Getting Off the Bus of Perfectionism
Perfectionism is a bus driven by shame. It drives the two-way street toward pride or despair. For much of my life, I’ve been a passive passenger on this bus, letting it drive me wherever it wants to go. That’s what we do, you know. Most of our lives we let ourselves be driven around by something other than our true north (God, and our identity in Him), whether it be someone else’s expectations, our wounds and vows, or our disordered desires. Maybe we are on multiple buses. It doesn’t really matter which one we’re on, what matters is that we realize we’re on them, and we learn to get off. Perhaps healing is just getting off of one bus at a time… but I suppose that’s a thought for another post.
Shame’s copilot is comparison (I realize I’m mixing analogies, but I think you get the idea). When things are going well, it is so easy to see how much better I am than others: I would never let my house look like that, my child won’t be playing that horrible game, at least I don’t do that terrible sin. And the bus is speeding down the road to pride.
But then, inevitably, because I’m actually not perfect, I mess up. I make mistakes. I fight with my husband or I yell at my kids or we show up at the library and the kids have no shoes on. And it’s a u-turn towards despair. Now I can feel the judgmental eyes turn to me (the same ones, of course, that I had turned out to others) because I can just never get it right, I don’t have a clean enough house, and I am actually not that good of a wife and mom.
One night, I was wrestling with both pride and despair in the aftermath of an argument with Mark. Is it possible for the bus to travel in both directions at the same time? More likely it is just really quickly u-turning… Speeding toward pride because I was obviously right, the anger was consuming me. But wait, I realized, holding onto this hurt and anger is wrong., and I should apologize. It was too late, the anger was too much, and I couldn’t let it go. Shame turned the bus around and down the path to despair I went: I’m a terrible wife, my anger is out of control, I can’t believe I said that, our marriage is hopeless…
As I was praying over this, struggling over both my brokenness and his, God put these words on my heart: imperfect people, perfectly loved.
I took comfort in those words. Because this is what we all are. We are broken, inclined to sin, “stumbling toward wholeness” to borrow a phrase from a new favorite book (Stumbling Toward Wholeness by Andrew Bauman), yet we are so perfectly loved by a perfect God.
Shame is an imposter placed in our hearts by the enemy, a direct result of sin (ours or someone else’s) as we consent to the lie that, “I am bad.” But we don’t have to accept the lie. We have the power to reject it, to stop the bus, and walk out of perfectionism. Instead, we can respond to being imperfect with humility, empathy, and gratitude: humility, because we are not perfect and can never be on our own, empathy, to relate to the imperfections and mistakes of others, and gratitude, the natural response to the perfect love and mercy of God.
We are imperfect people, perfectly loved.
There’s a freedom in that. I hope you feel it, too. It’s an awareness that when we do mess up, it’s not catastrophic. In fact, it’s expected. And although sin is never ok, we have a loving Father who we can run back to for forgiveness and renewal. And He is always ready to offer it.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, RSV-CE)