Dear Perfectionist, Quit Apologizing
a devotional by Ashley Lawrence
Ever visited someone’s house where they were more concerned about apologizing for the “wrong” things that you might be noticing in their home, children, food, clothing, conversation, pets, nature, car, scent, paint color choices, lighting, napkin quality, cup, fork….?
You know what I mean…The little things that you wouldn’t have even noticed – the things you could care less about.
Does this sound true about someone in your life?
Or maybe it’s you?
Perfectionism: The refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.
When things aren’t perfect, we feel the need to apologize to others. We act as though others are a god that we need to measure up to. We constantly need their approval that we’re okay, and reassurance that our quirks, mistakes, or interests aren’t offensive. It’s a never ending cycle.
After hearing a podcast from author Ann W. Smith, my eyes were completely opened to how I’ve let perfectionism ruin parts of my life. For years I wanted to appear completely put together all of the time:
– I didn’t want people to think that my siblings and I fought. So I always gave my brothers the pep talk “Seriously, if you do anything dumb around those people, they are going to think we’re shmucks. You better not goof off, don’t make any jokes, you better smile, try to be interested in others…”. Then I would make excuses for why they weren’t ‘up to par’.
– I didn’t want anyone to catch me looking “less than” if they stopped by my house for a visit. I would hide in my room sometimes. If a guest was going to see me, I would most definitely not be relaxing on the couch in comfy clothes, I needed to be 100% ready for the day. I wasn’t letting myself relax in my own home.
– As a teenager I didn’t want anyone to know I was in a deep depression. I smiled and pretended life was great.
– And you better believe that I didn’t want to try anything new, because if I wasn’t perfect at it right away, then I would be reminded every time I did it/saw it/practiced it what a failure I was – and that was just too painful. Hence the quitting of piano, band, sports, projects…
Do you see the tight hold that it can have on a person? It CHOKES you. It keeps you on edge all of the time. Always being in someone else’s brain, and never content your own. It’s not comfortable.
It’s the fear of not being able to please everyone. The fear of not living up to your own standards, or the standards you think that others have set for you.
Is it wrong to try to do things perfectly? Absolutely not! God tells us to work hard at things:
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” – Colossians 3:23-24
See? It says work hard as doing it for God.
WOAH. Did you catch the 4 words after that?
“And not for men”.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10
God is the One we are living for, not for others. We are to be God pleasers, not man pleasers.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43-48,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In these verses He is explaining to LOVE perfectly. To love without holding anything back.
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” -John 13:35
Selflessly loving is saying “Yes, my house is really messy right now because I’m behind on chores and I’ve been going through everything. But yes, you can come visit! I will push aside my selfish desires of wanting to appear perfect to you, in order that I can love you. So please, come over!”
That would mean more than any clean dishes could.
On the flip side, there are people who don’t embrace respect and responsibility and could care less about making their home a haven for guests, or even for their family. You feel disrespected when you walk in. Or disrespected by how their children kick you (seriously, it happened to me before), or how they don’t put their little yippy dogs away when they’re jumping on your plate of food. Those are absolutely the times to apologize.
“Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?” – Brene Brown
After my ‘awakening’, I’ve since apologized to my family. I’ve cried many times thinking about the way I treated, especially, my youngest brother. He has completely forgiven me, and it feels like a big weight has been taken from me. And you know what? I honestly do not care anymore with how my family looks to others… Our mix of personalities is what makes my family special!
And since I’m not controlling my family anymore, I realized I don’t need to be in such shackles either.
There was a verse my mom would say to me when I was upset that my brothers weren’t following rules: “What is it to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:22, Jesus was speaking to Peter, when Peter was concerned about what others were doing.)
Being able to unshackle myself from the unreachable standards of how good I think I should be at everything, or how good others should think I am, is hard. But it’s freedom!
If you think of the people in your life who appear perfect, there’s a tinge of jealousy that rises in you. It’s a feeling that makes you want to be around them, and also never see them again. You’re upset because they have more of something that you are lacking. Then again, you want to be around them because maybe some of it will rub off on you.
The world doesn’t need another surface person, we have enough.
We don’t need any more impressing.
We need real people.
The world needs us, Christians, to take off the masks and build each other up.
I need you.
I don’t need you to captivate me, I need to know how you are growing, because I am doing the same.
Your honesty will bring you many real friends.
I need to tell you to applaud me when I try out weird decorating ideas in my house, and when I experiment with eating healthy foods. I want to cheer for you when you turn a bad day around, and I want to laugh with you when you do something really embarrassing. I want to cry with you when you’re hurt, and you to confront me if I’m thinking about something in the wrong way.
But how will we know if we don’t open up?
I’m not completely out from under perfectionism’s door, but little by little I am walking farther and farther away. It has given me a confidence that I have never had before.
If I could go back in time to chat with my teenage self:
I wish you didn’t have that title. I wish you didn’t carry the weight of everyone’s opinions around your neck like a thick winter scarf. It’s so heavy, and it’s summer now so you really don’t need it. I wish you would enjoy the warmth of the summer Sun, it melts your problems of winter away.
I wish you knew how much God wants you to step under His shelter instead of cowering under the unspoken standards of others. You have no one to impress but Him. And He already loves you. He told you but you won’t believe it, remember? You think you need to be perfect to be loved. But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
You’re fearful of trying new things or completing projects because of seeing yourself fail. The fear will keep you paralyzed. “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4). I know you think you’re too weak, but Jesus said “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 2:19).
God has given us a spirit of power, not of being timid and fearful (2 Timothy 1:7). At first, it will be hard to let the comments from others, or their assumed opinions, drip right off of you. But let the Son melt them away. You will feel empowered, and your confidence will become real. You will actually enjoy living, and actually enjoy challenges. If God is for you, who can be against you (Romans 8:31)?
You can make it!