Shooting for a B (A Message for Christian Perfectionists)

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“Fast asleep.” by ClickE is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I’ve spent a lot of my life aiming for perfection. But there’s something to be said for shooting for a B, and even simply showing up (if you bring a good attitude, of course). These are some things I said recently while doing an interview with Adventist Radio London (ARL) on the topic of perfectionism. (I was asked for the interview after my article, “Breaking Free from the Perfectionist Trap” came out in Vibrant Life Magazine in June.) The interviewer, Vanesa Pizzuto, said that the thought of “shooting for a B” made her cringe. But she agreed with me: “We can’t do everything perfectly.”

No, I can’t do everything perfectly.

I am still trying to let that truth sink in, because letting go of my perfection still makes me cringe sometimes, too. But I know this is crucial advice for me, a lifelong perfectionist. I am juggling many balls right now–wife, mom, graduate student, teacher, church member, public speaker, freelance writer–and I desperately need to be able to prioritize. I need God’s wisdom to show me when perfectionis called for, and when just showing up, or just a little preparationwill suffice.

The brain surgeon in the operating room needs to aim for perfection.

The auto manufacturer preparing airbags (and many other car parts) needs to aim for perfection.

Life and death matters call for a measure of perfectionism.

But most of my daily tasks aren’t life or death.

To the extent that I believe this truth–that the bulk of my daily choices don’t matter that much–I can either live in a state of peace or a state of anxiety. I’ve been there, done that with the perfectionism-and-anxiety thing…and I’m sick of it. So I am admitting the error of my ways (in this area), and reciting these crucial truths to myself:

  • It’s okay to shoot for a B sometimes
  • It’s okay to just show up sometimes (without an exhaustive plan in hand, but with a good attitude in heart and mind)

Contrary to my anxiety-feeding fears, nothing catastrophic is going to happen if I don’t have:

  • A perfectly clean house
  • Perfectly healthy and balanced meals at every meal
  • A perfectly toned body and my perfect weight of 125 pounds
  • Perfectly planned lessons for each class I teach
  • A perfect schedule for my kids that I follow to the letter
  • A perfect record of daily reading my Bible (I’m just being honest…it doesn’t happen every day)
  • Every reading assignment as a graduate student (and there are many) completely read and thoroughly annotated

These are some of the things that make up my daily life, and, at various points, they all have caused me anxiety. You know it’s a really bad day when I’m stressing over all of them! But as I continue this walk of life, this spiritual journey, I hope I am getting a little better at recognizing this trap of perfectionist thinking (and its domino-effect-anxiety)–and then promptly turning it all over to Jesus.

It’s an ongoing struggle. I won’t lie. But as I said in the interview with ARL, the best thing I can do, when roiled by unrealistic visions of A-plusses in every detail–the best thing I can do, is stop. Stop it right there, thoughts. Call out these unrelenting sky-high expectations for what they are: traps of the devil. And confess to my Creator:

God, I’m sorry for entertaining these thoughts. You are my Creator–You are the Author and Finisher (and the Perfecter) of my faith. Forgive me for focusing on myself and my limited abilities, and not on You, Your omnipotence, Your omnipresence, Your omniscience. Forgive me for taking on a yoke that You never intended for me (Your yoke is easy, Your burden is light!). Forgive me for giving in to fear, and getting derailed (again).

I need You so much, Lord. I need you every moment of every day. Thank you for being with me, whether I acknowledge Your presence or not. Help me to put my thoughts on You, and take courage. Help me to remember that You created me for a specific purpose in this world–and that purpose was not to be perfect in every way, but to do the work You intend for me. Help me daily to separate the (eternally) important from the insignificant. Help me remember I don’t have to figure out my life alone. And help me to remember, and truly believe, that whatever You want me to do, You will help me to do–with Your power, not mine.

Now, I’ve said that most of my daily decisions don’t matter that much. For those of you who feel uncomfortable with that thought–or if you cringe at the thought of shooting for a B–let me just be clear. As a Christian, I do believe, overall, that what we do during this life matters. I believe that our choices, our actions, our obedience or non-obedience to God, will ultimately lead us to eternal life or eternal death. And, speaking as a parent, I accept that my actions can either pave the way to heaven or pave the way to hell for my children. So I don’t take my daily decisions lightly. With that said though, I often take the small details of every day much too seriously.

If my day is chaos, and the kids aren’t going along with my perfect “plan” for the day, which is more important: making sure they eat from all the food groups today, or teaching them about Jesus? See my point? I can drive myself crazy (and I have) trying to check all the boxes in every category. But we aren’t living in a perfect world. I’m not perfect, the people around me aren’t perfect, and conditions are rarely ideal. Thus, some things gotta give. The key is asking God which things can go–and then homing in on the things that really need doing (and realizing that sometimes the things worth doing can be done at a B level).

If you struggle with this perfectionist trap (and you know who you are:), won’t you join me in asking Jesus for wisdom to separate the life-and-death (really important) matters from the daily (not-so-important) details? Only in Him can we hope to live the “perfect” life–meaning, the life He intends us to live–and only as we adopt a biblical perspective can we begin to envision what God’s perfect life for us actually looks like. Courage, fellow perfectionists! May God help us all on this journey.

2 thoughts on “Shooting for a B (A Message for Christian Perfectionists)

  1. ccyager August 18, 2019 / 3:53 pm

    My mother was a perfectionist who worried all the time. I internalized her perfectionism for most of my life, but when I went off to college, because I wanted to break with parental expectations, I decided that doing my best was more than good enough. I still struggled occasionally with that mother voice inside, but I’d learned that what’s important is showing up, not the performance. It’s important to commit. It’s important to understand that making mistakes isn’t the end of the world — what hurts is not learning from the mistakes. I finally also learned to let go. This came as a process of learning what I controlled and what I didn’t — then letting go of everything else. I also read a book called “The Four Agreements” (apparently it was a book Oprah Winfrey recommended but I found it before I heard about that), and realizing that what this book was saying, i.e. it’s not all about me but I do have an obligation to be impeccable in my word, made more sense than anything I’d heard before. Letting go of perfectionism is a process, and like any process, there are steps and it takes time. It sounds like you’ve put yourself on the right path and made a good beginning. I’ll be cheering you on!

    • lindseygendke August 18, 2019 / 3:59 pm

      Good words, Cinda. Thanks for sharing your hard-earned wisdom.

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