Tag Archive | perfectionism

Coloring inside the lines….

My grade 4 elementary school year held such promise for me. My new teacher was from England and she spoke with a delightful accent. She was also pretty and it wasn’t long before I adored her.

I was a quiet, compliant student and very attentive, especially when my teacher talked. I could have sat for hours listening to her voice, soaking it in. I was enamored by her and wanted to please her and wanted to be special to her.

Looking back, I think in the mind of a 9 year old I envisioned my mom through her.  I knew that my mom had been from England and therefore she had an English accent even though I had never known her or heard her voice. She died when I was 6 months old and I was being raised by my aunt and uncle.  Back then there were no video cameras so she was never recorded and I was left to only imagine her voice.  All I had of her were a couple of blurry, black and white photos.

I remember the assignment vividly. We were to use our imagination and design and draw our own line of clothing. I was excited; finally I could do what I loved to do the most, which was draw. I would spend hours at home drawing, mostly horses and people….I could do this project!!

I eagerly began to design a girl wearing western wear. As a little girl who grew up on a farm surrounded by horses, my dream was to be a cowgirl and so this was perfect, I would design a cowgirl outfit, complete with cowboy boots and hat.

But I didn’t stop there!  Along with the girl I drew a horse beside her….I was on a role! I thought why not, when I saw ads in the magazines I always noticed the extra props and images used, so why not add a horse to my design.

I colored very carefully both the model and the horse, outlining and filling in the best I could. I very proudly took it to her and placed it on her desk along with the other drawings from my classmates.

Later that day as we sat on the floor encircling our teacher I eagerly awaited her compliments on my drawing, thinking she would be impressed with my imagination and my talent.

But instead of the expected grand compliment she held up my picture for the class to see and proceeded to scoff at the fact that I had a horse included.

“Who puts a horse in the picture”, she said, “it doesn’t belong”. The class laughed and I was humiliated. I thought that adding the horse was complementary to the western wear I’d designed, but I was wrong, and I was embarrassed and humiliated and I was a failure.

That day as a little girl I vowed to never, ever, do anything that would bring attention to myself again.

I would always color inside the lines….I would always do exactly whatever was asked of me. Who did I think I was…..

Author David Seamands once wrote, “Children are the best recorders, but the worst interpreters.” I find this to be so true. As children we can often vividly remember smells, colors, moments, feelings and conversations…our memories may be clear but the meanings from those memories may or may not be.

That day in the classroom I “recorded” what happened. But the deep hurt and rejection I felt and the voice that spoke in my head telling me to hide and never bring attention to myself was a bad “interpreter”.

As a child, who wasn’t capable of reason as I am today, allowed my teachers words (as well as the words of others) to shape what I thought of myself and how I lived….. And if I am honest, although I can rationalize my teacher’s reaction as thoughtless or tactless, if I am honest I admit that I still struggle at times to not live in hiding, to color only inside the lines, to never bring attention to myself.

Some of you may wonder why one incident would make such an impact, but to the little girl who believed so many lies already, it was simply one more rejection…one more hope dashed, one more humiliation, one more negative response in a long line of abandonment and dismissals.

The little girl in grade 4 had already formed an image of herself….she saw herself as unwanted…she believed she was the little girl that nobody wanted. She believed the lie she was worthless. She lived as one at such a tender young age who already knew what striving meant. What performance looked like in order to gain approval.

 As a little girl, I learned very early that I had to be perfect because when I wasn’t I paid for it. I learned to color inside the lines….And now years later as an adult, I am a woman who still wrestles at times to color outside the lines….to not want to hide, to let go of the striving to be the good girl, to be accepted and approved of. Even now there are times of not wanting to be known, fearing that people will think of me as stupid or wrong, that I am a poser after all.

 Although my past has been sordid my present is predictable. It is a place that I feel safe…..hiding from the things I fear.

 And though the drive to “color inside the lines” serves me well at times, it can sometimes be an obstacle to enjoying God’s grace and love.

Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

 

 The beautiful gift of Jesus is that he longs to call us out from behind the masks we wear, the lives of hiding and the lies we believe and into the hiding place of grace….

God created you and me to be something special, unlike anyone else who has or will ever live.

If you are a follower of my blog I do hope that you will join me as I unpack this whole area of hiding…of mask wearing…as I continue in my journey of shedding the heavy cloak of striving and running into the arms of Jesus, the ONE who offers me freedom…as He offers it to all of us…..

My friends…..

