprotected. You are not good enough. You are worthless”–that voice was finally called into the light and exposed.
Lies > failings crush > false guilt & shame > panic attacks & disrupted peace
Truth > failings convict > acceptance of grace > mind relaxed & hopeful
Ms. June and I talked about specific truths from God’s Word to combat each lie. For a few months, every time the lies or memories would begin replaying, I sat up in bed and recited truths from God’s Word. Through prayer and focus on what is true, ever so slowly the memories began to fade, losing their power over my mind.
Ms. June also helped me learn to breathe deeply and to relax my body one section at a time. Starting at my toes and working up to my head, I contracted and released each limb separately, mindful relaxation to calm the spiraling and spinning. This helped me work through the panic attack sensations.
For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.Galatians 2:19-20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live,
but Christ lives in me.
The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave Himself for me.
I realize not all struggle with perfectionism or shameful memories, but everyone has personal lies they must combat with Truth. The most important truth I came to deeply understand during that time was God’s grace. This was/is such a hard concept for my personality to learn and to grasp, but it is the truth I must build my faith upon.
- Grace demands an admission: I am not, nor will ever be, perfect. I am just as much a sinner as every other imperfect person and desperately in need of a Savior.
- Grace is mine despite me. Knowing and being loved by Jesus actually has nothing to do with me or my performance at all.
- Grace is the unmerited love and favor of Jesus given as a gift, regardless of what I did in the past or will do in the future.
- Grace says Jesus loves me no matter what and His sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to save even me.
Praise be to God! His amazing grace is the perfect truth to counteract and to heal my perfectionist-prone heart. “The Lord has promised good to me / His Word my hope secures / He will my Shield and Portion be / As long as life endures” (John Newton).
It is my good-looking, hard-working, boot-strap-pulling, religious self that strives for glory and credit. Now, as I receive Jesus as my very life and remain in him, I can step off that performance treadmill and ascribe worth to the Creator and Sustainer of the world and everything in it. Now, I hide in the completeness of Christ. I rest in his shadow. I am hidden, but not behind a paper mask of false identities and try-hard religion. Now, I am hidden safe in Christ: safe, secure, and complete. And when I hide in him, it is no longer I but Christ who is seen.Emily P. Freeman
To be continued . . . did perfectionism rear its ugly head again?
Jump to Part 3: Grace Relapse!