I want to be able to relax on the inside.
~ from my journal on June 7, 2019
Let’s take a deeper look at perfectionism, shall we? Perhaps you also have this personality tendency or maybe there is someone in your life who strives for perfection. Last summer I learned so much about the internal world of a perfectionist when my counselor gave me a booklet by June Hunt: Perfectionism: The Performance Trap. Ms. Hunt is an author and also the founder of a worldwide biblical counseling ministry.
For perfectionists, the pressure is always on, and the performance never stops. All of life is lived under the glare of an unforgiving spotlight. The smallest blemish, the tiniest flaw, or the slightest mistake is sure to raise an eyebrow and silence sought-after acceptance.June Hunt, Perfectionism
In her book, Ms. Hunt talks about pockets of perfectionism, transformation targets, beliefs of the recovering perfectionist, the cycle of a perfectionist, scriptures to memorize, etc. Never have I read such an accurate description of my deepest thoughts and motivations. I’m not even sure I myself could have articulated them as she did. Freedom started to emerge as Ms. Hunt gave words to my struggle paired with corresponding Biblical truth.
It was eye-opening to read her checklist of twenty-two perfectionist tendencies (yes, I put a check by each one!). The list includes:
- Avoid conflict at all costs, believing that if there is conflict you must have done something wrong
- Consider mistakes never to be permissible
- Establish goals so high that you continually stress over trying to achieve them
- Find it impossible to let go of a mistake
- Question whether people would still love you if they really knew you
Ms. Hunt also writes about perfection vs. excellence. Excellence acknowledges that “failure is a part of life and I can learn important lessons from my mistakes” whereas perfection insists “there is nothing worse than being a failure.” I realized it is natural for me to desire excellence; the struggle comes when I transition to a push for perfection. Freedom comes when my eyes are turned away from pride in myself toward a gracious God: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
Had a moment at bedtime last night. Drowning in I-messed-up-as-a-mom moments. Remembering from 4 years ago and 1 year ago. Crushed under the shoulds and should-have-nots.
How often have I prayed for You to fix me, to help me get it right, to be the best….but last night I thought maybe You don’t necessarily want to make me perfect but instead want to help me figure out how to mess up and fail, gracefully. Maybe it’s not all about You just suddenly fixing me and eliminating fail moments.
Because even when I have fail moments: You still love me, I am still forgiven, You still sing over me, I am still not under condemnation, You will never leave or forsake me. I forget all this. My failure and regret makes me feel separated and unloved and unworthy. I am unworthy–I will always be unworthy until heaven. But it does not follow that I am unloved or separated.
~ from my journal on June 18, 2019
It’s important to address our struggles from a practical and physical standpoint, along with the spiritual. My counselor suggested I pick jogging back up again to help with stress release. There is something about the steady, pounding rhythm of running that truly helps. I also worked on box breathing for when I was feeling sensory overload. Homeschooling five young children makes for a very loud and stimulating environment that often feels like too much for me. Slow, steady breathing does wonders to calm the brain and nervous system.
Writing down my thoughts and feelings is a good way for me to process, but some things felt too sensitive to put on paper forever. So the counselor suggested that I get it all out in writing and then burn the paper. That was quite therapeutic! And finally, I started exchanging notes with one child in a secret notebook just for the two of us, to aid in connection and attachment.
The voice of the [inner] critic forces us to face our biggest fears and, in turn, listen hard for the voice of God. I can worry or I can work. I can get stuck or I can move on. I can get defensive or I can be free.Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing
For me, God’s rescue was subtle, not immediate. It looked like consciously turning away from the voice of the inner critic and then intentionally towards the Voice of Truth. “I have seen a limit to all perfection,
but Your command is without limit” (Psalm 119:96). Victory over the spinning memories happened slowly through the power of truth and grace as I remembered Who I belonged to (truth!) and my secure-status with Him (grace!). “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then” (Galatians 5:1).
I’ll close with a short story. At the beginning of June 2019, I was ready to quit my home school teacher job. We applied for the charter school down the road, but acceptance is by lottery and at that point we still didn’t know if the kids would get in or not. It was a horrible position to be in: not wanting to continue but not sure where to send them to school. Through counseling and lots of prayer, I regained hope and eventually committed to teach for another year. In mid-July, I sat down at a coffee shop for my first planning day. A voicemail from an unknown number was on my phone from earlier that morning and–incredibly–it was the school, letting me know all of the children were accepted. Wait….what, Lord? Are you serious? It was the most ironic moment, and yet filled with peace. There was a good work happening within me.
…with [Jesus], we can release the right to be perfect and never mess up. We can release the right to pay for our own failure. . . . As we surrender to Christ’s power (knowing He is bigger than I am) and to His love (knowing He has my best interests in mind), we are able to experience strength from weakness, beauty from ashes, and freedom even in the midst of failure.Emily P. Freeman, Grace for the Good Girl
To be continued . . . how is life now as a recovering perfectionist?
You can find the rest of this series right here.