Pushing Past Perfection to a Place of Grace
Good afternoon, ladies! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Elly Gilbert and this afternoon I’m going to share some lessons I have learned and am still learning about a very common feeling that impacts most women I know. Perfectionism. Some experts say that social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest set standards that women can never reach. I admit that I’m guilty of scrolling through these sites and feeling like I just don’t measure up. If you feel that way, too, I want you to know that you aren’t alone. Before we get into the serious stuff of this talk, we’re going to look at some of my favorite social media images- Pinterest Fails. Anytime I start to feel like I am just not meeting the world’s expectations of me, all I need to do is take a look at these images shared by real women just like me, and I know that I am not the only one who is a recovering perfectionist!
Pinterest Fails (Slides)
It’s good that I have become the kind of woman who can laugh at my failures, though I probably wouldn’t document them and share them for the world to see! But aren’t you glad these brave souls didn’t take themselves too seriously and let us see...and laugh at….their failures?
The name of this session is Pushing Past Perfection to a Place of Grace. I’m assuming that you are here because you feel the struggle to be perfect. Before we go on, let’s do a little self-diagnosis and see just how many perfectionists we have here. There are some statements on the screen and in your packet. I will read them, then I want you to take a minute and rate the degree of truth this statement holds for you. Is it True, Somewhat True, Somewhat False, or False
Nothing good comes from making mistakes.
I must do things right the first time.
I must do everything well, not just the things I know I’m good at.
If I can’t do something perfectly then there is no point even trying .
I rarely give myself credit when I do well because there’s always something more I could do.
Sometimes I am so concerned about getting one task done perfectly that I don’t have time to complete the rest of my work.
If you rated yourself as True or Somewhat True on these statements, then you probably struggle with perfectionism. Even if you didn’t feel that all the statements applied to you, you still probably have your perfectionist moments.
In your packet, I have some fill in the blank statements that you can use to take notes. Those notes will be on the screen and we’ll go in order, but we will take a few breaks from note taking. . If I’m going too fast or you get lost, don’t hesitate to tell me!
Our first set of notes will help us understand a bit more about the nature of perfectionism.
Perfectionism is more than just the need to be really good at something. According to the Centre for Clinical Interventions, perfectionism has a three part definition.
1. The relentless striving for extremely high standards.
2. Judging your self-worth based largely on your ability to strive for and achieve such unrelenting standards.
3. Experiencing negative consequences of setting such demanding standards, yet continuing to go for them despite the huge cost to you.
There are definitely some pros that go along with perfectionism. You may have said some of these things to yourself: I like to do things well , I get pleasure out of achieving what others can’t do. It makes me feel special. I like to go to bed leaving no tasks undone. I get satisfaction knowing I’ve tried my hardest. I like being top of the class. I like being efficient. I like being organised. I like being prepared for every event. None of these things are bad. In fact, they are all admirable traits, as long as they don’t dominate your thinking.
On the other hand, psychologists have identified many more negative, unhealthy aspects of perfectionism. It can actually impair our performance because we are so singularly focused. The standards perfectionists set are often unattainable. Pursuing these standards can have a significant impact on your wellbeing, and can lead to social isolation, frustration, worry, depression, eating disorders, relationship difficulties, obsessive-compulsive symptoms,, insomnia, procrastination, poor health and a persistent sense of failure.
Today I’m going to tell you a story about the toll perfectionism has taken on my life and some of the lessons I’ve learned from women much wiser than I am about how to combat it. For many, many years, I identified myself as a proud perfectionist, and I embraced that role. I hope you don’t tune me out when it sounds like I’m bragging, because believe me, that’s not my intention. I’ve suffered plenty of setbacks and failures in my time, but it is important, I think, for you to see how this evolved in my life. I spent a large part of my life completely enslaved to perfectionism. I can’t blame Pinterest for it, either, because my quest for perfection began years before the internet ran our daily lives. My earliest memory of the desire to conquer a task flawlessly was when I started swimming lessons at the age of three. I was by far the tiniest person in the pool. I had to stand on a concrete block to stay above water...but I wanted to swim like the big kids and I was determined to do it. And I did. I think that kickstarted my love-hate relationship with perfectionism. I LOVED being perfect, being applauded and congratulated. I HATED failing, losing, being pitied!
As I grew up, I figured out really quickly that I was never going to be an athlete. My body just didn’t move fast. One year, in the annual 4th of July bike race in my hometown, I came in dead last. I think the expression on my face summarizes how I felt about losing.
However, I did find my area of strength in academics. From writing contests to the honor roll to the spelling bee, I was extremely competitive and usually victorious. In this picture, I’d just come in runner up in the third grade spelling bee and I was fiercely disappointed in myself. I do want to clarify that my parents never pushed this idea of perfection on me. They were proud of me and loved me no matter what. I just really, really liked being the best. I liked it so much that I shunned any activities that didn’t highlight my strengths. I’d rather miss out on something that might be fun than fail at it. Hmm...that sounds a bit like I’d have had to answer TRUE to one of those questions from earlier, doesn’t it?
