OK, I will admit it. I am a prefectionist.
I’m that guy in an interview that says, “Actually, sir, my greatest weakness is that I work too hard and care too much.”
I’m that guy who will lose sleep (and friends) over a lost game of Candy Land.
I’m that guy who still practices free throws at the gym and will not leave until he hits ten in a row, all net. (I am 5′ 6″. And 31 years old. And terrible at basketball.)
Seriously, you people out there who claim this as your identity, you know exactly what I mean. It’s a disease. First paragraph. Second sentence. Fourth word. I know you have looked back at it. And more than once. You are dying right now aren’t you!? You haven’t paid attention to a word I have written. Neither have I! Make it stop!
A lot of good has come from this over the years. Doing things well and fighting through the allure of mediocrity is not a bad thing. But let’s be real, perfectionism can bring just as much struggle.
For me, my desire to be perfect brings about a fear of failure. A fear of failure brings about a temptation to procrastinate. And when I procrastinate things don’t get done. And when things don’t get done, I get down on myself. And when I struggle with self-doubt, I forget who I am. And when I forget who I am, I sin. And when I sin, I forget who I was called to be. And when I forget who I was called to be, my gifts are suffocated, I suffer, the people around me suffer and the world in which I live suffers.
Doesn’t sound very prefect does it (sorry-had to make sure you were still reading).
You see, when we struggle with perfectionism, two of God’s greatest gifts, the ones that he lovingly cries out to us with anticipation and hope in His voice, fall on deaf ears.
We think we are loving God more by wallowing in our wounds of self-pity, but really we are just loving ourselves. We are denying God’s jealous desire to be who He is – Love and Mercy.
Because if we really take a step back from this whole perfectionism thing, what do we really see? We see me. Myself. And I. We see our individual desires, dreams and the failures that come along with them veiled in self-love and false humility. Our relationship with the God of the Universe who created us by Love, for Love and to Love, becomes a monologue in that awkward conversation you just cannot seem to segue out of. We get so caught up in our own struggles that we don’t stop and let God whisper his love and mercy in our ears. We don’t let Our God be who He is… God. A God of love. A God of Mercy. And a God who calls us His children.
I know from experience, dude.
My prayer is always to love God with everything that I am. My prayer is always to be a radical example of His love. My prayer above all is to want to love like I know He loves. But still I write this blog about perfectionism. And I do it pretty well.
A few weeks ago in prayer, I had a moment that opened my eyes to the reality of my struggle.
I was reflecting on the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry as told in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus had just been thrown out of his hometown. Not just thrown out, but tossed headlong down a hill. He got up, Jay-Zed his shoulders and went about his Father’s business. When he arrived at the next town, a leper came up to him and asked, “If you will it, make me clean.” Here is where the Holy Spirit sat me down and said, “Listen.”
I started to see Jesus as he saw Jesus in that very moment. I was kneeling on the dirty ground, covered in dust and old rags for clothes, looking up at Jesus with my hands open. As I waited for his response, he started to move closer to me. The noise around me slowly dissipated as Jesus knelt down in front of me. It was so intimate. As he inched ever closer, his long hair and beard shut-out the rest of the world. I tried with everything to look away. This sort of intimacy pained me, but overwhelming peace and purpose kept my eyes in place. I could feel his hand on my shoulder. His eyes, they were filled with something I had never seen before. The silence seemed like forever, but I did not want it to end. Ever. Every struggle I had ever had up to that point was gone in an instant. My sins, my wants, my sickness, the hurt. They seemed like a grain of sand in the wind. Finally, he spoke. “I will it. Be clean.”
I was healed. I was born anew. And it was not the healing that healed me. It was love. And it was mercy.
I prayed for awhile, reflecting on this man. How did he live the rest of his life? I know he struggled. But with every temptation, what did he remember? It was not the healing but only the love that he saw in the eyes of his Lord.
God looks at each person as his one and only, his favorite, his beloved. And because of that, our spiritual lives matter. Not just for us, but for the world. If we we are able to accept mercy, we can show mercy. If we are able to accept love, we can show love.
Look at St. Peter as an example. That man did some things.
He had the selfish desire to be the greatest among all the apostles. Jesus had to say, “Get behind me Satan!” to him. He denied his Lord and best friend, not once but three times. He was too afraid to be there when Jesus died naked on a cross for love of his soul.
Peter did some things. But Peter knew how to love and he knew how to accept mercy.
When Our Lord was resurrected, he went out to be with his friends and disciples. As he was walking on land, Peter and his companions spotted him from their boat. Peter yelled, pulled up his cloak, jumped out of the boat and swam-ran towards Jesus. It said in the next line, “they were 100 yards from shore.” Peter could not contain his love! He did not care how close he was to shore! I picture him like Will Ferrell in Elf screaming “Sanntaaa!”
Peter did some things. Some pretty bad things, in fact. But Peter was a man in love. And Jesus is faithful in his response to that love. That is all he wants from us. Not our self-loathing. Not our prideful desire to do everything right. Not our perfect. He wants us to be able to accept his perfect –
“Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
I want to leave you with this. It is an excerpt from the book, He and I. It was written by a French mystic named Gabrielle Bossi. Jesus spoke to her throughout her life and she recorded what he said. It contains some of the most beautiful words ever written. This is what Jesus said to her on January 3, 1948:
“Never mind if you haven’t kept your word, or if you have fallen lower than yesterday. If you despise yourself & tell Me so in sorrow, you needn’t be afraid to believe that you are in My heart. This heart, so great & good, so little like the hearts of men.
I AM COMPASSION, NOT MALICE. I carried you as a mother when I carried My cross. Then you can imagine what tenderness I feel when I hear you telling Me of your shortcomings, what eagerness to forgive you…
Oh, the tenderness of a Savior – who could ever fathom it? Who could even hear about it without being scandalized? So from time to time, be glad to be counted as nothing; to look at all that you lack, at the good that you failed to do; to see yourself in the faults you didn’t want to commit but committed after all. You may be sure you don’t see them all. I ALONE KNOW the number & the weight of them. And yet, I LOVE YOU. I AM LOVE.
Don’t offend Me by being afraid & running away. That’s what hurts love. Enter into My immensity like a little child who joyously seeks to drink & sleep on its mothers breast. Rest. Take strength for yourself. Take joy. Everything is in Me. For you.
Renew your trust & come back to your humble path ever nearer to Me. You know that your spiritual house is not firmly built & that its only foundations are in Me. When it topples down, I take the debris & build a new temple more beautiful than the last because you have humbled yourself. Think of this; it will help you to take pleasure in humiliations. Wasn’t I Myself intimately acquainted with humiliation during My entire life on earth? I – God. What company, My child!
You see, WHAT PAINS LOVE IS INDIFFERENCE, APATHY, STAGNATION. When it comes to Me, many people act as though I were still dead. But My child, I AM ALIVE and I’m NEAR them, in them, WAITING for them to talk to Me, to smile at Me. Waiting for their heart to beat a little for Me.
I require so little, am so readily pleased. I ONLY ASK TO BE INVITED & I LOOK AFTER THE BANQUET.”
So my prayer for this year is simple. Shut up and love already.
It’s time for me to get over myself. It’s time to get over my desire for perfection. You know, the selfish kind. It’s time for me to stop pretending that all this noise I am making about myself is love. If I have a God who became a man like me just so I could see his love, a God who says things like "I carried you as a mother when I carried my cross," a God who is just waiting for my heart to beat a little just for him…
Then who am I to get in His way.