Don’t be afraid to dance when others sit on the sidelines.

Don’t be afraid to sing when the world tells you to be quiet.

Don’t be afraid to offer your voice when others demand silence.

Don’t be afraid to zig when others zag.

Don’t be afraid to color the world with your presence.

Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines.

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A perfect life or a perfect God

Something happened this week that triggered hurt and angry emotions for me….this hasn’t happened in such a long time…a trigger that seems to push my “buttons” is when someone says something to me that makes me feel “foolish” or “stupid”…and then shame soon follows and doesn’t  want to let go…it hangs on with a tenacity that sucks the life right out of me. And then I find myself “beating myself up” again, emotionally….feeling totally defeated. It’s an old pattern that trips me up from time to time.

Then the next day I was taking a day trip so I had a total of 7 hours of driving alone. It gave me time to pour out my heart to God, to talk and to listen….. As I drove, with tears blurring my eyes, I simply spoke aloud to God all that I was feeling

 His Words back to me in the silence of the car was simply this: “you extend grace to others so easily, when are you going to extend grace to yourself?”

He nailed it!! But what does extending grace to myself look like? As I continued pouring out my heart to Him I confessed that I was tired of beating myself up, tired of not forgiving myself….I cried out to Him admitting that I am not perfect, I make mistakes, I sin, I am not like so and so, I am tired of trying to be like everyone else, or tired of trying to please everyone else….I just want to be me…to be who my Heavenly Father created me to be….I want to be authentic…and true and real….the pain was real and raw and as I spoke each word I sensed His presence….eventually His peace filled the car…..

Words that a kind counselor said to me years ago came back to my mind- “you need to cut yourself some slack!!” As it was then, I struggle with this. What does this really look like?

Striving, living in fear of making mistakes, performance based living….is a crazy dance that involves jumping through hoops repeatedly. Trying to be a good Christian makes me tired and worn out-exhausted in my own efforts. Just thinking about it leaves me feeling tired, and the goal of a perfect life seems even more elusive.

It’s tiresome focusing my energy and devotion on pleasing other Christians and striving to make myself more desirable in my own eyes, or trying to earn acceptance and value based on what I do.

Jumping through hoops puts the emphasis on doing rather than being, on personal performance rather than abiding in Perfection.

I read today that God does not demand perfection in you. God is not expecting you to measure up. God never thought that you could live the Christian life, nor does he expect that you could actually meet his holy standards. If he thought that you could, he wouldn’t have come to earth to die for you. But he did.

It is the difference between independently trying to perform for God, verses depending on God and relying on him to live through you. We do not mature into independence from God. We mature only by remaining dependent upon him, and that’s the way he wants it. He wants you to enjoy the freedom and love of being in relationship with him, trusting him, depending upon him. He is not expecting you to perform for him.

 I know in my head the ONLY thing we are called to do in this life is to be the beautiful, unique human being God created each of us to be. Human beings are NOT perfect. A few years ago the Lord began the work of stripping away my perfectionism….He spoke to my heart about AUTHENTICITY. And I soon realized that perfectionism is one of the primary blocks to authenticity. We are called to be WHOLE, not perfect. Now if these truths could just move from my head to my heart!!

This past year God repeatedly seems to be speaking to me about grace….little did I know that authenticity and grace would one day meet!!

When we read about Job in Scripture we find that after all of Job’s long trials and a deep depression, he made a statement near the end of the book named after him. “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5, NIV).

That is how I felt driving in the car that day…no longer were those words such a mystery to me but they began to make sense. As long as I continue trying to achieve my own perfection, or a perfection someone else demanded of me, I continue to hold Him so far away that I really only hear of Him.

But the moment I give up and embrace my utter weaknesses and failures, Christ reveals Himself in a way that has me “desiring for” and “longing after” Him.

Becoming as little children once more….

Outside perfectionism hides a lot of inside pain.

 How true I have found that statement to be. I was reflecting the other day on my childhood, the good and the bad. I was definitely a tom-boy and loved to spend my days climbing trees, exploring the pastures, mucking out the stalls in the barn, basically doing whatever it took to avoid the kitchen and helping in the house.

I was much more comfortable being outdoors than indoors. Looking back I realize that at my core I was a fairy tale romantic. I loved nothing better than being on a horse, galloping bareback through the fields, basking in the sun-kissed days of summer.

