If I could personify it like C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, I might say that Perfectionism is one of the demons assigned to me. Perhaps that is giving our enemy too much credit…perhaps not. Voltaire, who had his own set of demons, did get it right in saying, “The best is the enemy of the good.”
I used to think to claim to be a perfectionist was to boast. It was to nobly aver that one did not stop until it was done right. Over the years I’ve come to see that perfectionism is the means by which the accuser of the brethren whispers “it’s not good enough”…and it’s never good enough.
Perfectionism keeps me from trying new things. If I’m not sure I can do well, I’d rather not risk it. It keeps me from hospitality. Since my cooking, my housekeeping, my conversation skills (add your own excuses here) will never be perfect, that level of intimate scrutiny is very difficult. Perfectionism keeps me from doing what’s important, instead I flounder in minutia. Whereas others learn to stop and say, “Good enough,” and scurry away to kith and kin at a respectable time, I find I have no such governor. I will do and re-do until the good becomes best. It’s hard for me to even see “good” when I know that “best” must just be a tweak or two away. Even being aware of this tendency, does not usually help me identify it when I’m in the midst of my work.
You might imagine, then, how Christine Hoover’s Confessions affected me. I long to put the word “recovering” before my vice like she does. Although, like other addictions, I imagine that mine will be a life-long struggle, somehow I think Hoover’s one-step plan may just be the mantra needed to move in a good direction: “Today, I’m practicing…”
I’ve included her post in its entirety because, well, she says it perfectly.
Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist by Christine Hoover, May 2, 2012
As a recovering perfectionist, I sometimes confuse holiness and perfection. Rather than try to reflect on God’s grace or allow its natural compelling work in my life (holiness), I try really hard to do godly things, produce spiritual fruit, and live a neatly tied-up life (perfection).
Sometimes I do this because I believe God can’t love me without my efforts, but most of the time I do this because I am trying to fulfill some arbitrary Christian standard that I think others expect of me or that I expect of myself. I feel like a walk-in freezer forever attempting to keep myself at a constant, controlled temperature.
I grow weary of myself, of maintaining my frozen image.
Sometimes, to thaw out, I practice letting people see me in various states of disarray. When a friend is dropping off her children to play, I purposely do not change out of my bright-red, extra-large moose pajama pants and do not fix my hair or makeup.
I practice asking for help, even when I can likely do it on my own and even though I must ignore the feelings of guilt over being such a burden to everyone.
I practice telling my friends the sorry state of my heart — how I envy, how I don’t trust God sometimes, how I am restless, and how I grow discontent.
I practice letting people see my house in various states of disarray, because that somehow feels even more intimate than showing them my heart or letting them see me in my red moose pajamas.
I practice not cleaning the ring from the toilet bowl and not fussing over an elaborate meal when friends are coming over. And then I practice leaving the garage door up so they will walk through the jumble of bikes and coats and backpacks and leaves blown in rather than climbing the stairs to my beautifully arranged porch.
I practice not hiding from other moms the Cheetos and the juice boxes I allow my children to ingest.
I practice letting my children draw all over the windows with window markers (and then I practice not immediately digging under the sink for the Windex when they run upstairs to play).
I am not always prepared for people to see me or my home in disarray, but I am secretly glad when they do. Like when one of the other pastors at our church showed up one morning last week at the kitchen door as I was doing dishes in my red moose pajama pants and previous day’s makeup. (My husband had forgotten to tell me he was coming.) I was a smeared, moosey mess and so was the kitchen, but instead of running to hide in my room, I said hello and returned to the dishes with a smile. Good, I thought to myself. I’m getting better. I’m thawing.
I’m practicing the thawing, too — the not worrying when others see my disarray on accident, even when I am not controlling what disarray they see.
In thawing, I find myself in a state of gratefulness. Less of my time is spent corralling life and more of it is spent seeing, listening, and relating. There is less coldness and looking inward, more warmth and seeing outward. Less trying to impress and more enjoying the life and people I love.
Sometimes I am not good at gratefulness. Sometimes I don’t let God’s grace flood my heart because it reminds me that I actually need it, and that I can’t do it all. Sometimes I care more about the state of my home than the state of my heart.
But I’m practicing.