Hello, everyone. This post was written by a dear friend of mine. I asked her to tell her story in regards to perfection, and I was very touched by it. I hope it's as inspirational to you as it was to me. Please leave any comments or encouragements at the bottom. I'm sure she'd really appreciate it.
Perfectionism stems from an internal struggle against who we truly are by nature with all our flaws and deficiencies. We see our weaknesses and limitations; we are intimately acquainted with all that is deeply defective and ugly in our lives. Simply hearing that "no one is perfect" isn't enough to appease our discontentment. We allow special circumstances for ourselves, because everyone may struggle but certainly not like this.
We either live our lives under-achieving, because we don't see how we can rise above our limitations, or we fight and attempt to prove to ourselves and to others that we are capable of so much more. What both of these perspectives share in common is that perfection is idolized as the standard for what is acceptable. Because that standard is unattainable, we often find ourselves frustrated and dissatisfied.
We all struggle with the idea of perfection in various ways. My experience is manifested in the ways that I struggle with my imperfections.
Growing up, I never understood that there were aspects of my personality as an introvert that were actually okay. All I could see was my inability to acclimate into social settings with my peers. I always stood out, because I was always abnormally tall and skinny for my age. I hated the attention, because I never knew what to do with it. In many ways, I have always been socially awkward and even inept. I never knew how to make small talk with the kids sitting next to me, so I would keep quiet. But then I would be asked on a multitude of occasions why I never spoke, which only embarrassed me further. It's one thing to feel like you don't belong and it's another to be consistently confronted with that fact. So I experienced rejection. I felt like a social pariah. I couldn't make friends during group projects, and I had no one to play with on the playground. What was wrong with me? I very quickly learned in my elementary years that I must not have been as good as everyone else. I was, somehow, less than. Everyone around me was special, because they were well liked and had friends. I didn't get to be special, and I wasn't just "far from perfect." I was defective.
In middle school, I was surrounded by popularity-hungry cliques. The only group that I even came close to fitting in with was the other social outcasts. So, I would gravitate toward them because they felt safe. I couldn't be safe with anyone else, because I never said the right things, and since I was poor growing up, I never dressed the right way either. Some of the most memorable pain I experienced was just going to the cafeteria for lunch every day. It was such a simple activity and yet it filled me with anxiety. I hated the loud, crowded cafeteria with no place to sit. There were days when I could spot a few empty chairs with some non-threatening and kind people. Other days I would just be forced to find a place among people I knew I didn't belong with. I knew that, because they would tell me or ask "why are you sitting here?" Every single day I felt severe dread and anxiety during lunch time. Then one day, in the 7th grade, someone threw a binder across the cafeteria, and it hit me in the face. EVERYONE laughed while I sat there and cried. My glasses were bent out of shape. It was purely an accident, but imagine how that feels for the girl who tries to go as unnoticed as possible. I remember looking down at my glasses and feeling just as broken as they looked. So, after that day, I never ate in the cafeteria again. Yes, I was that kid who hid out in the bathrooms instead of going to lunch even though that was against the rules. I never got caught, and to this day, I don't know if it was because I was so invisible that no one noticed or if the teachers understood and let it slide. I still hate cafeterias to this day.
I was sexually abused as a kid. That’s also had a major impact on my life. It happened off and on in my early elementary years. At first, I really never understood what was happening. All I knew was that I couldn't tell anyone because it was bad, and that I felt dirty. As I grew older, that dirty feeling never left. I can now call that feeling by its proper name: shame. Shame, when it is isolated and negatively reinforced, has a way of wearing down the soul. I think, the older I got, the dirtier I felt, because I began to piece together that those experiences weren't normal. I wasn't normal. There must have been something wrong with me to have been chosen by more than one abuser.
The more I experience rejection, the more it falsely reinforces that yeah, I'm really messed up, and everyone can see it.
So I never knew how to give or receive love appropriately. My boundaries had been violated. Who I was as a person was constantly rejected. I never talked about it. Any of it. I never mentioned being made fun of in school or feeling lonely and sad all the time. And as time passed, I didn't know how to talk about it, and I felt even more ashamed that certain things had even happened to me. At home, I pretended that everything was perfectly fine. At school, I pretended I was perfectly unfazed. I felt that admitting to those things would surely make me feel even more worthless. So I hid it and tried to be perfect in any other way that would make up for how I really felt on the inside. I did everything I could to always be the good girl. Maybe then I would feel “good.”
