Written by one of our readers:
You’re not the only one who feels like this
Feeling like you lose more than you win
Like life is just an endless hill you climb
You try and try but never arrive
I’m telling you something this racing this running
Oh you’re working way too hard
And this perfection you’re chasing is just energy wasted
Cause He loves you like you are
I felt a little shocked the first time I heard this song. How did a Canadian musician whom I have never met somehow write a paragraph exactly documenting my struggles during the past few years?
See, I grew up in a good Christian home, with five sibling and parents who loved each other and us. Yep, I pretty much had it made. But a few years ago, a trait that had for the most part laid dormant during my childhood reared it’s ugly head in full force, and I was suddenly a fanatical perfectionist.
I suppose it came partially from the fact that I am highly sensitive, which is in strong contrast to my three rough and tough older siblings. I felt rather different — in a not good way — from the rest of my family, and to counter that decided I had to be the perfect daughter and sister and friend and whatever else. I can also be extremely secretive about weighty matters, and the combination of those two led to a very long, lonely period of my life.
I was obsessed with being perfect, for my parents, for myself, and for Jesus. And of course, I failed miserably. It’s simply not possible for a hormonal teenaged girl to be perfect, day in and day out. So when I inevitably goofed, it was hard to keep from all out hating myself. Self harm began to make sense. And then it became a temptation. I thankfully never acted on that temptation — mostly because it wasn’t something a perfect girl would do — but it was often on my mind just the same.
Any sort of critique or rebuke would make me extremely defensive because I didn’t want any more guilt added to load I already carried. But it was always added anyway, and then I would have to fight my way through the next few days until I did something ‘right’ enough to please myself and take some of the pressure off.
Though it may have originated in my family environment, my perfectionism injected the most poison into my relationship with Jesus. Because I wasn’t measuring up to what I felt like He should have from me, I preferred to remain at arms length, not to protect myself, but to protect Him from me. As someone once said, ‘You hand me grace, and I think You’re handing me an expectation. And it weighs so much.’ I put up barricades because anything more than short, distant communication was unsettling, again, not to defend myself, but to keep Him out of my mess. And I thought I was hiding my issues pretty well, until my very perceptive brother let me know otherwise.
I had just purchased Tenth Avenue North’s latest album, No Man Is An Island. And while I liked the concept of the album in theory, I still was hesitant to open up about my troubles to anyone. While chatting with my brother one day (who is no Tenth Avenue North fan and knows very little of their music) he said, “I get the feeling you’re on an island.” I was slightly freaked out by the coincidence, and that, along with some other factors, prompted me to confide in some trusted friends about what was going on. But for the next few months, I still was on a roller coaster of guilt that just wouldn’t go away.
And then, after a startling revelation one evening as I was driving home from work, things finally began to change. I had the music cranked up and pondering the fact that the only time I felt close to God anymore was when I was worshiping. It suddenly clicked. I had spent years focusing on my own inadequacies, and even when you’re looking at yourself finding fault, you’re still looking at yourself.
Since that memorable day, I’ve been trying hard to ditch the microscope I was carrying around to assess my failures with, and invest in a telescope instead. It hasn’t been all uphill, and I often feel myself sliding back into the old familiar ruts of self hatred. But by God’s grace, I’m at least spending a lot less time there than I used to.