(Inside: Perfectionism in moms can be so hard. We desire greatly to be good moms, but perfectionism can be toxic. The Easter story gave me hope.)
I arranged the trifecta of glass flour/sugar IKEA jars on the barn wood countertops and took a step back.
The painted cabinets, the glass doors, the silver pendant lights…the look of our DIY kitchen remodel, I couldn’t help but breathe out: it’s perfect.
That’s what I love about decorating. A chair here, a rug there, some art on the wall…you can pick out what you like and put it where you want and rearrange until it all looks just right. You’re in complete control. Left alone, the room will stay perfect.
Decorating feeds my perfectionist tendencies. But maybe only the healthy side of it: creativity, hard work, perseverance, and organizational skills.
Because there’s a downside of perfectionism that doesn’t work – for me or I suspect – any of us…
- We think everything is our fault. It rains at our child’s outdoor birthday party and we beat ourselves up because we should’ve scheduled it for yesterday. (Beating ourselves up.)
- We constantly tidy up our messy world – I’ll babysit your kid for you, no worries! – only to find when we have one friend covered, another’s husband just left her. Awesome. (Enter feelings of despair.)
- There’s a small voice reminding us we fall short. Always. To other people. And most certainly to God. (Add feelings of inadequacy.)
But then tucked in the Easter story there’s this gift – just for moms about perfectionism, something we need to hear – a tale about Peter, James, and John.
Those perfect disciples, right? The ones that spread the good news of hope and love and Jesus. 2,000+ years later we’re still talking about them. What a legacy, right? Couldn’t we be like them?
Dear friend, we are…
But, let me back up, as I tell this Easter story. Jesus is preparing his disciples for what’s ahead and he says some puzzling things. I can only imagine his disciples’ reactions.
In Matthew 26, when a woman unexpectedly anoints Jesus with her expensive perfume the disciples deem it a “waste,” Jesus explains: “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.” (Huh?)
Then, Jesus throws around phrases like, “My appointed time is near.” (What appointed time?)
And, as the disciples gathered around a thick wood table, Jesus mentions things like he was going to be betrayed by one of them, and the bread is his body and wine is his blood. (What’s going on?)
Then after dinner at the Mount of Olives, Jesus predicts Peter will deny Him. (Peter’s in shock: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”)
Jesus is being elusive and the disciples seem on edge. Something’s up. Big changes hover overhead. Can you feel the tension?
Next, Jesus retreats to the Garden of Gethsemane, His body and soul longing for the nourishment of prayer. And He urges his friends Peter, James, and John to stay awake! I need you!
It reminds me of when a sweet friend had just arrived home from the hospital with her new baby. “Stay!” she earnestly said, “I need you.” The crazy hormones, sore body, new life, and big changes: it was overwhelming. She needed her closest people near. Similarly, Jesus needed his friends to stay awake and be with him.
But, his disciples fell asleep…
Peter, James & John – all three of them – dead to the world.
Jesus wakes them and with urgent eyes says again, “I need you! Stay awake! Keep watch!” But, as soon as Jesus walked back to pray, the snoring resumed.
Three times, this happened. The most pivotal moment of all of history is about to take place, and Peter, James & John couldn’t even simply stay awake.
Then, events continued to unfold ending with Jesus on the cross. What did the disciples think about their best friend bleeding and suffocating to death? Perhaps…
- This is our fault. Maybe that’s why Jesus asked us to keep watch. If we hadn’t fallen asleep, we could’ve stopped this. (Beating themselves up.)
- Why are people doing this to Jesus? This messy world – why can’t we tidy it up? (Despair.)
- We’re a disappointment – we can’t do anything right. Jesus is cutting us from Varsity. Leaving a legacy for God? Never happening. (Feelings of inadequacy.)
But, those would be the disciples’ thoughts. Jesus never once blamed them for the situation, expected them to fix the whole world, or demoted them to junior varsity.
Jesus knows we aren’t perfect. He even acknowledges it in the conversation about staying awake.
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”(Matt 26:40, NIV)
And Jesus’ message is based solely on grace – not on the impossible pursuit of perfection.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
But, I see you reading this thinking…other people have permission NOT to be perfect, but more is expected from me. I’ll arrive at perfect. Eventually. (I see that pit in your stomach as you think that.)
No, you won’t.
Really, you won’t.
You were created a human, and humans will never be perfect. The end.
The pressure really is off.
However, there’s a flip side to perfectists thinking that needs to be addressed. As much as perfectionist moms want to break free from this toxic high expectations, we don’t like the other extreme. The idea of settling comfortably into our imperfections is depressing.
We like the climb towards goals. Know, that’s not God is not saying don’t ever try. God created us for more. Look how Jesus fussed at the disciples:
“Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matt 26:40, NIV)
It feels like when I fussed at my son for ignoring his brothers. “You are a thoughtful, kind kid – take some interest in them and watch the positive impact you make. Know the power you hold.”
Jesus is saying the same thing to Peter, James & John: “Come ‘on. I didn’t ask you to run a 5K or invent cell phones. (World – wait for that one!) Just pay attention and stay awake. You can do that. Matter of fact, you can do more…”
And then 2000+ years later we’re all still talking about them.
Mom friends, you are created to share your talents with this world. And you do not have to be perfect to be effective. Here’s what the Easter story of the sleeping disciples reminds me of…
1. If God has ordained something to happen, it will
Breathe a sigh of relief, fellow perfectionists.
One of our fears is that despite our efforts to do it all “right”, we will still mess up God’s plans. Friends, we don’t have that much power – and neither did the sleeping disciples. The crucifixion and resurrection happened – unconditionally.
Our failures are not final because Jesus – who is PERFECT and made the perfect final sacrifice for us (on the cross) the law required – prevails in spite of our imperfections.
2. Imperfections are great teachers.
I love a perfect house, but that’s not where the actual living happens.
Life happens right in the mess.
Family connection emerges while a toddler is throwing his spaghetti onto the floor during dinner conversation. Or when the teenager is in full-blown-meltdown mode tossing the throw pillows as he flops defeated on the couch. Marriage is made in dealing with bills, moving, or a midlife crisis.
That is where the One who came to be perfect for us steps into our imperfections and teaches, grows, and strengthens us. He reveals Himself in supernatural ways while continuing His good work in us. Just like He did with the disciples.
“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
3. We are not called to be perfect, rather we’re called to follow the One who is perfect.
Through the highs and lows of life, these sleeping disciples followed the One who was perfect. They learned his grace was enough and His power was made perfect in their weakness.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
They followed Him.
And they told everyone about it.
And 2000+ years, we are still hearing their message.
Friends, we can let the tight grip of perfectionism release. Let’s exhale a sigh of relief. And know that we were never expected to be perfect.
So, let’s take our eyes off the discouraging pursuit of perfection and instead, look to the perfect One we get to follow. Let’s enjoy that lighter load.
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Cheryl is a mom of 3 boys, wife, speaker, high school teacher, and author of Empowered Moms & Kids. She has a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and is passionate about learning and teaching. On www.empoweredmomsandkids.com you’ll find inspiration and encouragement for moms raising tweens and/or teens. Read more in the “about” section of this page.