The Cripple of Perfectionism

Ever since I was young, I consistently teased my sister for being such a perfectionist. Little did I realize that I was pointing out the splinter in her eye and missing the wooden beam in my own. I was a perfectionist as well. If I wasn’t perfect, then, by golly, I just wasn’t good enough. I began basing my self-worth on my accomplishments without even realizing it. I had a genuine love for God, but it became easily distorted by my perfectionist standard. I began doing good things to try to earn God’s love.

Doing as much good as I was able to fit into my day became my obsession for awhile. Life became a list of things that I thought would fulfill me. I would easily become burned out and fall into despair when I realized that no matter how hard I tried, there were still many, MANY things that I couldn’t accomplish. Sometimes I just wanted to hide away from the world. My intention was off, and my perfectionist standard started to skew my view of friends, family, and my relationships. I could only see people for what good characteristics they were missing. I became discouraged that no one was consistent and that we were all failures.

Thankfully, God opened my eyes to His goodness once more. I eventually recognized that I could not save myself and that I had lost sight of who my Redeemer was. I received the grace to acknowledge that no one is perfect, except God, the one whom I had fallen in love with and the one from whom my perfectionism was keeping me. I received some good advice from a priest in Confession, “strive, but don’t strain”. He explained that, yes, I should strive to be like Christ, but I should not beat myself up when I don’t measure up. It’s merely impossible to measure up to His goodness.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Our Lord enlightened Saint Paul saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” St. Paul responded, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). One day I was reading my Bible, and those words hit me like a ton of bricks. THAT is the key to dealing with my perfectionism. I must gladly accept my imperfections, and, therefore, allow Christ to heal me and live in me. Although I cannot do anything on my own, He can do all things through me. I am truly perfect but only because of Him.

If you are struggling with pride and perfectionism, ask for God’s grace to see through His eyes. The devil is always going to whisper, “you’re not good enough”. Reject those words because we know that God is good enough, and God is inside of you. Remember, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

fearfully and wonderfully“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139: 14. This verse confused me for years, but now it’s one of my favorites. I couldn’t comprehend what it meant to be “fearfully made”. How can someone be fearfully made? It’s not like God is fearful when making us, is He? I can’t really imagine God trembling as He knits us together in our mothers’ wombs, but maybe He knows we’re going to mess up and that makes Him nervous? That never seemed entirely plausible. Another theory of mine was that we were made to be in fear. Could that be true? Aren’t we made to stand in the face of injustice, at the gates of Hell and speak the truth? That doesn’t sound like it involves being fearful; it sounds more as if we are meant to be courageous. I had always heard that religious people were supposed to be “God-fearing” and that befuddled me. Of course God is all powerful. At any moment, He could destroy the world, but He is benevolent, He loves us and He wants what’s best for us. So why should I be afraid of God?

Eventually, I decided that the only resolution to my confusion was to do some research. So being the millennial that I am, I procrastinated excessively and then finally Googled it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that when the bible was translated into English, “to fear” didn’t just mean “to be scared.” It meant “to respect.” Respectfully made. I am respectfully and wonderfully made. Ahh, that changes things.

So now what does it mean to make something respectfully? God is an artist: the ultimate Artist. So what would it be like for a normal human artist to make something with respect? Well, if an artist just throws some paint on a canvas would that be respectful? Probably not. If an artist is painting something respectfully, he or she is taking time to plan, think out each and every step, and make sure it’s well done. The artist will make a sketch for what the painting will eventually look like and devise a specific statement or emotion for the painting to convey. The artist will plant subtle messages that make people think about society, or a bold message calling viewers to change, or create artwork just to make people smile. It is all planned.  Once the painting is completed, it won’t just be thrown in the trash; it will be intended for a specific place to accomplish a particular purpose. Just like a masterpiece, God makes each person with a specific plan to accomplish certain things and convey certain messages.

Not every person is meant to have the gentleness of Mother Theresa, or the boldness of MLK Jr. These two people were very different and were put in this world to glorify God in very different ways. Both were human rights activists who accomplished amazing things, and the world would look very different without them. However, they weren’t the same. We sometimes forget that in our search for holiness. At least, I know that I can get caught up in seeing the holiness of others and thinking that I have to be exactly like them. I am unique and weird, and that’s okay because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s plan is so perfect that it not only allows for my weirdness, but requires it. No one else can follow God’s plan for my life, because no one else has the same strengths, weaknesses, and quirks that I have. His plan wouldn’t work for anyone else.

I do know a little about God’s plan for your life and for mine: He wants us to love. Love is self-giving. Jesus giving His life for us is the greatest act of love that ever has or ever will take place. He calls us to follow Him and give ourselves in love in whatever ways we can. But the thing is, we can’t do that nearly as well if we don’t embrace who we are. We are all called to give deeply of ourselves, but if we are fighting ourselves, then what are we supposed to give? Instead, we must all learn to embrace who we are and be at peace with that so that the love we give comes from our inner God-given peace, which is a sanctuary for His love.

So be weird, even if it goes against what society tells you to be like! There are societal pressures to conform, to fit in, to do what everybody else is doing, but God tells us to do the opposite: stand out! You see, being religious and following God is not about fitting into a mold. It’s not about acting the same way, dressing the same way or having the same routines as me or as your friends or anyone else in the world. In fact, it’s following God that will make you more you, because He created you fearfully and wonderfully and He has the perfect plan for your life that will bring you joy, fulfilment, adventure and peace. Following God, and so becoming yourself, and then proceeding to respect your awesome self makes you stand out.

You might think of things you’ve done or things you don’t like about yourself and doubt your wonderful nature. Of course, we all turn away from our wonderful nature. That’s called sinning. Sins go against God and against ourselves. We have free will and are born with original sin, which causes us to be more prone to sin. Sin is not who we are, though. God defines us. Our fearful and wonderful nature defines us. The more we reject sin and the more we strive to be wonderful, the more we become our true selves! Following God really just means being yourself, but in the truest form. It involves breaking the bad habits and bonds of sin that have been created over time. To do this, sometimes we have to deny ourselves certain worldly pleasures.

It’s tempting to look at those around us and wish we had their gifts. I seem to always be thinking “if only I was as good at math as my brother, I could use my skills to understand accounting and business to run a non-profit. That would glorify God,” or “If only I was as good at photography and writing as my friends, I could report on poverty around the world to bring awareness to it. That would glorify God,” etc. But God has a purpose for my life that only I can fulfill, and that is beautiful. Even when I forget about my talents or fail to see how they can possibly be used for God, He knows how they need to be used. That makes having a close relationship with God so important! He can see and understand the whole picture. Every last inch of it. He sees our problems, our joys, our rejection, our nature. In all the world, He knows exactly where the strengths, weaknesses and quirks He gave me can be used the best. Sometimes we wish that God would give us big flashing neon signs that say “GO HERE AND DO THIS!!!”. He doesn’t scream across the room what He wants us to do, but rather, He whispers it to us. In order for us to hear that whisper, we have to be close to Him, anticipating His words and reading His words in Scripture.

Embrace who you are, because you are fearfully and wonderfully made!