[Guest post by Rachel Madden: I think Rachel’s story on perfectionism will really encourage some of you, especially those who struggle with being a “perfect mom.” Remember “I must be perfect” is just a lie!]
Psychology Today quotes, “For perfectionists, life is an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A one-way ticket to unhappiness, perfectionism is typically accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn’t a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance.”
Please tell me this quotation strikes a chord with one of you as well, that you come dangerously close to connecting to this quotation as much as me. We started a sermon series titled “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire,” and the first lie uncovered was “I must be perfect.”
Thirty seconds into the sermon I knew I was in trouble.
Although I claim to be a “retired perfectionist,” it is a work in progress.
The topic of the day told me paying attention was essential and notes may be required. And if I hadn’t recognized this fact on my own, it was clear as my husband Chris continued to jab me in the side, saying, “This is you! This is you!”
Both of us had a child on our lap (11 month-old twins) and he had to take our son Miles to the cry room. That left me with the choice to take notes or continue to hold our daughter Norah. I’d like to think it’s the teacher in me (although more likely it’s the obsessive compulsion), but I chose to throw Norah to the curb, or somewhat pay attention to her on the floor, while I ferociously took notes.
Before you judge me, please know that bless her 11-month old heart she doesn’t crawl and can’t go from sitting to laying down on her own; therefore, Norah spent the service on the ground. For the church members who witnessed the borderline negligence, I told myself I was already breaking free of the “I must be a perfect” lie, specifically the “I must be a perfect mom.”
This sermon hit me so hard I specifically told the pastor after church that bullying was wrong and I didn’t appreciate being profiled.
We know human perfection isn’t real. We tell ourselves it doesn’t matter.
But for those of us who are challenged in this area, we may accept those truths for others, but not for ourselves.
For example, I don’t think Norah is any less of a person because she isn’t developmentally in the same place as Miles. Of course not; the thought doesn’t even cross my mind. And yet for most of us, especially perfectionists, the lie that we aren’t measuring up creeps in daily.
It doesn’t matter if I ate a healthy lunch, I had a donut for breakfast. Who cares that I spent two hours playing with my kids earlier today? This afternoon I turned on the TV so I could catch up on work. Losing 10 pounds can’t be celebrated; I shouldn’t have gained weight in the first place; I’m so lazy. Or a current lie in my own life right now: So you nursed your twins 11 months? It doesn’t count if you don’t make it to the full year.
The lie that says striving for perfection means you’re hardworking and accomplished, a person worthy of love and happiness is all-consuming and paralyzing.
We put the pressure on ourselves because somehow being the best we can be at everything we do makes us…what? Good?
As Christians, we know this isn’t true. No matter how good we try to be on our own merits, it doesn’t change our need for God. If we could find perfection on our own, there would be no reason for Christ’s death and resurrection.
Sometimes I’m preoccupied attempting the “perfect life” because it somehow validates me as a person. Have your achievements ever taken precedent over what truly matters? For the perfectionists out there, it doesn’t mean you have to be okay with mediocrity. It doesn’t mean it’s time to lower your standards or become less passionate. But let’s intentionally choose not to measure our worth based on our performance and abilities.
In 2015, let’s stop carrying a validating performance record around – one that affirms us because of our achievements or accomplishments. As the Bible says in Romans, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Today, let’s celebrate this freedom and bask in His perfection alone.
Rachel Madden is a teacher, wife and mother of twins. She experienced a bout with bulimia in college and was later diagnosed with anxiety and depression. She started a blog in 2014 at crazyMADDENINGworld.com to share her story about motherhood and living a passionate, Christian life with mental illness.