Letting Go of Perfection

T his year I am resolving to let go of the things that don’t benefit me, to make room for more God in my life. Previously, I discussed letting go of comparison. Today: letting go of perfection. 

Perfection [noun]

  1. The condition, state or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.
  2. A person or thing perceived as the embodiment of such a condition, state, or quality.

Perfection is intoxicating. Like any good drug there is an initial rush of pleasure, followed by a growing dependency and entrapment. I was a perfection junkie. I never intended to become an addict — I don’t think anyone ever does — but it snuck up on me bit by bit, until I was hooked.

I was convinced there was something wrong with me that needed fixing. I was desperate to fix those weaknesses, or at the very least camoflage them successfully, so that people would no longer see how worthless I really was. I tried to be perfect so that I would be popular. I wanted to be flawless so that I would have friends.

It took me years to realize that my plan was doomed to failure. After all, there has been only one perfect Person who ever lived, and we killed Him. Why would I expect a different fate?

Instead of giving me the friendships I craved, my pursuit of perfection alienated people.

While I was all too aware of the consequences, it was really difficult to give up. The truth was: I liked being perfect, or more accurately, being perceived as being perfect.  I liked the sense of control and of value it brought me. If I have all my ducks in a row, I reasoned, if I have all areas of my life perfectly in order and balanced, then I am successful.

Perfection, as a definition for success, will always lead to failure.

It took me a long time to realize this. It was too easy to justify my perfectionism. The Bible had a lot to say about being holy that seemed to validate my quest. After all, didn’t Jesus tell us to “. . . be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”?[1]

I found out that God and I define perfection very differently.

When Jesus would say “. . . be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”, I always sort of stopped after the “be perfect” part, and kind of skipped over the second half. It served the purpose of rationalizing my view of perfection; I no longer had to consider the fuller ramifications of the verse.

I wanted to be perfect as defined by the cultural standards of success: perfect house, perfect job, perfect hair, perfect wardrobe, perfect habits, perfect person. But when I considered the verse in it’s entirety it became apparent that Jesus was less concerned with my perfect trappings and more concerned about the state of my heart.

The word “perfect” in the verse above is the Greek word teleios which means:

  1. brought to its end, finished
  2. wanting nothing necessary to completeness
  3. perfect
  4. that which is perfect

I realized that when God is speaking of wanting me to be perfect like He is perfect, what He meant was that He wants the end goal of my life—the metaphorical finish line I am running toward—to be to look like Him. He doesn’t care about my house being immaculately clean; he wants my Heart to be pure before him. He’s more concerned with the size of my compassion than the size of my waist.

I may have started my pursuit of perfection out of a feeling of worthlessness, but the end result was idolatry. God never intended for me to spend my time trying to glorify myself, but a life spent developing a heart like His can only glorify Him.

[1] Matthew 5:48

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Letting Go of Comparison

This year I am resolving to let go of the things that don’t benefit me, to make room for more God in my life. First stop, letting go of comparison.

Compare [verb]

  1. Estimate, measure or not the similarity or dissimilarity between.
  2. Point out the resemblances to; liken to.

Comparison. For women it can be such a dirty word, fraught with implications and insecurities. It’s insidious; easily slipping into so many areas of our lives. We compare possessions, houses, cars, clothes, body types, beauty, intelligence, education, parenting styles, careers, ministries, marriages, hobbies, talents, gifts – the list is endless.

In my own life, comparison took root at a very young age. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t painfully aware of my own inadequacies in light of others. I was just trying to survive; I would compare myself to others to identify the potential targets for ridicule or rejection in my life.

I thought that I was improving myself, but I was actually tearing myself apart, bit by bit, comparison by comparison.

Comparison isn’t inherently evil. As an artist, I compare my work to that of others far better than me to learn how to better my skills. As a Christian, I compare myself to Jesus to see how closely I emulate Him in my heart. As a soon-to-be parent, I compare myself to parents I respect to see the things they do well and the techniques that would work well for our family.

Comparison, like so many other aspects of life, benefits or destroys us based on the inclination of our hearts. In all of the above instances my identity as an artist, as a Christian, or as a parent is secure—I can look for instances to improve and grow without calling my worth or value into question.

The challenge comes when our comparison is rooted in insecurity.

It is when I compare my vulnerable areas — the ones where I question my value, or feel exposed to ridicule and rejection — that I am torn down.

In this day and age, with the advent of social media and the accessibility of the internet in everyone’s pocket, it’s easy to compare ourselves to the rose-tinted images we see of our friends and acquaintances.  But no image can capture the entirety of the human soul; everything we see online is a curated vision of someone’s life.

The quick fix would be to stop looking, to stop comparing to others and finding our own life wanting, but that is a temporary fix that doesn’t address the underlying issue. Like putting a band-aid on a deep gash, it may staunch the bleeding for a while, but it won’t promote healing.

If you want to stop comparing, first you must find the lie.

  1. Identify the areas of negative comparison in your life. What makes you insecure? What things do you envy in others?
    I envy popularity. I have never been the person who has people flocking to be her friend, and I am friends with one of the most naturally popular people I know.  It’s all too easy to compare myself to the number of invitations she receives or the number of people who want to hang out with her.
  2. Find the source. There’s always a reason behind an insecurity. No one just wakes up one day and decides to feel inferior about a certain area in their life. If you genuinely have no idea, ask the Holy Spirit to identify it for you—He’s really smart!
    I envy popularity because I was rejected by my peers. As a child, on a subconscious level, I reasoned that they must have been rejecting me because there was something inherently wrong with me. Therefore the number of people who wanted and accepted me proved my value.
  3. Fight the lie with the truth. Every time you catch yourself in an act of negative comparison, counter it with the truth—even if it doesn’t feel true. Stand on the truth regardless of what your wounds or your feelings are telling you.
    God has a lot to say on the subject of value and worth. A lot. I like to remind myself that I am never forsaken in Him; that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, that He created me in His image and likeness.
  4. Stop speaking it out.  Tell people you trust about the lie you are working to destroy. Ask them to remind you if and when you speak it out loud.
    Early into our marriage, my husband pointed out to me that frequently I would ask some variation of the question “what’s wrong with me?”, so he banned it from our household, telling me, “There’s nothing wrong with you, so you need to stop asking that.” Once I stopped speaking that aloud, it was a lot easier to believe the truth.

You have value. Not because of what you do or don’t do, not because of who you know or how you act or who you are.

You have value because God, the only Perfect Being, was willing to come to earth and pay the price for you—not the person you want to be, the person you are—ugly parts and all. He paid the same price for every single person, whether they will accept Him or not, so He truly cherishes all of us the same—He has no favorite children.

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Letting Go

I love the New Year.

There are few things in life I enjoy more than self-improvement. Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment, but a whole season devoted to developing new goals and habits makes me giddy with excitement. What part or parts of myself do I want to focus on this year? Should I run more? Or eat healthier? Or learn a new language? Or develop a new hobby? Or lose weight? Or plant a garden? Or drink more water? Or redecorate my house? Or all of the above?

As the old year has drawn to a close, I enjoy reflecting on the progress I made and the areas I want to improve upon in this new year.

But if I’m being honest with myself, underneath the possibilities and the excitement is the fundamental assumption: I should change because I’m not good enough as-is.

I am really, really good at changing myself. I wish I could be proud of that statement, but I’m not, because I know the motivation of my heart.

Many years ago, I had a friend tell me, “Natalie, one of the things I appreciate about you the most is that you never stop looking for a way to change for the better.”  At the time I was incredibly flattered—someone noticed all my hard work! Over the years, however, I’ve begun to see the ugly truth about my motivations.

I was the friendless child. I was the little girl with a big heart and no social skills. I made an easy target for ridicule and rejection. And I hated it. I don’t know that there are words strong enough to express the kind of self-loathing and loneliness I felt.

But I had one secret weapon: I was a natural student of human behavior. I would ruthlessly assess my shortcomings and then systematically observe someone who was strong in that area or who demonstrated a skill I admired until I had mastered that skill as well. Were my clothes making me a target? I figured out fashion and trends. Was my vocabulary making me sound pretentious? I listened to my peers to pick up slang and idioms to sound more acceptable.

I viewed my life as a project. I believed if I could perfect myself, I would no longer be rejected. If I could erase the weaknesses and flaws, I would have friends.

And while I could quote all the right Bible verses about how much God loved me, and how He sent His son to die for me, sins and flaws and all, on a very deep subconscious level, I was incapable of believing that anyone could love me as-is – even God.

Change can be good, but when done out of fear, it becomes a trap.

I have been trapped in a cycle of self-perfection.

This year, God has asked me not to make resolutions that add to my life. I don’t need more habits, or disciplines, or hobbies. I don’t need more busyness.

What I need is more Jesus and less of the lies.

So this year I resolve to let go of my perfection, to let go of the comparison, to let go of the pretenses that I have built up to keep the real me safe from ridicule and rejection.

I’m cleaning house this year to make room for more Jesus.

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Remember Who You Are

I remember reading a story when I was a child where someone comes upon his friends and tells them, “I just saw the best thing in the whole wide world!”  They follow where he is pointing and they go and search long and hard all day, puzzling all the while about what the “best thing in the world” could possibly be.  A treasure?  A beautiful picture?  A feast?  Finally they come back exhausted. The first friend sees them again and asks, “Well, did you find it?”  Tiredly, they shake their heads.  He looks puzzled and points again at another friend, who has been sitting on his porch not too far away, simply enjoying the day.  “There,” he said, “it’s contentment.”

We are bombarded with input about who we should be, what we should have, how we should be spending our lives.  In the New Year, we are constantly asked if we have made resolutions, set goals, and made plans for the coming year.  Our culture is obsessed with the next best thing and the next best “me.”

New Year’s resolutions can be wonderful things.  I want to take more time to enjoy life. I want to be healthier.  I want to sleep more.  I want to spend more time with my family, with my friends, and less time at work. It is important to set goals and to figure out how to achieve them.

However, too often, we spend too much time on our resolutions and we forget the old adage that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have, and this not only about material things, but about ourselves as well.  It is ridding yourself of the self-loathing and the self-critique, and instead recognizing the truths about who you are.

For me, each year, it means that I have to remember that I don’t need to succeed or achieve to have worth.  I don’t need to be perfect; I don’t need to prove myself again and again; and it is okay if I let people down.  I am so blessed to have a husband who constantly reminds me that he places no expectations on me, and all the more so, Christ places no expectations on me of achieving greatness for Him. He loves me just as I am, because “I am fearfully and wonderfully made; [His] works are wonderful” (Psalm 139:14).

For you and many other women, it might mean that you need to remember and recognize that you are beautiful.  The Beauty Revolution started on January 1, in which women started to shed their makeup for social media, posting makeup-less pictures of themselves on Facebook. Does the thought make you feel naked? Exposed? What about if you don’t drop the pounds you gained last year?

It doesn’t matter.  God is saying to you, “My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places of the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (Song of Solomon 2:14). Remember that you are beautiful.

For others of you, it might mean that you need to remember that your worth is not in your children, not in your husband, not in having a family, but simply in Christ.  When your children mess up, when your marriage is in disarray, or when your nosy aunt asks you why you are still single, remember that you are still valuable, you still have worth, and you are still beloved by your heavenly Father who has called us His children (1 John 3:1).

Before Jesus began his ministry, God reminded Him of who He was: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).  He was grounded in His identity first, and so too should we.  Be content in who you are, not because of your accomplishments, your appearance, your family or your health, but because of who you are in Christ. This year, hear truth firs, before you march forward to achieve your resolutions.

Several years ago my aunt gave me Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen, saying that she likes to read it at least every couple years, if not every year, to remind herself of the truths about herself.  I’ve read it now a couple of times, and have been blessed by Nouwen’s simple words.  I leave you with his reminder:

“… all I want to say to you is ‘you are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold.  My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being – ‘You are the Beloved.’” ~ Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

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Repost: New Year, New Self-Control

Here at On the Willows, we publish a lot of articles about image, comparison, etc., because they tend to be major themes and struggles in women’s lives. For the New Year, we have a lot of great articles scheduled that will discuss New Year’s resolutions in more detail, as well as more articles on image and comparison. The two seem to go hand-in-hand because of the motives many resolutions spring from. We’re looking forward to publishing them so they can be an encouragement to you!

Today, I stumbled across this article on The Gospel Coalition blog by Jen Wilkin that addresses both topics. I thought it was definitely worth sharing and I hope you enjoy it!

New Year, New Self-Control , by Jen Wilkin

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on this topic!

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