In the last few years, ever since my “undone” process began, my perception of what a holy life looks like has changed quite significantly. Somewhere over the course of my life as a perfectionist, I had bought into the idea that living a holy life for me means being a good Christian wife and mother (all the time) and having it all together. Now, I would never admit that’s what I believed. In fact, I don’t even know if I knew that’s what I believed. If the topic came up, I would say, “Of course nobody is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. We all will fail at perfection. Nobody has it all together.” Yet, I never truly allowed this kind of grace to apply to my own life. I was blind to the security blanket I had wrapped myself around my whole life, a blanket that gave the impression to others that I’m a good, kind, and even a holy person who has everything under control. “A+” was what I always aimed for during my school years, and I always achieved it. I was aiming for the same in my adult life (particularly in marriage and parenthood), and I thought I was achieving it. A loving God who wanted me to live the abundant, real life He intended for me had no choice but to yank the security blanket off of me. Only then could I finally face my distorted views, replace them with His truth, and begin the road of recovery.
Michele* touched a lot on perfectionism in chapters 18 through 21. Here are some key points I found to be helpful for a recovering perfectionist like myself:
Embrace the imperfections, the failures, the hurts, and not having it all-together. God must have known before He created Adam that he was going to sin. But He chose to create him anyway. I’m not a theology expert by any means, but I believe I see a glimpse of God’s heart in this process. He longed for a relationship with us more than what we can do for Him. He desired the kind of intimacy that can only come from walking with us through our messy, painful, mistake-filled life. I’m not sure if this kind of intimacy would have been possible if all of humanity managed to live a perfect, obedient, happy life. Michele said it so well: “only a marred life gives birth to the most beautiful redemption.” She also said part of the embracing is realizing that this is a “rough-draft life.” We must learn to accept that we won’t always get it right the first time and forgive ourselves when we get it wrong. I would also add that in this embracing imperfection process, a perfectionist should look back on our life and see if there is a past wound to be dealt with that caused us to become perfectionists (I will write more on this later).
Embrace the process of recovery rather than focusing on the end result. For a perfectionist, even after we realize our need to recover from perfectionism, we tend to look at this recovery process as another thing we have to ace and we become anxious for the day we achieve it. I chuckle as I write this; do you see how hopeless we are? I like what Michele’s counselor said to her: “Maybe you’re not supposed to manage all this. Maybe, instead, you’re supposed to experience it. Walk through it. Do the best you can.” As I have been going through my “undone” season, I have come to learn that recovery, healing, wholeness, and even holiness, are found in bits and pieces during the process, rather than as the end result. It’s hard for a perfectionist to understand this, because the process is so messy and untidy and unpredictable; all the adjectives we hate. Michele used a metaphor of standing too close to an impressionist painting. Everything looks messy and undone from up close. But as we step farther back, we begin to see the unexpected beauty of the whole picture. “Though appearing undone, it hints that imperfection could turn into the makings of an incredible story.” But it takes time for the whole story to unfold, for the masterpiece to be completed. Michele suggested, “Allow yourself to see beyond the chaos to the beautiful story taking shape.”
Realize that we cannot do it alone. Keep our eyes on the Master. So by now, a perfectionist has learned that we need to recover from perfectionism and that it takes time. Even after we’ve come this far, somewhere in the hidden parts of our belief system, we feel that we need to conquer this process on our own. Michele described it this way: “Alarmed by my vast army, I raised my shield and wielded my sword, assuming all responsibility for victory.” Perfectionists are very prideful and we hate to admit that we can’t do it on our own. Michele brought up the example of the disciples panicking in the storm while Jesus slept. He asked them, “Where is your faith?” I agree with Michele that even when I refuse to admit it, my faith is usually placed in myself. She gave a great example of a time she experienced panic attack while scuba diving. When her scuba master came to help, and when she saw in his eyes that he was not going to let her go, she began to transition from panic to peace.
I had to die to the self-sufficiency and arrogance that had fooled me into thinking I could do all, be all, without consequence. That I could anchor myself to my own boat and not pay the price. Thank God. He looked me in the eye, and he refused to let me go.
-Michele Cushatt, Undone
Lean to express our feelings and needs. Seek and accept help. Find a support community. It’s true that God is the One who will carry us on this road to recovery. But on the journey, He will use other people to help us along. It’s obvious that God created us for relationships and that we are not mean to do life alone. Michele said, “Laying down my independence began with saying it out loud: admitting a need and asking for help.” We also need one another for accountability. We need a safe place where we can express our faults and weaknesses, find grace, and be encouraged.
So I come back to the question: what does a holy life look like? The most valuable life lessons I learned didn’t come from those who have it all together (or appear to), who know all the right Bible verses, and who always do the right thing. I have learned the most from those who have walked through ugly messes, unimaginable pain, and big mistakes. So why is it that we try so hard to be like the first kind?
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
–1 Peter 1:6-7 New Living Translation
This is what a holy life looks like. Hanging onto and growing in our faith through real, genuine, undone moments of everyday life. It’s not going to look neat and tidy and perfect. It looks messy and even disastrous when we are too close to the picture. But as we step back and gain a new perspective, we will begin to see what a masterpiece we are creating with Him, our Artist and our Master.
What Michele reminded me is that I must let go of my idea of what the painting is supposed to look like. Trust my Artist through the messy, undone moments. Keep my eyes on the Master, who promises to never let me go. One day, I will see how every stroke (both tidy and untidy ones) was used to create a complete, beautiful, holy masterpiece.