I’ve been striving for perfection for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure how or when it started. Maybe it is a subconscious desire for my perfect state in heaven. I don’t really know, but on this side of heaven perfect is not going to happen. I know that I’m not perfect and yet I haven’t truly accepted it. I am still disappointed when I fall short. Sometimes my fear of doing something wrong cripples and paralyzes me from doing anything at all.
I was always so impressed with my husband’s ability to practice his guitar and banjo in front of me. When he messed up he kept going without as much as an “oops” or a flush of the cheeks. I, on the other hand, refused to practice my penny whistle in his presence. I couldn’t get through a song without messing up and I was embarrassed at how bad I was. Even when I was alone I found myself forcefully acknowledging every mistake. Each mistake would be followed up with an “oops”, a “that’s not right”, or a “wait”. I had this fear that people would judge me and think “She thinks she is so good, but she really sucks”. I guess I felt like if I called myself out on my mistakes then they would know, that I knew, that I sucked. Now is that insane or what?! The most insane part of it is that I wouldn’t ever let anyone hear me play anyway, so no one even had an opportunity to judge, and yet I still apologized for my mistakes.
I knew that no one was perfect. I knew that even the best musicians had to start at the beginning, but I did not allow myself that grace. When Dean messed up a song over and over again I found myself listening intently for that moment when he got it right. When he finally got it I was so excited for him I cheered for him in my heart (and sometimes out loud). I felt the joy of his accomplishment. Why wouldn’t I let people experience that with my accomplishments?
I thought about this for a long time. I did want people to be joyful with me when I accomplished something, but I didn’t want them to experience my messy disasters leading up to it. I feared that no one would stick around long enough to see me accomplish anything. I feared that I wasn’t enough without the accomplishment. And there I was again: the fears that reek of Liz.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God told Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God tells me the same thing. God reminds me that His power is made perfect in my weakness. This has nothing to do with my power or my perfection, but His. My fear that I am nothing without perfect accomplishments are rooted in lies. When I tear myself apart over my imperfections I am basically telling God “Your grace isn’t good enough for me. I need more than Your perfect power, I need to be perfect too.” Who do I think I am, telling God he isn’t enough?
God has told me over and over again that He loves me as I am. He proved to me over and over that He loves me in all my mistakes. Why isn’t that enough for me? You see, the sinner in me has a desire to do it myself. I want to fix everything myself. I don’t want to have to rely on anyone other than me. Why? Because I don’t trust others. People have let me down in the past. I have been hurt and abandoned by people I trusted. I have this flawed thinking that if I can create a perfect life then I will be happy. It’s all about me and what I can do. I am here to tell you that even you will let yourself down.
Have you ever heard of the Babylon mentality? It is described in Isaiah 47:10-11
“You have trusted in your wickedness
and have said, ‘No one sees me.’
Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you
when you say to yourself,
‘I am, and there is none besides me.’
11 Disaster will come upon you,
and you will not know how to conjure it away.
A calamity will fall upon you
that you cannot ward off with a ransom;
a catastrophe you cannot foresee
will suddenly come upon you.”
“I am, and there is none besides me.” I always thought this mentality was just about selfishness: throwing others under the bus to save your pride, taking the larger piece of cake, etc. I had no idea it applied to me and my desire for perfection. That was until I woke up in the middle of the night with a tickle in my throat. It’s crazy how God can speak even through an annoying little tickle.
It was three in the morning and this stupid tickle would not cease. I tried everything: tea, cough drops, water, honey, etc. I was up for almost an hour and every swallow would tickle my throat more and add to my frustration. I knew the problem: tickle; I knew the solution: no more tickle, so I started to pray, “God, if you could just take this tickle away I would be able to fall asleep.” Even my prayer was focused on perfection. I might as well have said “Dear God, I need a perfect night time scenario so I can sleep.” I was telling God that I knew how to fix it, and I only needed him to do the “magic”. I was trying to prove to God that I knew what I needed, I didn’t need his wisdom, just his works: “I am, and there is none besides me.” And then He spoke, “What you need is rest, not perfection.” If I wasn’t laying in my bed I would have slumped my head and shoulders to the ground apologetically. I was ashamed of my selfish conceit and my desire to be the god of my life. But God did not condemn me, He was guiding me lovingly toward the path of righteousness. He was protecting me from destruction. My prayers changed, “Lord, I am weary and tired, I come to you in search of rest. I know it is in you that I can find my sleep and rejuvenation with our without a throat tickle.” My mind started dwelling on the awesomeness of God instead of my desire for a better scenario. And what do you know?! I feel asleep. I woke up with the tickle as bad as ever, but it didn’t matter, I found sleep in the midst of the tickle. Not by my power or perfection, but by God’s grace.
Now to apply what I have learned to my entire life. I will do so without fear of messing up. I will mess up, but that is why God gave us his grace. By His power, not my own. By His grace, not my deeds.
Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.