Dear Recovering Perfectionist,
You know, Holy Week is our week. It’s our chance to appreciate the best story ever lived and told, and apply it to our lives. It’s our golden opportunity to RELAX (because we don’t do that enough!) and RELY on the FINISHED WORK of Jesus Christ. Because of our walk-the-line-of-all-things-rules default, we (most of the time) separate ourselves from humanity and grace.
Sadly, it affects all our relationships. People don’t get us, and it’s not because we make ourselves a mystery. We have a way that we see and hear and process and most people comfortable with average and laziness — or, who know how to give themselves a break — don’t know how to break the code.
Why doesn’t God just fix us?
This was my question in prayer recently. God, if this perfectionist thing is so unappealing to EVERYONE ELSE, then why not just fix me? I mean, I’m obviously the problem. But no, that’s not the way it works. You see for us, recovering perfectionists, it isn’t about being right as much as it’s about being validated for doing right. So after we do and give our best, and there is still more correction to take it’s near traumatic to hear and accommodate yet another non-perfectionist and be “less serious” or “more relaxed” or “give ourselves a break”…add this to whatever else you’ve been told.
For many of us these things are HARD SAYINGS. That’s where I want to bring our focus…on the hard sayings…two in particular. They include those things we sit and hear from others about the deficiencies they see in us and the requirements they make in their demands for us to change. And how from where they sit, change means small adjustments because we are smart, etc. So, here are a couple of instances when we consider hard sayings.
#1: WHEN A THING YOU’VE DILIGENTLY WORKED ON IS STILL A PROBLEM
Yesterday I listened to someone tell me things about myself that were hard to hear. Of course, in the moment introverted recovering perfectionists are near defenseless because we need processing time. And when challenged, there is the fear of saying and doing the wrong thing. And when we do our best and act with great caution, we can meet others’ disappointment and their accusations of us acting carelessly. And to us, it sounds like demolition — rejection, the greatest vulnerability.
A person with a Mary heart and Martha mind need more patience because it’s sometimes hard to tell if you want us better for ourselves or for you and the thing for which we’ve become your workhorse.
I listened and I struggled to agree with what I heard because in my mind it just was not so. But it was so, and I spent the hour after this meeting taking in this new awareness while collecting myself through tears and hurt feelings (and another Yes Lord to another round of change). It’s hard for the recovering perfectionist to KNOW their issue and ACTIVELY ADDRESS their issue, only to learn from a trusted voice that this remains an area for attention and improvement. It’s disheartening, to say the least.
#2: WHEN YOU GO BACK TO GOD AND RECEIVE RETROACTIVE GRACE
We need people to see the anomalies and point them out to us…because recovering perfectionists can overlook our little foxes (Song of Songs 2:15) that spoil our vines. It’s the trusted voices who take time to labor with us who we may consider God-sent with light and life (John 1:4)…while we listen to their hard sayings.
Stopping to breathe and go back to God with these new burdens creates an opening for the release of retroactive grace. It’s the grace we did not accept because we were busy being “perfect”. It’s the grace we ignored while we condemned ourselves for things that were not sin, but did not measure up to whatever “ideal” image we hold in our minds.
(perfectionism + legalism = need for emotional overhaul)
The enduring encouragement for the recovering perfectionist is that we can shed these false images of an “ideal” and just BE…with God and with others in perfect peace. It takes two things: 1) knowing God is greater than our tendencies and 2) letting this knowledge birth real confidence in us.
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. ~ 1 John 4:18-22 (emphasis added)
Please share with a recovering perfectionist you know. Maybe, you understand the internal struggle a bit more…since we’d have a heck of a time trying to explain it for fear of another reprisal or rebuke. We have to have a place we fit…and there, we flourish and thrive in safety. When the environments turn on us and call for more adjustment, we have to find a new fit. Once we find it and feel safe again, then growth can happen. But trust, it may not be like you want it or even as fast as you think it should happen.
Selah and love and grace and peace to all.