When high school came along, my drive for perfection kicked in to high gear. I became intensely focused on three goals: maintaining a perfect 4.0, being named valedictorian, and earning a scholarship. I structured my schedule to be rigorous, but to accentuate my strengths- lots of literature classes and only the minimum in science. I dropped typing class after the first semester because I feared that it might crush my goal. I picked the right extracurricular activities- volunteering at the nursing home, teaching Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, honor and service organizations, and I only associated with like minded friends. I cut loose anyone or anything that might be perceived as a threat or a distraction. My teenaged self was serious about my goals. Sometimes the perfectionism was crushing, but when I was on top of things, there was no better feeling.
I am sure you’ll be relieved to know that I achieved all three of my goals: The perfect gpa, the valedictorian spot, the scholarship. . The accolades fed my perfectionism and I felt like I could do anything. I went off to college armed with a trunk load of bravado and grand plans.
And then it happened. My first semester in college, I made a B. I know, some of you are probably rolling your eyes, and to be honest, the grown up me won’t disagree with you. But to 18 year old me, it was devastating. I was, for the first time in my life, NOT PERFECT. My confidence was deflated like an old balloon. There was no room in my life for mistakes! I had plans!!!! For the first time, I had to wonder...if I’m not the perfect straight A good girl, who on earth am I?
For me, my perfectionism did bring some good things into my life. However, my motives for my perfectionism revealed that something was amiss on a deeper level. I had been a Christian since I was 15 years old and had been in church most of my life. As I matured and grew in my relationship with Christ, I began to see that my perfectionistic tendencies were holding me back in my spiritual walk. I’d grown so accustomed to accomplishing thing in my own power, setting my own path and expecting God to be on board with it. After all, my plans were pretty good ones, weren’t they? The reality was that my perfectionism prevented me from full submission to God’s will for my life. My desire to find my identity in my accomplishments kept me blind to my true identity as an imperfect but redeemed child of God. I’d been striving toward unrealistic goals, holding myself to impossible standards, racking up accolades and accomplishments...all for the wrong motives. I was not seeking to glorify God- I wanted to glorify ME.
I share that story with you to highlight the danger of what Hearts at Home founder Jill Savage calls “The Perfection Infection.” Jill wrote a book called No More Perfect Moms. I was lucky enough to serve on the launch team for the book, and was able to read and discuss it with other women who had similar experiences with perfectionism. A lot of what I’m going to tell you comes from Jill’s book, and I encourage you to read it for yourself.
Jill identified four causes or “heart issues” that are at the root of The Perfection Infection. For each issue, she also provided a Biblically sound antidote. Let’s complete the next set of notes and learn more.
The first heart issue is PRIDE.
Pride is undue confidence in and attention to one's own skills, accomplishments, state, possessions, or position. I don’t think there is a better definition of how I felt during my teen years than this. Jill Savage says in her book that pride is self-centered, self-focused, and self-preserving. Pride robs us of the joys of life because it keeps up bound up with its demands for more. Pride says, “I am right and you are wrong.”
In Luke 18, Jesus told his followers a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee’s prayer went like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” When we examine this passage, we see the very essence of pride and perfectionism...look at me! I’m doing it all and doing it well. Compare me to someone else, and you’ll see how much better I am. The Pharisee is consumed with comparing himself to others. I think this is a common condition for women. We compare ourselves to others, even when we don’t mean to and it is always destructive.
One of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve been given about comparisons is this: “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.” When we make comparisons, we don’t know the whole story. Our friend’s Pinterest perfect pictures that we feel outshine ours be putting a pretty face on a hurting heart. We just don’t know!
In this parable, Jesus warns us against pride and comparisons. He goes on to say, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus provides the antidote to pride. HUMILITY.
When you are feeling overcome with prideful feelings, here is a scripture that will come in handy. Philippians 2:3 says, “ Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Don’t let pride lead you into places where only hurt can follow. If this is your heart issue, pray that God will replace the pride with humility, with a desire to exalt others above yourself. Sometimes it is a hard battle, but when we take off pride and put on humility in its place, we become more authentic followers of Christ.
The next heart issue we are going to explore is FEAR. Fear is a very natural human feeling of alarm caused by the expectation of imminent danger, pain, or disaster. God has given to us to protect us from harm. However, when we live in a constant state of fear, it is usually out of a sense of our own sin and disobedience. Adam and Eve first experienced fear after their sin. They hid their nakedness from their creator. How does fear compel us toward perfectionism? Like Adam and Eve, it keeps us hiding. We don’t want to appear weak or wrong in the eyes of others. We are afraid of the consequences of our actions, so we lean toward inaction. : Jill says we “awfulize” things...that’s her made up word for how we distort things in our minds. We imagine the worst case scenario and make things bigger than they really are.
