Admissions of a Perfectionist
By Marcia Paliant
“All or nothing!” Little by little, without intent or even recognition, the statement, “All or nothing,” has become an excellent characterization of my life. My perfectionist and extremist tendencies have engraved this unhealthy mantra on my mind. The unfortunate result? A sometimes frequent frustration and exhaustion with life. In my defense, I am a visionary: inspired and creative to a fault. My “Ah-ha!” moments have resulted in gardens, large decorating projects, new ministries, books and more. My time and energies have not been wasted—but they have, at times, been exhausted! If I were able to stop and pat myself on the back for these accomplishments, the exhaustion might seem worthwhile – a good sort of tired. Sadly, along with my perfectionism is a merciless critic sniffing at this hard work: “You really slipped in this area. If you had only done this, it would have been better. Compared to that, this is almost juvenile.” This internal dialogue initiates pity parties, periods of self-loathing, and even depression.
Many people would likely be shocked by my admission. Only close friends, with whom I divulge my heart, would know of my struggle. The struggle to be better. The struggle to make up for past failures. The struggle to please my loudest critic—myself.
Recently my husband said, “You know what your problem is, don’t you? You just want to be the best at something to prove your value – not to others – to yourself. You really don’t believe you’re valuable if you aren’t extraordinary in some area.”
My first thought was, “How dare he suggest that?” Then the truth of what he said began washing over me. He was right! The truth had been spoken plainly and it stung, but it was also somewhat cathartic. “That’s why I’m so hard on myself and relentless in my pursuits,” I thought. “I was searching for a ‘wow’ factor.” The faulty wiring had been found. Without the “extraordinary,” I felt worthless. Wow!
In Romans 12:2, Paul instructs his fellow believers not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world. Instead, they were to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Then they would be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will. My mind needed an overhaul. I unknowingly accepted modern “make your mark” or “be the best” thinking. It took some time to realize I needed a transformation, but God’s Spirit has been speaking through His word, and renewal is happening. Here are some of the truths that are moving from my head to my heart.
Transforming Truth #1: I am valuable, because Christ loved me enough to die for me.
Romans 5:8 reads, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Believing this to be true, I can love and appreciate myself before I impress myself. If Christ loved and died for me while I was still lost and dead in my sin, I can cut myself some slack. I am not worthless, even if I’m not extraordinary in some form or another. I am valuable – as is.
Transforming Truth #2: I must decrease, so the HE can increase.
Trying to find the “wow factor” was simply me looking for a way to personally shine. Whether or not my purpose was to impress others, seeking to glorify myself was wrong. When Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, came to terms with Jesus being the prophesied Messiah, he said that he must decrease in order for Jesus to increase. John realized that detracting attention away from the leadership and honor of Jesus would be wrong. It wasn’t about gathering followers or shouting his message louder. The Messiah was here and needed to take a place of prominence. Jesus’s voice was the one that needed to ring out now. His job of preparation was done. Time to take a backseat.
John’s words are transforming my mind with regards to the role I need to play. All I say, do, and think must be about Jesus – not me. It is not about proving myself by being great or gathering a crowd. My place is to point others to Jesus. I must decrease, so the HE can increase.
Transforming Truth #3: In my weakness He is strong.
In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul shares his experience with weakness openly. First, he shares his struggle with unanswered prayer. I can relate to that! All the questions God’s silence stirs up: Why isn’t God acting on my behalf? Is my faith weak? Aren’t my motives pure? Hard times for Paul and us! Yet, in verse 9, Paul shares his “Ah-ha!” moment. I sense astonishment as if he sputters out in disbelief, “You know what? God’s grace is sufficient! He is enough, even in my worst-case, unanswered-prayer, scenario. Believe me! His power is made perfect in weakness. When I am weak, then am I strong!”
Sometimes we need to hit empty, fall down, and completely give up on ourselves. We need to stop depending on self and shift our faith completely over to God, who is actually able to get the job done. In fact, He is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or think. Hmm...this weakness thing might not be so bad after all. I admit I can't, ask God to, and then watch Him do! That I can handle.
These three transforming truths have truly changed my life. The list certainly is not complete, but something is happening for me. The faulty wiring is being replaced, and the nagging critic put in her place. There is a new divine power to silence and take back ground. The “All or nothing” mantra is in the process of being replaced by “Give all, even when it seems like nothing.” Thank you, Jesus.