Continuing from last week, let’s move forward with the story.
The stress of trying to pull off “the perfect picture” of life I’d imagined was more than my body and mind could handle. I battled depression, sudden bouts of anxiety, and occasionally even panic attacks. I was a mess… and I knew it. So, I prayed and prayed, read lots of books and tried harder. I developed lots of unhealthy strategies, created little formulas to live by, and became manipulative… trying to make things good, keep things good, or make things better. And I’d go to bed at night feeling so guilty and so empty. What had I really done that day? Did my wife and kids even know the depth of my love for them?
I thought being a perfectionist meant you thought you were perfect. I knew I wasn’t perfect! I didn’t expect others to be perfect; I just really believed there was a “best way” to do things, and I actually thought people would appreciate my insights and critiques. Eventually “the picture” fell apart. Life became completely unmanageable. I was exhausted and disgusted with everyone in the picture… especially myself. I gave up on trying to be perfect.
I walked into a counselor’s office and said, “I give up.” I had no plan, no strategies, no formulas, no picture for a healthy future. I had no hope to be healed of my affliction. I had been a Christian since I was thirteen, growing more and more in my understanding and love for God through the years, but somehow, I’d missed a big chunk of the Good News — it was called GRACE.
Jesus came to save the lost, to heal us and to set us free so that we might receive His grace and live abundantly. I knew how to live obediently, but abundantly? I didn’t even know what that word meant. Sure, I’d let Him save me for eternity, but I’d never really understood that He wanted to save me from this world too… and from myself. I was too busy trying to create my own “heaven on earth”, that I hadn’t really taken the time to get to know Jesus. I knew all about Him, had lots of biblical knowledge, even went to seminary, and had experienced His miracles, but I didn’t really know Him.
As I pursued a real relationship with Him, His love overwhelmed me. I began to let go and truly live. Instead of putting my hope in a better life, I eagerly looked forward to an eternal life with Jesus. I learned that perfectionists don’t look for perfection; they look for the one thing that’s wrong, so they can fix it. I stopped trying to fix things and let Jesus fix my heart. I learned that there are many ways to do things, that efficiency never supersedes love and patience, and people are more important than tasks. I mean I learned it deep down in my heart where it counts. Jesus changed my life!
I began to feel that family and friends could now trust me not to be critical or controlling. Some still want to carry the old pictures of me in their emotional wallets, but most people saw the change God brought into my heart.
Most importantly, it changed how I would present God to others. God gave me a compassionate heart, a heart to really pastor others, a willingness to be transparent and honest about feelings, and a desire to love people with the gifts He had given me. Yes, there are those who can’t handle my transparency and feelings, but I will continue to be who I am in Christ Jesus.
I still battle the perfectionism, but at least I’m fighting the right thing now, and I’m depending on God to see me through. I have a very strong sense of what life should be like, but the Holy Spirit is like a filter, helping me to discern whether it’s based on God’s wisdom or just my own comfort.
When I feel the anxiety for perfectionism bubble up, I have to ask God for His perspective. I continue to fight over-scheduling and pleasing others, allowing time to just “Be still and know God” (Ps. 46:10). I wake up occasionally with a picture of the day in mind, but I usually choose to give it back to God and be curious. Calendars and lists may assist me, but they don’t rule over me anymore. I love people and I love Jesus.
Perfectionism was like a disease in my life — a disease of the heart. I don’t know if I’ll always struggle with it, but I’m so grateful for a God who sees my flaws, understands my heart and loves me anyway. I’m so grateful for a God who came to save me… even from myself!
After reading this story, what parts seem most appropriate in seeking balance in your life?
How do these Bible verses apply to the story you just read?
“If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.”
— 1 Corinthians 13:3
“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’”
— Isaiah 29:13
“So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
— John 8:36
Jim Grassi, D. Min.