The Perfectionist’s Curse

When I was younger I was a perfectionist. It was a curse. There is no doubt in my mind that it was a terrible curse. I am so grateful for the experiences the Lord gave me so that I could tip toe out of that condition of the mind. I was never happy with myself. I never could do it well enough, I always failed a little, I always promised myself next time I wouldn’t allow myself to fail like that again, and so on. Why are we cursed with this feeling of complete and utter failure? Why has this unrealistic standard of perfection infected so many Christians? I can’t answer all of the questions over this issue. But I have many different experiences and ideas that have helped me cure myself of this false sense of damnation. I hope that these words will maybe help you in understanding that the Lord loves you despite inadequacies, and I hope you will understand that you can be completely obedient to the Lord without yet being perfect.

I used to work at a call center where once a week we were monitored by superiors and then would discuss with them about the aspects of the call. Here was a place for a perfectionist to bloom in full disappointment. I hated the program that was setup for getting monitored. It led us all to become perfectionists, and it led us all to ultimately never be satisfied with our work. I agree that there is a motivation to become better that we all should cultivate. But it should not be based on a pass or fail doctrine. One day I finally wrote my feelings out, which I’ll copy here. I think it has application to the perfectionist’s curse.

“When we get monitored, no matter how well we do, the “interview” afterwards almost always communicates negativity. The only way to have a possibility of not spending the majority of the interview discussing what you have done wrong is by getting a “perfect” call. there is too much emphasis on what we did wrong compared to what we have done right. Every week we have the hype and chance to be encouraged and complimented fo our good work; instead, we are told all our knit-picky mistakes ending with us losing our own confidence. We might have sought perfection once, but that slowly disolves into a relization that perfection is impossible and even an “acceptable” call is nearly undoable.

Instead, we should be encouraged by the good, uplifting aspects of our call effort. We should grow from confidence of successful progress rather than a foreboding motivation to reach an unattainable perfect call. Does anybody see what I am seeing? Perfection is our goal, yes. But it isn’t our measuring stick. We shouldn’t measure everything by how much it reaches compared to perfection. Perfection is not our standard, it is our goal.”

We can be praiseworthy, without being perfect. And we can be obedient without being perfect. We MUST know that to succeed in life and to use the atonement to its fullest enabling power.

When I was a perfectionist I used to think the atonement was only for a remedy, as my dear friend says, of spiritual sickness (sin). But, it is also an enabling power to become what we individually can’t do on our own. I think it takes an experience where you understand completely that obedience isn’t the question but simply an inability or lack of skill that you need. That happened to me when I was on a mission. I prayed for the ability to do something that I could never do before. It wasn’t a matter of perfection, it was simply a matter of ability, and I didn’t have it. So I asked for it, and it came. That’s when I finally realized that Christ’s sacrifice was not only for sinning, but also for doing things past what I am able to do. If there are things the atonement would handle that didn’t deal with sinning or being obedience then maybe I will just do the best I can, and hope that will be enough for when I am judged someday.

I have never played a single song on the piano perfectly. NEVER. And I used to HATE it! It was pure proof that I couldn’t do anything right. But now I realize that I will just do my best and know that that is what the Lord expects out of me, not perfection. The Lord will accept my best, even with its imperfections, and through grace and mercy He will pay for the slack. He will always pay for the slack as long as I give my best try and continue to try to become better.

Again, these are just thoughts and attempts and explaining an issue that I have faced, and an issue that I see others face. There is so much more to say: bottom-up pride where setting my personal expectations at such a high level that nothing but perfection was adequate, the misperceived feeling of guilt that comes with feeling spiritually sick, the misperception between mistakes, sins and where we should focus our efforts, gaining confidence in the Lord’s love for me despite my imperfections and others. But it will have to wait for another week. I know I am not perfect. But I know that that is completely okay with the Lord. He loves me, and He will continue to help me become better. As long as I keep trying to become better then I have not failed using the atonement, nor my life.

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