Funny how when I look back I can see that part of me was a happy go lucky, free spirited kind of child/young girl….yet there was the other part that was a worrier, an emotional child/girl that sought approval from everyone around her. In many ways I think it was normal, because as kids and teenagers we are sorting out our place in the world, where we fit in etc. But I also know that a lot of it was me trying to put a band aid over all that wasn’t perfect in my life.

I believed that if I could be and do what everyone wanted then I could draw attention away from myself, even forget the tension and anxiety that engulfed my home and my life. My aunt worked hard both at home and outside the home. She ran her own business for over 20 years. She also kept an immaculate home, and was gifted in hospitality too.

Somewhere in my growing up years I came to believe that I could do it all too~no matter the cost….if she wore the superwoman cape then I could wear one too…and if I put myself first then I was selfish… I had to be perfect in all areas.

 Trust no one, do everything myself, become self reliant not needing anyone.

But over the years as I’ve walked with my Savior I’ve learned to slowly let go of my perfectionistic tendencies….journaling allowed me to put a voice to my hurt, my wounds, my pent up anger and my distrust….learning also to let those in my life now offer their support….I’ve learned to reclaim the happy memories…but most of all I’ve had to confess my self reliant cover up sin to God. I’ve had to come clean about my failure to believe in and trust God 100 %, learning to co-labor with Him in all areas of my life.

I have learned, and am still learning, to be honest with myself and with God. And that even though the world praises self-sufficiency it can become a prideful trap and ensnare you. I’ve had to work at understanding how I cope with things I can’t control and the effect it has on me. I’ve had to work at forgiveness and most importantly vulnerability and trust.

Romans 10:11 says: “Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”

And

 “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, You will never enter the Kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 18:3)

Jesus wants us to be without pretense, especially when we come to him in prayer. Why do we often try to be something we aren’t? Why do we spend so much energy trying to be spiritual, to get it right? We know we don’t have to clean up our act in order to become a Christian, yet when it comes to talking with our Lord and walking with Him we forget that. As adults we try to fix ourselves, to become perfect.

In contrast, Jesus wants us to come to him like little children, just as we are. In fact we need to come to Him~ messy!!

It’s sad that we are often so busy and overwhelmed, striving to be perfect, that when we slow down to pray, to talk with our Father we don’t know where our hearts are.

Yet, when I come to God and take off my spiritual mask, letting the real me meet the real God~ I find Him…

Today my perfectionism is more of a shadow. Although it sometimes still looms near it doesn’t overshadow my life like it once did. I’ve had to at times “force” myself not to be “perfect”…going out in public with hardly any make-up on, or giving myself permission to have a junk drawer. (You perfectionist control mongers know what I mean!!)

And as I sit and write this I confess that my kitchen is a mess, dishes need to be put in the dishwasher, cups and plates from last night are scattered all over the countertops-evidence of family and fun times….toys are strew from one end of the house to the other, again evidence of precious grandchildren having been here…and as I sip the last of my coffee this morning I think perhaps I will leave the mess a bit longer and head outdoors for a walk…funny how underneath the striving and the grown-up world~our childhood actions never quite leave us…its sometimes just a matter of becoming like little children again….learning to play and have fun…

I’m off for my walk now-the kitchen can wait….

Letting go of perfection….

Do you ever think it is dangerous to let the real, mistake-making you show? I did, so I fashioned a disguise, a mask called perfection.

Perfection can be defined as an unhealthy pattern of thoughts and behaviors that we use to conceal our flaws. It has two dimensions, relational and personal. On the personal level it serves to compensate rather than conceal. Relationally, it is intended to conceal our flaws.

A perfectionist fears failing in any area of life. And when we do fail it results in self-criticism which leads to loss of self-esteem.

Is it possible that perfectionism is a rejection of biblical truth about our sin-brokenness?

We may look like butterflies to others but for the perfectionist we know we are really just caterpillars, only no one has noticed yet. Shame bound perfectionists live with what I’ve heard described as the Imposter Phenomenon.  It’s a name given to the experience of an individual who has the feeling that if they did achieve something of significance or importance, they really just faked their way through it. What’s more, eventually someone is going to recognize it and label them as inadequate and unworthy at any moment now.

Having lived this way for years I can testify that there is hope. The sense of relief and freedom that came once I was released from this bondage was worth the effort it took to change. But change came only as I made new choices.

The kingdom of God is truly a paradox, and being released from feeling shame over my own imperfections is found in embracing these paradoxes and when I do, they are liberating.

