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Friday, June 1, 2012

Laying Aside Weights -- Perfectionism

This is part of a series.

Hebrews 12:1  Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Are you a perfectionist?  I was.  I know, some people might think that isn’t something that one can get over, but if you work at it, and with the Lord’s help, you can definitely improve. 

Having been a perfectionist, I have to say that I view perfectionism as tending more toward sin.  I know now how much I drove myself and my family crazy with my perfectionism.  Getting over it was not a quick nor easy process, and I still can’t say that I’m fully over it as I’m still in the body of this death (Rom. 7:24), and sometimes my flesh rises up and overwhelms me in this area.  In particular, I still have a strong tendency to think and talk about all the thing I “should have” done.  When something doesn’t work out quite “right” I’m very quick to see what I “should have” done sooner – sometimes it’s a result of neglect or laziness (sin), other times it’s simply that I didn’t think of it, was busy with other things or wasn’t strong enough to get it all done.

One thing that is especially defeating about perfectionism is the false expectations.  As perfectionists, we tend to be micromanagers and also we develop our own set of expectations as to how things “should” be.  Some certain things we may tolerate, but a certain set of expectations simply “have” to be met for us to be “happy”.  Having expectations is not a bad thing.  But, because we are perfectionists we expect things to be perfect on our terms.  This never, never matches up with real life!  Hence the frustration and disappointment, which too often do lead to sin as we nag, chastise and upbraid ourselves and those around us for not performing up to our level of expectation!

Now, I say that I’ve improved.  In many ways I have.  If the Lord had not taken me in hand some years ago and brought the problem to my attention, and had I not made a conscious effort to reduce my tendencies in that area – well, being a housewife would have been extremely stressful to me, especially with the set of limitations that God has seen fit to give me.

Having “slob tendencies” despite my perfectionism in some areas, I have talked a lot about decluttering and improving our living area, and I’ve challenged my readers to do the same.  But, here is a great thought and an important one that I ran across in my reading and studying on this subject:  Pay attention now:  Everyone has a different level of clutter tolerance and that’s O.K.  Yes!  Really it is!

I’m not talking about hoarding or living in filth.  I’m talking about what one lady called “the scum of life.”  I know there are readers who would be surprised if they walked into our house right now and saw the level of clutter around and my not-so-clean floors.  I’m not totally content with it myself.  But, you know what?  It’s a lot better than it could be, and it’s a lot better than it once was.  In many ways – I can live with this.  If I couldn’t I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this right now. ;-)

If you happen to be a perfectionist, or a minimalist, this concept may be too foreign to you to even accept.  May I suggest that you examine your heart before the Lord?  I don’t know many of my readers.  I only know myself and some other perfectionists from my personal experience.  But, I recommend asking yourself if your perfectionism is a weight – to you, to your family, to your brothers and sisters in Christ and to your friends.  Next, ask yourself if your need to have things perfect (or “right”) gets in the way of you serving the Lord.  Be entirely honest with yourself.  If the answer is “Yes”, or you suspect it is “Yes”  (perfectionism is really hard to break through sometimes), it’s time to ask the Lord to help you begin the process of laying this weight aside.

Psalms 121:2  My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

Now, there are some unfortunate women and girls who are not perfectionists themselves, but they have a mother, mother-in-law, aunts, sisters, or maybe even their sisters in Christ who ARE perfectionists.  Sometimes these perfectionist women, though usually well meaning I think, can make life positively miserable for the non-conformer.  Ladies, did you know that in your own home you are not obligated to meet the expectations of that perfectionist woman in your life?  You are not.  If you are not a perfectionist yourself, why become one because of guilt?  (There is that false guilt again, by the way.  I’m noticing it crops up a lot in laying aside weights!) Daughters still living at home may have to comply within certain boundaries, but they do not have to carry with them through life that guilt of living up to mom’s (or whoever’s) perfectionism.

On the flip side of that, some women need to examine their “slob tendencies” to see if it is a rebellious reaction against their mom’s perfectionism.  Hey, why go through life refusing to make order of your house just because you can’t meet someone else’s expectations?  That seems like such a selfish way of thinking. And, I don’t think you’ll be mentioning it as an excuse when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

Again, if you think having a perfect house, perfect clothes, perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect kids, perfect whatever, is “essential” to your contentment (and maybe you even think this is how you please God), this whole concept may seem extremely strange to you.  You know what?  All your kids do not need to learn to play the piano.  They don’t all need to be doctors or lawyers, preacher or evangelists or Sunday School teachers (oh yes, this happens in the Lord’s church, especially with those who think they are getting some kind of extra merit when their kids are all “in full time Christian service”). 

The coercing that some parents do to get their kids to perform things that are “required” by mom and dad and NOT by the Lord, is truly amazing.  And, I don’t mean the usual behavioral issues.  I mean perfection.  I mean refusing to let the kids pick their own décor because it doesn’t “go with the rest of the house”.  I mean pressuring the kids into the “career” that mom and dad feel would bring them the most pleasure and praise of man.  I mean forcing the kids to read their Bibles, go on visitation, sing in the choir, go to camp, etc. etc.  Kids need to learn to do spiritual things because they were led of the Spirit of God, not forced or pressured by a mom or dad who wants a perfect family image!  (Hello?  Did you get that?)

