Since February, I’ve been in therapy. I started it in part because I sensed that while I’ve gotten pretty good at drawing boundaries to help combat my anxiety and depression, I knew there have been some underlying disturbances that trigger said thoughts and feelings that begin my inevitable downward spiral. At the time, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to Korea, so my therapy wasn’t about that. But it has served this time in my life well.
Recently, after expressing some fears of failure, my therapist assigned me the task of reading through a section of a book that deals specifically with perfectionism, and to listen to a sermon series Matt Chandler gave about eighteen months ago regarding our design as humans, “A Beautiful Design.” In the series, he outlines what it means to be made in the image of God, and also goes into detail regarding men and women, and their individual gender hang-ups that have resulted from The Fall. Men deal with passivity or aggression, and women deal with comparison and perfectionism. To be honest, I feared mostly that he’d say women’s struggles center around our vanity and our inability to cease in gossiping. Our struggles with comparison and perfectionism, however, are far more encompassing.
I’ve spent my entire life comparing myself to everything and everyone. If it wasn’t my friends who were prettier and more talented, it was my much older cousin, who was charming and always managed to please everyone in the family, and never lacked for a kind word. I, however, never quite grasped the delicacies of life as a lady, and tended to be blunt, sarcastic, and was generally uncharming, much to the chagrin of my relatives. I was chubby, and while I had many talents, I never quite seemed to accomplish them with as much finesse as other girls. I was starkly unperfect in comparison to everyone else. As I’ve grown as an adult, the comparison game only continued. I made mistakes with school and didn’t finish “on time”, and laid out of school to work a menial retail job while I figured my life out, a millennial generation excuse which only acted as another failure to add to my list. I met someone, and eventually, even he and his family made comparisons of me to anyone else, and pointed out my imperfections, ranging from my work, university of choice, lack of social graces (despite their own), and to my mother’s mental illness. Add to the list a constant stream of comparisons, and my insecurities only grew.
During arguments with my beloved, we’d argue over when we were actually going to settle down and get married (hint: never) he’d exclaim, “My expectations are very high!” but never could seem to sketch out for me exactly what those expectations were. Otherwise, I argued, “I might be able to meet them.” Evident emotional abuse and manipulation aside, my awareness of my flaws expounded, and I grew anxious there was someone else I was being compared to, or there was some invisible standard I was failing to meet despite my best efforts.
At work, my first year as a teacher was entirely overwhelming. The insurmountable to-do list only seemed to grow with each accomplished task. No matter how hard I’d worked on a lesson, it always seemed to fall apart due to classroom management issues, which only glared at me as another apparent imperfection on my part, this time as an educator. The grading was also overwhelming, riddled with spelling errors and punctuations issues I never would have dreamed of making, leaving me drowning in a pile of self-loathing manure. No one told me English Language Learners make more mistakes than native speakers, and I bore their mistakes as my own failures as a teacher. Sometimes the feelings of guilt for being the imperfect educator I believed my students deserved became so overwhelming, I would crawl under my desk and cry for most of my conference period, which was 1st period, giving slight indication for how the day would transpire. When I would reach out to other teachers to lean on them for support, I was heavily criticized, and succinctly had it explained to me just exactly why “all your students hate you.” (Secret: They didn’t hate me; I just believed the lie.)
Somehow, it didn’t matter how hard I tried, or what I did, I was simply flawed and incapable of reaching this mysterious plane of perfect existence. The Bible tells us that we’re all flawed and sinful and fall short of the glory of God, but that through our weakness, Christ’s strength is perfect. In the midst of my anxiety, I thus reasoned perhaps I wasn’t leaning on Christ enough. So I prayed more often and more fervently. I served more, stretching myself so thin I could barely care for myself. I only felt more exhausted and imperfect. Eventually, though, through all my prayers, I gradually began to hear the voice of God. And this is what He said to me: “You are my child, and are greatly loved.”
Even as I type this, it seems trite and cute. And illogical. And like, “So what?”
And my inner response to myself regarding this revelation went something along the lines of: Of course I’m loved by God. I’m His child. Duh. And also, what does this have to do with imperfection and comparison? I’m busy trying to keep my shit together here, and The Holy Spirit wants to tell me that I’m greatly loved by God the Father? None of that is offering me any insight in my quest to best represent God through perfection!
And that’s exactly how I felt for the longest time. Clearly my head knowledge and my heart knowledge weren’t lining up.
“So what, God? So you love me. That’s not addressing my life’s failures.”
“No, no, Jenn. You don’t get it. I don’t need you to be perfect. Your brother already is.”
“Just follow him, and trust him, and that’s all you need. You don’t need to be perfect, because you’re already perfect in my eyes through the work Christ has accomplished on the cross for you.”
I began to protest, “But compared to everyone else…”
“No,” He cut me off. “There is no comparing, except to those who haven’t placed their trust in Christ. And even then, you win because Christ wins.”
We all know the best comparison ever is when we are on the winning side.
But I warn you, prepare to watch yourself change and grow for the better when you start releasing your overwhelming inner comparisons and drive for perfectionism. You will not recognize yourself after a while.
You have more confidence.
Because after all, if you’re a child of God, what can stand against you? In the end, He wins. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:28)
You start loving people better.
And why not? You have nothing to lose. If God can redeem us in our imperfect, sinful state, and doesn’t compare us to any other child of His, what do you have to lose? Nothing. You no longer compete with other girls. You start to speak lovingly toward others. Your tongue is less likely to be critical and biting, but rather lifts others up, both in your relationship with them, and also in prayer to God.
You start hearing God’s will for your life much more loudly.
It’s amazing how freeing it is to walk away from the lies Satan loves to tell us. We no longer believe we are imperfect and incapable of love and acceptance, and instead begin to hear the truths God so longs for us to know and believe. We’re no longer focused on our inabilities and insecurities within ourselves, and instead can more readily hear the voice of God.
You willingly obey and walk out into deep waters.
You’ll do crazy things because God calls you to do them. You’ll go on mission trips you never wanted to go on. You might quit drinking. You might start drinking a little bit. You’ll move to foreign countries, or settle down in your hometown when you never thought you were ever going back. You’ll move to Texas and stay there. You’ll say, “I could never become a teacher,” only to six months later have coffee with a friend about how to become a teacher.
You stop caring so damned much about non-essential things.
Like what other people think about you when you pack up and move to a foreign country. Or that they never liked you anyway. And you realize the mean and hurtful things people have to say and do regarding you and your life says more about their heart and the lies they believe from the enemy than it does about you.
Forget the unfair comparisons you place on yourself and others. Forget your overwhelming desire to be perfect and present a good face.
And then what happens? Oh, you’ll see. You’ll see and know more grace and love in your life than you ever thought possible. You’ll be knocked over with more love than you know what to do with.