The liberating paradox of my worth: I must accept that I am unworthy but not worthless. We may spend a lot of time trying to figure out who we are. But our Creator has the truth and we find His answer at the cross and the liberating paradox that it represents.

The liberating paradox of God’s grace: I spent so many years trying to hide the fact that there was anything wrong with me. It’s when I can acknowledge my own sinful imperfection and trust Jesus that I receive God’s grace. Embracing this liberating paradox releases me from shame because it shatters the chains that kept me from being all God plans for me.

The liberating paradox of potential: Perfectionism paralyses. When I can embrace my limited potential it frees me to achieve more of my potential. If I can accept the truth that neither myself or anyone else is perfect it then liberates me to dream, take a chance, dare and be more than I ever could be when constrained by the grip of perfectionism.

As we grow, we learn more about the dynamics of functional and dysfunctional families and that enables us to perceive our childhood experiences more accurately. And as we understand the effects of those childhood experiences we are better able to understand why we make the current choices and relationships. I learned to exchange my “perception”.  I had to recognize that I so often attempted to create my own self-righteous perfection rather than accepting God’s way and exchange the truth of God for the lies.

Yet, as believers in Christ we all too often skip over the most powerful resource we have, the indwelling Holy Spirit. He goes unnoticed or unused by us when we so desperately need His guidance and wisdom. Quoting Dan B. Allender, “God’s path is paradoxical. We are drawn to Christ because we want life, and want it more abundant. He gives us life that leads to abundance, via brokenness, poverty, persecution and death. The life He invites us to lead causes us to lose ourselves so that we can find ourselves, to lose our life so that we can have life.”

The work of the Holy Spirit does not lead to sinless perfectionism. That awaits us in heaven. Change is possible but not perfected until heaven.

If we are going to recover from our perfectionist why of thinking and behaving we need to understand that it is a continual choice based on truth. This truth sets us free from the oppression of trying to live up to the impossible, high self-imposed standards we’ve set for ourselves.

I am learning to not fear imperfection realizing that it doesn’t reveal my unacceptable difference from others. It reveals I am human. Choosing to be real instead of perfect is far easier and better for me….it allows me to enjoy life as a journey rather than perfection as a destination.

The Butterfly Lie

Do you often feel like a caterpillar in a world full of butterflies?

Meal times were always stressful in our home growing up. We never knew if it was going to be a peaceful mealtime or a time filled with stress. The mood of my uncle was our barometer. If he was in a good mood, then we were all in a good mood, laughing and joking. Yet we knew that atmosphere could change in an instant. So we learned to eat quickly and behave, never wanting to be the “one” to cause a sudden change in his mood.

One very vivid memory stands out in my mind. I believe this is where the lie of perfectionism took root for me. Or at least it ingrained it in my mind that day.

This particular mealtime was a happy one, peaceful even. We were enjoying our food and were somewhat relaxed that evening. I innocently asked for more milk. My uncle suggested that I pour my own glass.

In those few moments everyone waited to see what I would do. We all new this could be one of those times when we were being set up. If I refused to pour my own milk he could get angry, the mood broken. And if I chose to pour it myself and spilt the milk then there would be hell to pay.

 I made a decision and took my chance. I cautiously and with great care lifted the milk jug and poured milk into my glass, careful not to spill a drop. I, even at age 8, meticulously accomplished the task. I was quite proud of myself. But I should have known it wasn’t good enough.

Too late I realized my mistake. It mattered not that I’d poured the milk into the glass not spilling a drop, what mattered is that I didn’t hold the jug and pour it the way “he” thought I should….the façade of peace around the supper table exploded. My uncle, in an instant rage, began yelling in my face, spit flying from his mouth, eyes dark with anger and the next thing I knew the perfectly poured glass of milk was thrown in my face.

The rest of the family sat in stunned silence, too afraid to even breathe. I quietly and obediently sat still in my chair with milk dripping down my hair and face. All the while tears pouring from my eyes, silent tears as I uttered not a sound. I was too frightened to move, to speak, to breathe, because I knew if I did I would then feel the end of his cowboy boot as he sent me to bed without any supper.

And so we all finished our supper in silence. The jovial mood broken and it was my fault. Why could I do never do anything right? Why couldn’t I be perfect?

I was terrified of making choices. No matter what I did I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. That night as a little girl I learned that it was more important to be perfect than to be real. If only I had done it perfectly I would not have been hurt, and somewhere the lie took root that if I could live a perfect life then the pain would go away and I could avoid future pain.

…to be continued……