I am a recovering perfectionist. And though I try to stifle the impulse, sometimes I’m reminded of it. Take the other day, for instance —
I watch in slow motion as the Tupperware bowl of large, child-sized buttons falls off the table. They scatter, rolling haphazardly to rest next to crumbs and chair legs, across a hardwood floor that needs sweeping. Bright, shiny drops of primary colors gleam in the light spilling over from the kitchen.
“Oh, no!” my 3-year-old shouts. “Look at this mess!”
I pause, wincing at the way she sounds exactly like me, words I’ve heard myself say when a tube of dropped yogurt splattered across the floor or the baby pushed the remains of her dinner off her high chair for what felt like the millionth time.
“It’s ok,” I assure Elise, then turn to my youngest daughter. “Noelle,” I say calmly. “Come help us.”
She rushes over, tumbling on to the scene. Both of my girls are helpers in the best and worst of ways, and even though the accident was not her own, she’s eager to help.
“No,” Elise says suddenly, stubbornly. “I DO IT!”
“Honey, it’s easier with help,” I protest, as we start to put the buttons in.
“No!” she insists, dumping out the buttons that we just put back, possessively gripping them even as she gives her sister a not-so-subtle glare to BACK. OFF.
Inwardly, I sigh. And then I think – isn’t this like me, too? How many times have I stubbornly done things on my own, even when I know others would help? How many times have I disregarded someone else’s work, thinking that I can do a better job?
It’s an easy trap to fall into. Jaded from one-too-many projects where a team member didn’t pull their weight, to my detriment. Disillusioned by the way someone said they’d like to help do something, then reneged. Somewhere along the way, it became easier for me to just do things myself. I like control. I don’t like surprises. And sometimes it’s just easier to do something myself than go through the bother of harassing someone else to do it, even though it may mean I’ll lose sleep or be stressed out.
But unfortunately, that attitude can only get us so far. Perfectionism is not all it’s cracked up to be. It gives us a false sense of security that dissipates instantly when we encounter things beyond our control – a family member with cancer, a child born prematurely, a spouse who has to travel a lot, an untenable work or school situation. When circumstances spiral beyond our own capabilities, who do we turn to?
Perfectionism says: I can do it myself.
But God says: We are not meant to be alone; we are meant to be in community.
In my struggle to overcome perfectionism, I’ve gained much more than I’ve lost. I thank God for the husband who is not afraid of my tears and can make me laugh like a loon. I thank God for the family who raised me, who continue to cheer me on in each new chapter of my life. I thank God for the friends I have who rejoice when I rejoice and mourn when I mourn. I thank God for the community of love and faith and acceptance that I’ve found, because I know that I can’t live alone. I was made for more, and so were you.
For me, an imperfect life is an answer to prayer.
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12)