So, what is the antidote to fear? COURAGE. If you struggle with fear, here are a few verses that you can use to help you pray for courage, because it is promised to us., “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Those words were given to Joshua when God gave him authority to take the promised land for the Israelites. Think about that for a second. That was a huge job. Joshua could easily have “awfulized” the situation. If the had let himself dwell on all the things that could go wrong, he might never have taken the first step toward obedience. But, he trusted in the Lord, and wondrous things occurred. If you need more encouragement to take off your fear and put on courage, know this: We have freedom from fear because of the perfect love of Jesus Christ. Fear has been cast out. I challenge you to claim 2 Timothy 1:7 for yourself, ““God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
The next heart issue we’re going to talk about is INSECURITY. Now that may sound a lot like fear, but there is a difference. It is uncertainty or anxiety about oneself. Another word for this is doubt. We have all these voices inside our heads telling us that we aren’t enough. : The common message we broadcast to ourselves is “I can’t” because that is easier to believe than “I can.” For me, the best example of this in the Bible is Moses. God calls him to a task and he is full of insecurity- he knows his own limitations and hesitates to trust God to overcome them. This is almost the opposite end of the spectrum from pride, isn’t it? It still revolves around what we think we can do under our own power. Instead of being locked into relying our own skills like we are with pride, we are locked up in our doubts about our skills.
How can we overcome insecurity without becoming overtaken by pride? What is the antidote? We take off insecurity and put on CONFIDENCE. But not just regular old self-confidence. God-confidence. Confidence that recognizes a divine design. We have to rewrite that “I can’t” script we’ve been following. Replace it with, “God can.” : I absolutely love this from 2 Corinthians 3:4-5, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” I think that encapsulates so much of the antidote to the Perfection Infection-I absolutely can’t do anything on my own, but God can do it through me if I am willing.
The final heart issue we’ll talk about today is JUDGMENT. I am afraid this one might hurt a little bit. It’s a sticky subject. It literally means the act or process of forming an opinion or making a decision, which doesn’t sound so bad. However, the negatives outweigh the positives when we turn judgment on others. If you’ve ever thought, “I can’t believe she’s letting her kid run around like that!” or maybe “If she’d just get up earlier, she’d make it to work on time,” you might be suffering from a bad case of judgment! Judgment is kind of the culmination of perfectionism- we’ve stopped just applying our ridiculous standards to ourselves and have imposed them on others. Judgment builds a wall between us and others. Judgment is the brick and pride is the mortar holding it together.
I told you that when I was in high school, I cut loose anyone and anything that stood between me and my goal. This meant that I ended friendships because of my exacting standards. I was not accepting of others whose goals were different than mine. I wish I could say that I conquered my judgmental attitude, but it still rears its head all too often. Because I let that attitude take root, I developed an ugly, critical spirit that I still struggle with today. That is an example of what a powerful hold judgment can have over your life.
What are we supposed to do about this? What’s the antidote for judgment? For me, this ends up actually being the first step toward putting perfectionism to death in my life. Very simply, the answer is GRACE. You know, when we’re supposed to get punishment, but we get mercy instead? Yes, GRACE. We turn off the constant feed of criticism that runs in our heads, starting with ourselves and extending to others. The next time you screw up, forgive yourself. That will make it a little easier to forgive others when they don’t meet your expectations.
Just like all the other heart issues we’ve talked about, the scriptures provide hope for shedding our critical spirits, as long as we realize we can’t do it alone. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” We must allow Him to transform us with his all-encompassing grace.
As we wrap up today, I want you to know that I’m grateful to have had this chance to ce reflect on my own battle with perfectionism. I’ve grown up and I’m not obsessed with perfect grades and scholarships anymore, but that doesn’t mean new issues haven’t cropped up that bring out the perfectionist in me. I’m a wife, a mom, a teacher...all of these roles bring expectations that have to be managed. I also asked my Facebook friends to weigh in on the issue with their own stories. I was overwhelmed when well over one hundred women replied to my little anonymous survey. Originally, I had anticipated getting twenty or so, and I thought I’d print a list of the advice I gathered to share with you. However, with so many responses, it became impossible to compile them all. I plan to put the responses together and share them on my blog (the address is at the end of your notes), so you can take a look at them later, but I will tell you how immeasurably blessed I was to read that most of these women feel or have felt the same way I do. Some of my favorite pieces of advice included, “Don’t take yourself so seriously,” “As you age, you realize things are what they are...keep doing the best you can and don’t sweat the rest,” “You are enough,” “You are made in the image of God and He loves you just the way you are.”
Ladies, it is my prayer that God will continue moving in our lives and breaking us free of the bond of perfectionism. I pray that we are able to learn the lessons that He is teaching us with every so called “failure.” It has been a pleasure to share this with you today and I know that God will continue to bless you in your journey.