I have something to tell you, and by extension, something to tell myself. You have many faces and many forms, and so I write this to:
- the neat-freak who cannot stand a molecule of dust out of place
- the perfectionist in disguise whose desk is in chaos but whose personal standards are sky high
- the one who puts in countless hours in an effort to achieve the perfect ____ (fill in the blank: musical skill, writing abilities, sports performance, test scores, etc.)
- the one who expects everyone else to hold the same high standards
- the one who extends grace to everyone but themselves
- and the one who's given up because they've failed too many times
You likely don't chase it in every area of life. Maybe you seek it in performance, but you're perfectly all right with a messy room. Maybe you seek it in your outer world--everything in its place--but less so in your inner world, where you give yourself room for mistakes. And quite likely it's an even more intricate paradox than that--your bookshelf might be organized alphabetically but your closet looks like a tornado hit it. You may hold strictly to an academic standard, yet not so much in physical fitness. There are infinite combinations, but if this letter is to you, there is at least one area in which you are enslaved.
Can I tell you something? I'm a perfectionist in disguise. My room is sometimes a group of little contained messes, with semi-organized piles of papers and books and things that belong together in some abstract way that only makes sense to me.
I think it should be cleaner.
When I sit down to write, I'm mostly okay with clumsy sentences, scrambled plots, and misbehaving characters in a first draft.
But I think I should write more, or faster.
Do I chase a state of perfection? Maybe. I don't know. But I do know I chase progress. Because progress means movement towards perfection, or if not that, betterment. If I wake up intending to get some good writing done, and I go to bed at night having written nothing because life got in the way, I don't like it. If I look at an area of my life and see no growth, it bothers me. Am I growing spiritually? Am I progressing as a writer? Am I getting better at my job? Are my relationships doing well? If the answer is ever no, that must mean "try harder."
Those are the chains I struggle to break. Yours may look different.
This slavery is sneaky. It's not constant misery. Sometimes you do achieve something you're happy with (at least somewhat), and so there's a measure of success, of satisfaction. It's a carrot dangling in front of your nose, a taste of the glory you'll feel when you finally reach that perfection in full. But when you stumble, your own whip comes whistling down to tear your back.
You could have done better.
You should have done more.
You shouldn't have said that.
Bleeding, you drag yourself up and try again. The worst part about this enslavement is that most of the time, you're not aware. You don't realize you hold the whip; you don't know you're bleeding out. You have moments of self-awareness, but those usually end up in more lashes, because goodness knows you shouldn't be so hard on yourself. (And down comes the whip again.)
What drives you? Why do you so badly desire that perfection? Do you know?
Like so many other things, the answer is rooted in fear.
Fear of failure, of rejection, of not being loved. Because if you're good enough, they'll love you, right? If you press on and work harder, do better, they'll accept you. You'll have a place in the ranks. You'll mean something. You'll be worthy.
If you do better, God will love you.
Is that the lie you've believed? Because trust me, though your mind may balk and say, "I know that's not true, I know God loves me no matter what," your heart might tell a different story. Mine has. And trust me when I say that your heart can hold so tightly to that belief, that it thickens and tightens and wraps a chain around your neck. And for the longest time, I had no idea that iron grip was there.
Breaking those bonds takes a journey. It's a process of discarding the old and knowing the truth that sets you free. I wish the English language had another word for know. The kind I mean isn't with your head--it's with your heart. You may mentally acknowledge that you are loved, but do you know it? Do you completely and utterly believe it, to the point that you act like it? Is that truth so rooted in you that any word to the contrary can't penetrate your heart because you know how very wrong it is?
If you've never heard it before, or if you've heard it a thousand times with deaf ears, listen now.
You. Are. Loved.
Did you know that if you stopped trying, if you let it all go to pot and let your life fall into shambles, that fact would not change one iota? I know you can hardly wrap your brain around that idea, so try instead to wrap your heart around it. Shut your brain up for just a moment. If you never did another thing for God or for anyone else, He would still love you just as much as He does right now. Your value to Him would remain unchanged. Can you see that? Can you start to?
Once you're grounded in love, perfection isn't necessary. Instead, you can strive for something much better: excellence. Do the best you can with what you have, and leave it at that. Keep going, keep improving--to stop is to stagnate--but don't ever attach the pursuit to your identity. Give yourself grace. God does.
With love from: