A short piece on perfectionism that will appear in Prayer’s from The Water’s Edge.
I have a companion. I’ve known her since childhood. When I ran races in high school and college she made me run one more mile. As a student she made me proofread essays one more time and listen to the tape of the class to make sure I didn’t miss anything important the first time around. As a pastor she makes me wonder if I am doing a good enough job or not.
I’ll give her credit where it is due. Any excellence I have achieved, I most likely owe to her. I have some medals and trophies and diplomas and awards. She helped me attain every one of them.
She also caused me a lot of stress over the years. The extra miles caused a dozen injuries. The pages cost me social interaction. Reading and writing are done alone. I think of the times the boys wanted me to play or talk and I was too busy or distracted doing the work of the church. For all her possibilities, in the grand scheme of things, she has been a pretty cruel companion.
Her name: Perfectionism.
When I was a kid, I heard a saying from many people I looked up to: “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.” I wish I hadn’t listened.
I think of the people I didn’t meet. The things I didn’t try. The opportunities I missed. The days filled with stress. The unnecessary nights of anxiety. Perfectionism fears rejection and failure.
Although I still occasionally call on her, she is no longer welcome in my life because I finally figured something out: I’m not perfect. Perfectionism sent me on an incessant and endless chase of the unattainable. I jumped off that treadmill. I’m not recovered, but recovering.
I still set goals, but they are more attainable these days. I’m more likely to say “no” to people than I was a decade ago. I see the value in failure and the lessons it teaches. I’m becoming fine with not being able to please everybody all the time. Rejection from people will happen; so does acceptance from God. I’ll most likely never take a casual approach to quality in my work, but I am learning to accept good enough.
Sometimes I wonder if life’s tasks become more important than people. Or if the quest for the perfect life becomes more important than a quest for the perfect Christ. Embrace imperfection. It happens. We are human. A human who is loved by a perfect God who gives Himself for you and to you daily.