Dear 3 year-ago me,
Congratulations on getting married and getting accepted into Redeemer. You look like you couldn’t be more excited — as if this is something you’ve waited on for years. The Lord has given you an extraordinary gift in David and his encouragement. Cherish it.
People will make jokes to you about seminary (“more like cemetery” they will say). You don’t want to listen to them because you think you’re different. But their intentions are good and their warnings worth listening to.
You will be tempted to think of your time in seminary as a “means to an end.” You don’t now — you don’t “have” to have this degree to serve as a minister of the Gospel. Especially as a woman. As a result, you see this season as a true gift, the pursuit of knowledge of your Savior. Keep this intention ever before you. Pray hard against the temptation to see this time as a means to an end.
You see, especially towards the end of your time at Redeemer, the temptation will grow stronger. With past voices in your head of “you will be successful at anything you do,” you will start to be afraid. Afraid of what they will think when you don’t have a high-powered job right after you graduate. Afraid of the pay cuts you’re sure to face after being in the business world. Afraid of the word “internship.” Afraid that you wasted 3 years of your life slaving away with nothing to show for it. Afraid that you missed out on what everyone else seemed to be doing with their lives. Afraid that 30 is too old to start a new career. Afraid of not finding your place as a woman in ministry. In a word, you will be afraid to fail.
You see, this fear has tripped you up all of your life. It has led to seeing successes as disappointments. It has bred discontentment. It has darkened otherwise shining moments. And you will stare it in the face for the hundredth time.
But take heart. Remember that your Jesus has a plan. Remember that his way almost always looks mysterious. Remember that his life was one of humble servanthood. Remember that he is worth trusting with everything you’ve got. Remember that he has provided for you in countless unexpected ways up to this point. Remember his miraculous salvation in your life, a salvation that speaks more life into you day after day. Remember that the journey of seminary, not unlike the journey of your whole life, is to know him.
This is the best advice I have for you: Make your aim to know him. In every class that you take, are you meeting him? Are you in awe of his goodness? Is the overflow of that worship making your face radiant? Are you keeping your relationships a priority – because they are the most precious in his sight?
27 year-old me, you are in for a wild ride. Keep your eyes set on Jesus and you can’t go wrong.
And don’t be afraid to fail. In the failing, in the ashes – you will know him. And you will find life.
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor” – Anne Lamott
If you missed my first post on perfectionism, read it here.
Ok, you’re convinced you struggle with perfectionism. Some in lesser degrees, some in more life-defining ways. Now what?
First, let’s start with some common strategies that reflect the wisdom of the world. What are the counselors of the world saying about overcoming perfectionism? How can you spot these strategies in your own approach to combatting the problem?
Here are a few I’ve come across:
1. Ideals are not something to be achieved, they are meant to point you in the right direction. In other words, lower your expectations of yourself.
2. Respect and love yourself. You are not perfect, but you are valuable and worthy of love.
3. Stop worrying about things that are not under your control such as the future or others’ perceptions of you. You cannot do anything to change them, so let them go.
Although these strategies have good intentions, the Gospel offers something so much richer than letting go of ideals, loving yourself in the midst of failure and simply “letting go” of things that are out of our control.
Here are some truths of the Gospel from Mike Emlet that speak to the heart of the perfectionist:
You are united to the PERFECT ONE.
Romans 6:1 – 7:6 outlines various truths re: our union with Christ. We are united in both his death and resurrection. We have died to sin and raised to newness of life. Because we are “in Christ,” we hear God’s loving voice “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) Hear His voice, brother or sister! He has freed us, He has broken any condemnation that lies within the voice of the oppressor. So go and live in confidence! We are freed from our slavery to standards because there is one that has met all the standards worth meeting. His record is ours. The question is not “how do I make my standards more realistic,” it is “how do I cultivate a deeper appreciation for God’s love shown in Christ?” The focus turns outward, off of ourselves and our performance and onto the One that did what we could never do!
This is by far the easiest thing to tell a perfectionist, right? Embrace your weakness! But when the Gospel has sunk in, this is the appropriate attitude to embrace.
Reactively: What do you do when you fail? We are called to run to Jesus. His sacrifice is once and for all. Embrace it and repent with the strength He provides.
1. Cultivate a daily dependence on God. What does your prayer life look like?
2. Practice vulnerability in your relationships. Failure is exposed and brought into the light.
3. Make faithfulness, not perfection your aim. This one was SO liberating to me. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents. The master gives his servants each a different number of talents “to each according to his ability.” He rewards both the servants that took their talents and made more talents with it, but rebukes the servant that hasn’t invested what he’s been given. How are you being faithful with what you have been given? Do you compare yourself with others, or are you more concerned about being faithful with the time, physical and mental abilities, emotional capacity, etc. that you have been given? And remember, even when we are faithless, we have a faithful Savior.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7