We’ve walked through two decades of my journey with perfectionism and grace. How am I now? My struggle with perfectionism and the resulting hopelessness still comes in waves. I know I must stay vigilant, planted in the truth, aware of my tendencies. I must be careful not to let down my guard since my natural pull is always toward striving to perform perfectly. The nighttime memory spirals don’t happen often. But periodically I will suddenly sit straight up in bed, saying out loud, “Jana! You’re doing it again!” A few minutes of prayer, calming breaths, and soft worship music are usually enough to interrupt and refocus.
That’s not to say I don’t ever have moments of deep despair. Just a few weeks ago I experienced another I’m-a-horrible-school-teacher breakdown, which looked like me sobbing in my room, curled up in a ball, at 11 a.m. This is not a perfect upward journey. Imagine that! Even my journey out of crippling perfectionism will not be perfect. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on…” (Phil. 3:12).
When the failure feelings overwhelm, I know I am taking a small view of God and a too-large view of my own responsibility and effort. Perfectionism for me means I take too much credit or blame, and failures loom so large there is no room for humility or hope. But praise be to God: freedom comes when I again see my life in the arc of God’s grand story–with Him as the central, sustaining Presence in my life and in history as a whole. As I right-size God, His sovereignty and His faithfulness, then I can truly receive grace. A grace offered based on the merit of the Giver, not the recipient–hallelujah!
It’s been over a year and a half, but I still come back to these four phrases:
God is still using these truths to redeem and to heal failures of years ago! I ended a relationship during college and then felt guilty for many years. But now I can fully release the guilt because it’s okay, I did the best that I could! (And I really, truly did.) Similarly, I was let go from a job five years ago. It was absolutely, completely devastating. But in the last few months I’ve finally realized it’s okay. I’m not perfect, and I am human. I was doing the best I could at that time in my life. Deep breaths. Exhale shame and regret. Inhale grace. Amazing grace.
Jesus Saves is not just a religious slogan; it is my present-day reality. He saves me from every girl-made inclination I have to make this life work and from the fleshly mask I hide behind when it doesn’t. He saves me from my failures as well as my successes. He saves me from the shame of my mistakes as well as the pride of my achievements. He saves me trying to suck life out of the accolades this world has to offer by placing me safely in Him, hidden with Christ in God.Emily P. Freeman, Grace for the Good Girl
I am learning the “inner critic” so common to the perfectionist personality is not the same as the kind whisper of the Holy Spirit. My fallen, natural self automatically speaks words of condemnation, critique, and confusion. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit brings warm fellowship (Phil. 2:1), resurrection power (2 Tim. 1:7), sweet fruit (Gal. 5:22), and godly wisdom (Eph. 1:17). In order to distinguish between the “voices,” I must faithfully read God’s Word, training my heart to know His truth in order to quiet the shaming accusations I tend to heap on myself.
Perfectionism > freedom & grace. It’s a journey. One I will be on for a lifetime. Failure and perfection do not define me because I am safe in Jesus. I am defined by Grace.
“For [I] died,
and [my] life is now hidden
with Christ in God. . . .
Christ, who is [my] life . . .”
Read the entire series here.
Also, here a few book resources that I recommend!
- Perfectionism: The Performance Trap by June Hunt
- The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions by Emily P. Freeman
- Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts by Jennie Allen
- Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose by Rebekah Lyons
- Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman