I am a perfectionist. There, I admit it. I didn’t used to think I was. I thought perfectionists were all about getting the good grades at school and I was pretty convinced I didn’t care about things like that. It turns out there are more ways to be a perfectionist than the stereotypical one.
My perfectionism means I want to get it all right all the time or else give up. It means that I don’t want to admit weakness. It means that I don’t want to try at stuff I’m not immediately good at. Oddly I didn’t give walking or talking a try before I knew I could walk across a room or give a complete answer to my Dad’s question of ‘what are you doing…?’ my answer of ‘what’s it look I doing?’ might not have been a very grammatically correct sentence but it was clearly a complete phrase and the first words I said. (and betrays some of my smart arsed cheeky nature early on…).
Perfectionism isn’t one of those nicely acceptable weaknesses to mention in job interviews, you know the score: “Tell me your weaknesses” : “I really hate to leave work uncompleted” “Some people have called me over-diligent”. Perfectionism can lead some people in this direction but it also has a darker side. It’s not a weakness that isn’t really a weakness, it’s a genuine crippling disease.
It has a dark side that leads me to give up before I’ve even tried in case I fail. It leads me to beat myself up because I have failed to meet my standards, the standards I think others set around me and the standards that I think God has.
Worst of all it stops me learning and growing. It’s paralysing. I find it hard to hear constructive criticism as I think if my talk/work/friendship isn’t perfect then I am a complete failure and must never be of any use. If I fail in one area I assume I am useless and will always be a failure. If I don’t nail a talk I’m giving then I think I must be hopeless at all Christian Ministry and that’s why I’m not doing it full time. Urgh. You see the problem.
Getting married forced me to admit that I really was a perfectionist and it really needed to be dealt with. Being a perfectionist in marriage means I hate myself when I do anything to annoy or irritate my husband, it means if I hurt him, if we argue, if we can’t seem to communicate I see no hope out of the situation and think our whole marriage is on the rocks. Pretty exhausting for all concerned. Things are changing, I’m not as crazy as I was in our first year of marriage (well not in that particular area anyway). God has been patiently revealing the crazy taskmaster inside me which pushes me beyond reason and beats me with sticks when I get it wrong.
God says its really not about me trying to get it right all the time. It’s about gazing on his beauty. Soaking in his lavish love. Remembering his grace. Being strengthened by that rather than my performance, or lack of performance. Tackling my perfectionism means I let new ideas float around my head. I’ve been pondering the value of life long learning recently, I was hanging out with friends who seemed really eager to grow, eager to get feedback, not to bolster their egos (which is why I want feedback) but to really get better at what they do.
I’m preaching in church on Sunday and I want to have this new attitude as I give the talk. It’s not going to be the best talk that ever was written. It’s not going to be the worst either. It will have moments of insight, moments when I haven’t fully grasped the passage, in a few years time I might think that I could have approached it in a different way or used different applications but that’s ok. It’s a sermon that I’ve been asked to give and I will give it. God will deal with how his word goes down in peoples hearts and there will be areas that it could be improved. That won’t stop his work (phew) and knowing those areas will help me next time.
It really is radical for my head to realise these things. I want to grow and develop. I don’t want my perfectionism to paralyse me and keep me stuck. I want to know the freedom of grace which says that these weaknesses aren’t to be hidden away, grace says that these weaknesses are made perfect (oh the irony…) in God, in his strength. I long to learn the freedom to fail, to learn and to try again. That freedom is found in asking for God’s help, admitting I can’t do it on my own and resting again in His love. From his arms comes the strength and courage to keep on trying, to keep on growing and keep on loving when I have failed to love.