I’ve always preferred creative pursuits. When I was deciding on a career, for me that meant music, writing, art, or dancing. I was still living with my parents when I attended a community college, and my home environment was one in which love and approval were determined by academic performance. Looking back at that time, I can see how our family culture drove me into a practice of perfectionism. I had high standards for myself and I was my own worst critic. After two years of Journalism classes, I decided that I was not cut out to meet the constant deadlines involved in the typical news cycle, and I chose another creative field--Graphic Design. I moved away from home and transferred to a University that had an excellent Design department. Unfortunately, the harsh slave master that is perfectionism went with me.
I can appreciate God’s sense of humor now, because what I thought would be a fun two years of artsy design school would be closer to the arduous and dangerous experience of climbing a huge, looming mountain without the appropriate gear. And I was not properly equipped to face my kryptonite, which for me was a highly critical and competitive environment. Not only were the deadlines and assignments very fast-paced and difficult, but at the start of class, each student mounted their design projects on the linoleum-covered wall with push pins. Our professor examined and verbally evaluated our work first, then the entire class was allowed to also critique the work of their fellow students. I silently thought some of the more ambitious students purposely worked hard to find something to criticize about each piece other than their own, in order to weaken the competition and to get a better grade.
This demanding and unforgiving curriculum only served to wind-up my perfectionism to a toxic level. I found my thoughts were paralyzed with the false assumption that my efforts were not good enough, and I questioned and changed my decisions endlessly. This way of thinking is enough to make a person twitchy and uncertain about the simplest things. It’s like driving a car with the emergency brake on, which is not good for the car, and definitely not good for the human spirit and mental health. Thanks be to God, I persevered and graduated! The most valuable life-lessons from my college experience left me resolved and resolute to seek only Christ’s love, grace, and mercy in my life. I was no longer interested in the pursuit of achievement at any price.
Galatians 5:1 (MSG)
Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.
During the many years since college, I continued to make progress towards being a better steward of my thoughts and attitudes as a self-acknowledged, recovering perfectionist. I do this by selectively keeping my thoughts focused on God’s truths and refusing to let my mind chew on thoughts that lie to me.
Philippians 4:7 (MSG)
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
A recent Holy Spirit revelation helped me jump to a stronger level of freedom that I’ve waited my entire life to experience. This thought dropped into my mind while daydreaming:
The decisions I make and the actions I take, do not determine the outcome of the work I complete. Only Christ controls the ultimate results of my efforts!
For other people, this may have been a simple truth they learned long ago, but it was life-changing news for me! This means I no longer have to dread and put-off completing important tasks for fear of doing them incorrectly or defectively. And I do not have to fear that the results would be not quite good enough. Piles of papers, representing deferred decisions on what to do with them, are slowly disappearing from every room in my home. Decades of feeling like a disappointment can still make me feel disqualified at times. But I’m still learning coping skills, and it’s making all the difference for me!
John 8:36 (NLT)
So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.
The key to my overcoming is that I simply keep showing up to take the next baby step towards my goal. I accept my imperfections and once again invite Christ to fill in the gaps of my incompleteness. I can show up and keep moving forward when I remind myself that only God has control over how well my creative efforts turn out and how the work is ultimately used. I can live with that, and what a relief! Thank you, Lord!
Ephesians 2:10 (NAS)
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
About the Author
Sara has attended CitySalt Church since 2004, the year it was founded. She studied Journalism, wrote for her college newspaper, and is a member of Oregon Christian Writers. Sara also enjoys singing hymns with friends: “there is a sermon in every hymn waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.”