Confessions of an Ex-Perfectionist
This is part of a series of posts about Pinterest and the Christian life. Read the intro to the series here.
In fifth grade, I wanted to have perfect handwriting like all the other girls who sat at my table. Every “o” was a precise circle, and any “p” or “b” was that same precise circle with a dead-straight line as an accessory. I could write that way too, and then we would all admire each others’ papers and compliment each others’ handwriting and snicker about how bad all boys’ handwriting was.
Then one day my teacher, Mrs. Block, was patrolling the classroom during creative writing time. She looked at me slowly forming those precise circles and said, “you know, I think you need to stop worrying so much about your handwriting. You could get a lot more writing done if you wrote faster, and I’m sure your handwriting would still be legible. You’re not being graded on your handwriting, but on your content.”
This was a major crossroads for me. Mrs. Block was right; my handwriting did not actually matter. She was the one who was going to decide my grade. It was to tempting to try to impress the other girls with the curly-cue handwriting, and forget about the main goal, which was to please Mrs. Block by writing a good story.
I decided to go the grades route, and from that day on, my handwriting became gradually less circular. It was still legible, but I could write twice as fast, which meant I completed my assignments a lot more efficiently.
That, however, was not the day I stopped trying to be a perfectionist. I still tried to get all As and keep my report card looking spectacular. That lasted until my first semester at Rice University, when I got not one, but two B’s, and another piece of my perfectionist self died. (Which was a good thing.)
The majority of the time, perfectionists are expending a lot of energy trying to please the fifth grade girls instead of the teacher. They are using up a lot of energy on things that don’t actually matter. Take my life for example. I want to have the perfect wardrobe, hair, makeup, the perfect body, I want my house to be clean at all times, I want my closet to be organized, I want to cook perfect meals, I want to be a perfect wife to my husband and a perfect mom to my son. Logging onto Pinterest tends to add fuel to this fire.
None of those things is inherently bad or wrong. Unfortunately, most of those goals, if met, will only serve to impress other people when the only opinion that matters belongs to God. This story from the Bible illustrates what I’m trying to say:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38)
Now, I wasn’t there, but I’m guessing Martha wasn’t doing all those “preparations” simply to show hospitality to Jesus. She was probably trying to keep up appearances and avoid having her house look like a disaster while she had guests over, and avoid seeming like an awful cook by serving burnt food.
Jesus doesn’t care about how my house looks, how my food tastes, how good my outfit it, whether my hair is frizzy, whether my stomach is flat, what my grades were in college, how much money I make, or whether my “o’s” are perfectly round. He doesn’t care about the things that most perfectionists care about. Thankfully, He told us what He does care about. He said that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and the second is to, “…love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). When Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, she was living to please the right person.
I confess that I haven’t changed much since fifth grade. While I don’t consider myself a perfectionist anymore, I do continue to care a lot about areas of my life that are of little importance, and so I spend time washing the dishes when I could be playing with my son. Or I take forever choosing my outfit in the morning when I could be getting to know God better through His word. I do need to wash the dishes and I need to get dressed, but I don’t want to strive for perfection in the unimportant areas, although it is so tempting for me. Instead, I want to strive for perfection in my pursuit of Christ, in knowing Him better and loving others with His love.
What about you? Do you try to please the other girls at the table instead of the teacher? How does this play out in your life?