I really like plans. Schedules. Rules.
Give me some guidelines and I’ll follow them. Tell me the steps to success and I’ll tick the boxes one by one. Give me a project but tell me exactly what you want me to do. And even if you do, I’m probably going to triple check with you before I’m done. And then when I’m done, I’m going to anxiously wait for some type of confirmation that you’re happy. So if you text me with some vague feedback like, “Looks good” - just know that my insides are literally dying as I try to analyze what you really meant.
Yeah, if you’re exhausted after reading that ^ imagine what my brain feels like sometimes. I really want to please people. And I really, really do not like to fail. This is a topic (among others) that I’ve spent a few years in counseling digging out bit by bit. But it has some deep roots.
The need for perfection was ingrained into me by a man who taught me to believe that love was conditional. That God was this big bad guy in the sky and if I missed a step, if I failed, bad things happened.
I can still hear his words in my head sometimes. Our mistakes were often met with:
“You weren’t paying attention.”
“You just didn’t care enough.”
“If you really loved and cared about us, you would put more effort into our family work.”
And worse still, if someone got sick or hurt, or our family faced some type of “tribulation” - we would be forced through the grueling process of taking inventory of our lives because surely one of us had sinned to cause this. Every time my younger brother would have a seizure, I would repent. Obviously I had sinned in some way, and now...consequences.
Our punishment for failure was swift and unjust. My response was to strive more to make up for my lack.
I learned very quickly how to not rock the boat. How to do whatever I could to be deemed “good enough”. Better not fail, because the landmines were plenty. I’d start with a plan: "make sure my dresses were more modest, pray harder, get up earlier to read the Bible for longer, sacrifice more - surely if I could just do those things I’d finally meet approval."
I lived a life drenched in feeling guilty, unloved, and inadequate.
You know, deep roots.
And digging out those roots is a process, so I’m not surprised when those old habits & fears start trying to sneak their way back in.
Even today, as I sat down to work I was met with this gripping realization that I had missed finishing something I had set to do by the end of the week. I’d failed again. Why was this so hard? I began frustratingly flipping through my notebook looking for that work I had started when suddenly, I saw it. This little section in the corner of the page, with a list of “tasks” I had made for myself this week.
“Go to church. Read the Bible every day. Finish the devotional you started. Make it to 5 workouts. Work on my budget. Pray every morning….” You get the picture. Keep flipping back through the pages and you’ll see endless lists just like this. And every time I think, “if only I’ll do these things, THEN…”
What’s the problem you ask? Those all sound like good goals to have! And you’d be right. As goals go - they’re golden. All completely good for you! Except for when I use them as a yardstick to measure my worthiness.
Because that’s exactly what I was doing. Checklisting my way into God’s love.
And not once has that worked. Thank goodness that it hasn’t! The truth? It’s actually a whole lot more simple. And while my heart knows that, the enemy is sneaky. And to win, I have to meet every lie with a truth.
His love for me never runs out. He is abundant + forgiving + righteous + redeeming. He isn’t afraid of my questions, or moved by my struggles. He is constant and compassionate. The well of His deeply abounding + unconditional love is unmatched. He is without rival.
And He placed so much value on my life, that He saw fit to send His son to die for me. He paid the burden of my failures, and wiped the slate clean. I don’t have to earn His love or petition for His acceptance. He set grace on a table before me, and my job is to reach out and take it.
And that’s not just for me...he did it for you, too.