So will you be nice for the rest of your life Ella? *sigh* I'll try. Okay, I'll try to be nice for the rest of my life too and then we can be best friends!This was an interaction I overheard between my five and seven year old daughters not long ago. It was an easy-going Saturday morning and they were playing an imaginative horse game together. They were getting along so beautifully. In a moment of realization that they were having nothing but fun, Tessa wanted the promise that this would continue. I heard my older daughter's reluctant sigh as she promised to try. Unfortunately, they both have since failed.
They come by failure easily. Not the failure to succeed. No, not even the failure to be nice. They both share in this failure, however, to be perfect! It runs in the family. I too have suffered with this failure to be perfect! What is upsetting is that so early on, this pressure to be perfect is evident. I've seen it in my oldest son too. I am likely more than half to blame for this. (And my husband is probably the other half...or the bigger half, right?!). I struggle to understand how or where exactly it comes from, but I remember feeling it as a young girl too.
So although it would be easy to blame myself--as a mama--for this pressure or need to be perfect in a couple of my children, I think it is more complex than that. I think somehow that this pressure to be perfect, to never fail, is innate in some of us. Wasn't it initially evident in the Garden of Eden?* That is, after all, how the serpent tempted Eve. You will be like God, he said. And that notion met with her vulnerability and she succombed to the temptation. At first, man and woman were both naked and unashamed. My guess is that that nakedness was also a picture of our vulnerability...our human imperfections. Eve was okay with her imperfections until the serpent caused her to wonder if she could possibly be perfect like God. Well, we know how that turned out. And how it still turns out today!
Many of us, men and women alike, are plagued with this pressure to be perfect. Some of us (like my oldest son and oldest daughter...like myself) experience the inner-workings of this pressure early on. We internally struggle to make peace with what we know will never happen. Whether it eventually exhibits itself in academic performance, hobbies, work, parenting, church activities, or just being nice forever to our little sister...the struggle is real! And the knowing that perfection will never fully be achieved isn't where we find peace at all!
The peace we perfectionists need--we all need--can only come from God. This peace comes from knowing that God never expects us to be perfect! He wants us to be complete. He never wanted us to bear the heavy burden of perfectionism. His yoke is easy and His burden is light.* This was the gentle answer to my heart's cry not long ago. I had cried out to God in angst: Why is it so hard? Why can't I do this mama thing right? Why do I try and try and try and still fall so short? The truth is that I was asking the wrong questions! God knew I would fail time and time again. He knows that I will fall short and miss the mark. He knew it would be impossibly difficult in my own strength. The question I should have been asking was: Do you expect me to do this thing perfectly all the time, God? And of course the easy answer is No! He whispered to me, My yoke is easy and my burden is light!*
So that is my endeavor as a mama to these five beautiful children: I want to teach them...and show them...that God doesn't expect perfection from them. He expects them to trust Him and give Him each and every burden and pressure. We were always meant to eat of life. We were always meant to experience our fulfillment and joy through God alone. We were never meant to act His part--in our lives or in the lives of another! So when my oldest daughter feels the weight of not being perfectly nice all the time, I will remind her that God never expected that of her. He doesn't expect it of me either! He expects our willingness to trust in Him and give Him our hearts. He will do the rest! He who began a good work in us will complete it!* He will perfectly complete us.
*Genesis 3:1-7 ESV; Matthew 11:30 ESV; Philippians 1:6 ESV
Some great reads about freedom from perfectionism:
You’re Loved No Matter What: Freeing Your Heart from the Need to Be Perfect
Love Idol by Jennifer Dukes Lee
You're Already Amazing by Holley Gerth
I'm having Coffee For Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth today