I pass the mirror with a critical eye, noticing the way my favorite jeans make my thighs look big.
I wake up thinking about how my marriage isn’t where I want it to be and immediately start thinking of ways to improve it. I walk through my house drawn to every little thing that’s out of place. I hate that I ran out of fresh organic fruit on Friday and sent my kid pre-packaged mandarin oranges in his lunch. On and on through the day, I can’t help but take note of things around me, large and small, that just aren’t perfect. I’m resigned to most of them, but truth be told, I hate that perfection is out of reach. In my head, I know it is, but I can’t quite give up the struggle to have it. Perfectionism is torture.
There are standards of perfection everywhere we look, especially for women. A quick peek at any media will tell you that there’s an ideal woman, and you are not it.
You should be 25 years old (enjoy that one year). You should be a size 2 with lean, toned muscles and long hair that falls in perfect waves. Your skin is just the right tone—not too pale or too dark. Your breasts should sit up high and perky (even if you’ve nursed a couple kids). Oh, and if you ever do have those kids, they should be happy and beautifully dressed; gurgling quietly on your lap while you kick ass on a conference call. You have a successful career (because every self-respecting woman should) where you steadily grow professionally and make amazing money because of your perfectly chosen major in college. You go on fabulous dates with your boyfriend or husband to candlelit dinners by the beach. Your home is on-trend with perfect touches like that handmade, live-edge table that Joanna Gaines herself would envy. On it, you serve homemade, organic meals for whoever is in your home. You probably grew the cilantro in your herb garden out back. It goes without saying that you always shop local (never Amazon Prime!) with several very close girlfriends—whom you’d never bail on at the last minute because you’re tired. You’re too good a friend for that. You do it all with a look on your face that lets everyone around you know it’s really no big deal.
I think women are catching on to the ridiculousness of all this. We are tired of being presented with this landslide of impossible standards. Honestly? We’re kind of pissed. It is defeating to be presented in each generation with a new set of impossible standards to meet. Women are revolting against them like never before.
We are calling B.S. Because of this, there’s a new message growing out there. Women are eating it up because it feels like such a relief. Actually, this message is no better than all the perfectionistic gold-standards we’re sold, but it’s devious because it masquerades as relief and truth. However, it is not—and can not—lead us to the freedom from perfectionism we so desperately need.
This new message is: “You don’t need to change a thing. You’re perfect just the way you are.”
Though at first, it seems to help, it doesn’t reject perfection at all. It just says you’re already there. However you are. Whatever you’re like. In any state of affairs or any flaws of character, you are just fine the way you are. Really?! Are you?! I’m certainly not. This message just rings hollow to me. No matter how many times I’m told that I’m fine the way I am, I have something deep in me that knows that’s simply not true; that sees the way my imperfections can cause hurt or havoc for me or others.
I’m really not fine the way I am. And I certainly cannot be perfect. So what is the answer?!
It’s natural to want things to be perfect. We were actually made in and for perfection. When God created humans, he made women and men for perfect relationship with him, perfect relationship with one another, and in perfect harmony with the earth and everything on it. But since sin entered the world with the very first people, none of us has ever lived in the perfection we were designed for. The yearning is inside all of us to return to it—somehow, some way.
But there’s only one way back. This is a way that ditches the pressures of perfectionism and doesn’t pretend we’re perfect when we’re not. It actually empowers us with something for real change without ever applying the unrealistic pressures of perfection. This way feels light, free, and leads to a life that’s not perfect – but is perfect for you. God’s desire for each of us is to live lightly in relationship with Him; the One who designed us and knows exactly what fits us. We get there through Jesus. Jesus once said to his disciples that they should follow him and live how he lives to experience the unforced rhythms of grace; a life that is lightweight and fit just for us. He promises to provide both the power and path to change over time, loving and accepting us with all our imperfections now. Loving us too much to call us perfect when there’s something more, something better we can have. He promises in the end, by His power, that all really will be made perfect again.
For me, following Jesus out of perfection has meant both crazy little stuff and very big changes over time that all add up to living in a lightweight, unforced life that fits me. All of the things below are stuff others may be perfectly designed for, but they’re not for me. I’ve felt freer and freer to embrace how He made me and walk away from ill-fitting stuff in my life. For instance, I:
- Ditched the corporate world and my old desire for that perfect career
- Ditched the perfect personality. I’m an introvert. I like time alone and get anxious and exhausted when I’m expected to work a room. I can be intense.
- Ditched some things on the great-mom checklist: I don’t cook homemade every night. I don’t attend PTA meetings. I don’t craft. Ever.
- Made peace with my disinterestedness in celebrity culture. I’m never going to know who he/she is and don’t care. I don’t pretend I do anymore.
- Ditched the expectations for a perfect marriage and instead expect growth as our norm: always trying for the true intimacy God designed, but knowing it’ll be a road that needs lots of grace, forgiveness, and kindness along the way.
- Ditched grooming the perfect resume of kids’ activities for well-balanced children. I focus on raising them to be the people God created them to be instead.
And the list goes on and on. I’m still working on ditching standards of perfection for my body, for my grades in school and for my kids’ behavior. I am not perfect at this, either. But I can see the places I must change, and I believe Jesus will get me there in time. He designed me for some things, and others will never suit me. Only following Him has ever given me the knowledge of the real me, the confidence to unapologetically pursue that, and the humility to admit all the things I’m not.
Come to me. Get away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11:28-30
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...
What lines stand out to you most about this article? Why?
What is your list of “if I could only fix __?”
How does it feel to carry that around everyday? List as many emotion words as you can. (By that, we mean: “It sucks” is accurate but not an emotion. Try “it feels exhausting, discouraging, hopeless” or something like that instead.)
Whether you believe in God or not, try praying about it for a few minutes. Tell Him the things you wish were better, the emotions that come with it, and ask him to help. Listen for anything you might hear back. (“Hear” doesn’t have to be an audible voice, and likely won’t be. It could be an impression, a phrase that comes to mind, a different emotion, a picture, a song, an idea, anything. Whatever it is, write it down.)
Real freedom only comes from Jesus. He’s the only one who’s perfect and the only source of relief, grace, and growth for us. Try saying, “Jesus, I want you most. More than anything else, just help me be more like You” whenever the pressure to be perfect strikes.
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