In high school I became a Christian. I realized that there was a God out there who saw me when I felt forgotten and disregarded by everyone else. A God who cared about the anxiety and depression I struggled with and decided that I was a person who was important enough to pursue. This was the happiest I had ever been in life.
Then going to church became difficult. Yes, I would still go, but I began to feel that acceptance slipping away. I didn't realize the legalism of the church I attended until after I left for college, but it made me feel so isolated. I would sit in a church pew by myself, off to the side, looking at all the beautifully put-together women who were always in skirts and dresses. Then I would look at my jacket with the stains on the sleeves and the jeans that weren't always long enough (tall people problems). Yet another place where I felt like I couldn't belong. All the "good" teenagers there went to the church's Christian school while I was just that public school girl who always wore jeans to church. When they spoke to me it just felt like they were sorry for me. So even though I had finally found acceptance with God, I felt that rejection pierce deeper into me. There was always something wrong with who I was.
In college, I felt crushed by my imperfections. I felt like I could not rise above my limitations and the things that made me feel so defective. I really struggled, because I had been looking forward to a fresh start to reinvent myself so much, but I saw that the same patterns and habits had been permanently cemented into my life. Who was I to think that God could fix me? I must really be beyond repair. I struggled with perfection in that I felt constantly beaten down by the weight of my imperfections. And if everyone was imperfect, why did I feel like the only one stuck like this?
Getting to that point in my life, where I continually felt crushed, took years. What I needed to learn was that healing, in turn, would also take years. There is no time limit for how long it can or should take to replace faulty thinking patterns and negative habits.
Going into my junior year of college, God taught me that He loves a “challenge.” He never gave up on me, even when I gave up on myself. And even though I completely failed him every single day. I’m sure Christ delighted in proving me wrong in the work that I thought would be impossible to accomplish in my life. I’m sure He delighted in giving me hope and helping me see, that what I found to be challenging, He found to be rather simple.
When I was alone, he gave me friends I could have authentic conversations with about real life struggles. Friends who understood and never tried to change or “fix” me. Friends who accepted me as I was and showed me that I wasn’t the only one who was weak. These friends helped me see that I wasn’t only weak, but that there were areas in which I was actually strong. They taught me that it’s okay to have weaker areas because as members in the community that God intends for us all, we make up the body of Christ; each part is unique and vital. The joy is not just in knowing the importance and value of the part that you play. It is also realizing that where you lack, there’s a brother or sister to support you, and the real blessing is being able to give back and support others with your strengths.
That’s where my healing began, in community. God knew what this anxious and isolated girl needed the most. This is why I believe that one of the most important messages in Perfect is the emphasis placed on not going through life’s struggles alone, because we were never intended to do that. Isolation can easily become the enemy’s playground, where he is given the power and opportunity to wreak the most destruction in our lives. We don’t have to let him have that kind of power.
This is what has made a tremendous difference in my life. No, it wasn’t easy, and it took four years to get to where I am today. This is just a small snapshot, but I’ve shared enough for you to be able to understand me a little better. Hopefully, enough for you to understand the freedom I felt and still feel when I discovered that God gives me an option other than perfection or failure. An option that invites my weary soul to cling to Him and find rest. The kind of rest that people and circumstances alone can’t offer. He gives me the option of confronting the lies that I believe about myself every day, and the option to exchange them for His truth. It’s a daily process of looking into God’s word, seeing the truth therein revealed about myself, and asking Him to help my unbelief. I’ll be honest. Many days the lies will win. But over time, the truth gains ground and takes root, and I notice old parts of myself begin to starve. Maybe they don’t die, but their voices aren’t nearly as loud. The progress may be slow and painful, but I feel the chains of bondage loosen, and I begin to understand how Christ completely changes everything.
And with the changed perspective that He has given to me, I continually see Him affirm in me that I can be loved, and I can be set free from the bondage that is striving for perfection, despite my biggest protests and even bigger shortcomings.