Previous Challenge Entry
Topic: Learning for Life (08/23/04)
TITLE: Confessions of a Perfectionist
By Mary Elder-Criss
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Suggesting several different adjectives my oldest daughter might like to consider for her essay, I am met with a look of exasperation.
“Mom?” she interjects.
In a deadpan voice, she informs me, “Not everyone is a writer, you know. Gosh, it doesn’t HAVE to be perfect.”
“But it should be as close to perfect as you can make it, Emily. You need to know how to write well.”
“Why? I don’t plan on following in your footsteps. I don’t have any talent at writing. I don’t think I have a gift at ANYTHING.”
“Emily,” I attempt to interrupt.
“No, Mom, let me finish. You are like this about EVERYTHING. Everything you do HAS to be perfect. It drives me nuts. Why don’t you lighten up?”
A bit taken aback by her attack, I look at her rebellious face, and long to chastise her for her attitude. Her words felt like shotgun pellets, each one stinging upon contact, and burrowing underneath. Before I could reprimand her however, the truth in her words hit home. God will often use the wisdom of my children to teach me pertinent lessons in life.
She is right. I AM a Class A, compulsive-obsessive, overachieving perfectionist. In my defense, I could blame it on my father, who is also a perfectionist. However, placing the blame on someone else for my own shortcomings has never really been my style, so I accept responsibility for my faults.
“A Shortcoming? A fault?” My analytical brain screams at me. “What are you thinking? How can striving for perfection in all things be considered a shortcoming or a fault? That is not logical. It makes no sense. It is a GOOD thing, remember? Your dad always told you while growing up that if you had a job to do, you should do it to the best of your ability. Even the Bible reinforces that.”
“Look at Matthew 25:15…remember? He gave to them according to their own abilities…and what about the verse that God gave you when He called you to begin this writing ministry? 1 Peter 4: 11 “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified…”
“Whoa. Okay, logical brain, hold up there a minute. It’s the heart’s turn to speak. Yes, you are right in saying that I should do all things to the best of my ability. However brain, this is what YOU’RE missing. That’s MY ability. It might not necessarily be THEIR gifting. Yes, I DO want my children to work to the best of their ability, but constantly demanding a state of perfection they don’t feel they are able to meet is causing more harm than good.”
My daughter’s words and expression of dejection a few minutes before came back to haunt me.
“I don’t think I have a gift at ANYTHING.”
Emily was evidently feeling the crunch. The pressure I was placing on her to exceed was too great. She had gotten so discouraged by my high expectations that she didn’t feel she excelled in anything. Perhaps she was so disheartened that she would no longer even care to try, feeling like she wouldn’t measure up.
The heart began speaking again. “And isn’t that just what you did for years, yourself? You allowed people in your life to place that same kind of pressure on you, and what was the outcome of that? For twenty years, you have felt like a failure; never measuring up. Never good enough. Always lacking. Do you really want to place that burden on your children’s shoulders?”
Tears spring to my eyes involuntarily.
“Of course, I don’t want to place that kind of pressure on my children. They are already perfect in my eyes.”
“Just as you and they are in mine.”
Identifying the speaker for whom He is, I remember the moment at the altar when it all became real. The most important of life’s lessons was taught to my heart, not my head; when He assured me that He loved me just as I was, faults, imperfections, and all.
“Emily,” I start hesitatingly, “I think maybe I have a new lesson to share with you.”