Now, I know that the scripture says, Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.  Matthew 5:48 Being “perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:4) is not the same as having an immaculate house, clothes, hair, makeup, kids, car, dog, yard, etc. The one is a spiritual perfection, or maturity, and other is about outward appearances. And, the outward things almost always come at the expense of at least some spiritual things. 

When we emphasize outward perfection we are usually not working on the perfecting (maturing) of the inner man in Christ.  When we emphasize outward perfection it is usually because we are looking for the approval or praise of men, not God. 1 Samuel 16:7  But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

When you’re expecting company do you find yourself cleaning areas of the house that no one will ever see (and if they do see it, they shouldn’t have been there anyway)?  Do you stress yourself out trying to finish some project at last minute when it’s obvious to everyone else that you don’t have time to get it done? (Examples: a dress for a special event, a special dessert for some celebration, a homemade gift, etc.)  Do you do the more complicated thing because of the recognition you expect rather than the simpler solution that would be “good enough”?  Do you feel compelled to impress certain people by having everything “perfect” when they are around?  It’s something to think about.  In the end, is it worth it?  And, how does it glorify God?  Really and truly – are you satisfying Him, or are you satisfying your own compulsions and looking to impress man?

1 Corinthians 10:31  Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. I suppose some people use this verse, and others, to justify their perfectionism.  While we should do all to God’s glory, there are so many things that we can find to do that are really for our own glory and we just imagine that we’re doing it as to the Lord.  At the same time that we should do all to the glory of God, we’re also told that …he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.  Psalms 103:14

Perfectionism really does fit with the poem I posted earlier in this series: The Heaviest Cross. It is so easy to think we are bearing a legitimate cross, when in reality it is one of our own creation - not the cross of the Lord’s making, not one that He requires.  Perfectionism is a crushing weight.  It is a serious hindrance to running the race with patience.

A Different Perspective

Luke 10:41-42  And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.  [Also see:  Martha and Mary.]

My own mother was a pastor’s wife.  Her house couldn’t get too far out of control.  Yet, she had so many “hats” she wore that she was simply compelled to be content with less than perfection in her house.  When she started homeschooling us she had an 8th grader, a 5th grader, a toddler and a baby (think: Major life challenge!).  We grew a huge garden every summer, picked local fruits, then froze and canned much of our own food.  We had Sunday meetings, plus a weekly ladies’ Bible study (for some years), plus prayer meeting.  There were many times that our family was responsible to clean the church building or meeting place.  There were people in and out of our home regularly. 

Mom practiced what she called “a lick and promise” cleaning. :-)  Certain things were cleaned regularly, others not so much.  If it was visible, it got a lick.  If it wasn’t, it got a promise.  It worked.  No company ever moved the dressers away from the walls to see how much dust was there (until we moved).  Usually no one went poking into areas where they didn’t belong.  And, if some brazen person did, Mom was probably more annoyed with their behavior than embarrassed by what they might have seen.

The thing, though, that stands out to me in all of this was Mom’s emphasis on people.  She didn’t have time to keep a perfect house because people were more important to her.  Her husband, kids, family, fellow saints and the lost were a more important demand on her time than a tidy cupboard under the bathroom sink or cleaning behind the dressers.  And, I must say, this was the mind of Christ and a tremendous example to me. 

Philippians 2:3-7  Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.  Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

One of my brothers was working once on a project with one of our grandfathers. Now, Papa could be an overbearing perfectionist. As I remember the story, they were running pipe from a propane tank to the house. They had dug a ditch for part of it and part of it was going up at an angle under the deck area (the deck would have skirting). Papa wanted that pipe absolutely perfect. He and my brother, Dan, had been working on it already for awhile, and they had tried to get it as perfect as possible, but it still wasn’t pleasing Papa. Dan finally said, “It’s good enough.” Papa replied, “’Good enough’ is the enemy of perfection.” To which Dan aptly answered, “Yeah, but who’s going to know?” That brought Papa up short.  He had no good answer for that and so he finally let it go. They finished up the job leaving that pipe “good enough”.  :-)

So, in conclusion, we who have a tendency toward perfectionism need to ask ourselves some pertinent questions. 

Who’s ever going to know? 
Does it really matter?
Are my husband and family content with less than I demand from myself? 
Is so-and-so’s opinion really that important? 
What difference will it make in a year, in five years, in ten or fifty years? 
Who will actually care?
Is this really helping me or anyone else, or is it just a bother at the expense of the things that really matter?
Does the carpet really need to be cleaned right now, or would it be better to spend the morning enjoying the fine weather outside with the kids (or even by myself)?

There are more but this is a good start. :-)

Whether or not you are a perfectionist yourself, when we are striving hard to perform at a better level and attend to things in our homes more efficiently, it is sometimes easy not to notice the areas in which we have raised our expectations to a level that is false and unrealistic.  I started learning at a pretty early age that unrealistic expectations lead to very real disappointment and to discontentment.  We need to find the comfort level that really works for us and for our own families and then be content with it.

Philippians 4:11-13  Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.  I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

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