Teaching to Learn and Learning to Teach

Perfectionism, Guilt, and Service

Within the last year, I found out that my perfectionist mentality didn’t only apply to schoolwork, but I had also applied it to serving others. My bosses wife at lunch one day said, “Jenn, it seems like you are always reevaluating your plans and changing them. You have this idealistic view of what you can get done. You have an idea of how you can serve your brother and take him dinner when you hang out and then you feel you have to do that. It’s okay to be in the middle and not do your grandest idea every time. You can pick something up instead of make dinner or you can let him buy you dinner if he wants to.”

She was right I was consumed with worries and fears, paralyzed by a sense of guilt. If there was a dish left out at home then I was being unloving to my roommates and I wasn’t being a faithful steward of belongings, but if I cleaned it and was a minute late to work, then I wasn’t being a faithful employee and there were things that needed to be done there. If my car was a mess, I was guilty. If there were papers I had not graded, even if I had not been idle but I had been fulfilling other responsibilities, I had failed. In my opinion, my car should be clean, my parts of the house immaculate, chores done, work perfect, homework timely and well-polished, I should be able to meet with anyone who wants to or who falls under my sphere of leadership, I should be able to help any need I see, I should never make a mistake, I should know everything at work, I should talk to my family regularly and be able to serve them in whatever way they need, if I have an idea of a way to serve someone I must do it and it must meet my standard or expectations. If I know someone needs a meal and I think of making Chicken Cordon Bleu, rice pilaf, Arugula and pear salad with homemade dressing, and Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake then I have to do that. When I think of a way to serve it doesn’t matter if I have the time or resources to do it; I must. I must tell you, this is no way to live. Self is a terrible task master. When you start trying to live to meet your own standards rather than God’s you will be miserable. When your standard is perfection and you fail, you will feel guilty.

This lesson primarily came into play this last summer as things were insanely crazy in the office and I crumbled under them. I thought I shouldn’t have to sleep. I should be able to provide everything everyone needed. I should be able to help everyone that needed help and solve everyone’s problems. I should be able to do everything without error. I should be able to contemplate everything that needs to be taken care of and I should have the strength, time, and resources to do it.

I had major role confusion. There is no doubt that there were tasks I needed to be faithful in and that things fell to me that shouldn’t have. There are some things that just need to get done. There are some things that it would be unloving to people to not administrate in a timely fashion. More came than I had planned. If I would have known, I wouldn’t have made commitments I did. I didn’t know. No one did, but God did and He used it to show me that phrases like “provide everything,” “help everyone,” “solve everyone’s problems,” “meet everyone’s needs,” “without
error,” “think of everything” are all phrases that can only be ascribed to Him. When I understand His role and my role I can act in faith and trust in Him. He provides the strength I need to do what He calls me to.

When I failed my unrealistic standards which confused God’s responsibilities with mine, I would speak the following phrases to myself: “I should have done that better.” “I can’t believe I can’t handle it all.” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why did I respond that way?” “I should just give up.” None of those attitudes or thoughts stand with the gospel. I am forgiven and I am adopted as a child. My identity is in Christ not in
whether I can control everything, do things perfectly, or how people perceive me. I’m not called to be everything to everyone. I’m not the one in control and I’m not supposed to be. At the end of the day there will be work left undone, that is a part of what it looks like to live in a fallen
world: Work will never be finished, things will break, and needs will be ever-present. When I understand my proper role and who God is, I can rest and trust. The anxiety, stress, and paralysis from fear come when I get those confused.


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