Thursday, 13 December 2012

Running to stand still

God, I'm not having a good day.

There are days when I sit here and you and I just chat and it's the easiest thing in the world. I love those days; and to be honest most days are like that. I turn up and there you are waiting for me, as you always are, and we do our thing. I'm full of angst or anxiety or curiosity and you indulge me. I like it when it's like that. Easy.

And then there are days like today, where I can't find you and the words aren't there. I'm not quite sure what to say and I can't hear you either. I don't know where to start, I can't find any words or any ideas, and as a result I back away and go and do something else, but nothing goes right. My whole day is askew; nothing is as good without you.

I read something the other day that hit home. Rick Warren was talking about perfectionism.
'...perfectionism - the feeling that I must be flawless, that I must be perfect, that I must please everybody, that I always have to do more...'
Hello. My name is Helen and I am a perfectionist.

I have a problem with perfectionism.

Everything has to be just right, and life isn't just right. Life doesn't work like that (especially not with two small children and a pathological dislike for housework - yes, perfectionism and slovenliness can co-exist). I am in a constant state of dissatisfaction. It's an uncomfortable place to be.

It doesn't really matter what I'm doing, whether I'm planning a day out or a dinner party, being a mummy or buttering a piece of toast right to the edges. It needs to be right. Anything less than right is wrong.  I constantly fail to live up to my own expectations even though I know that they're unrealistic ones. I know that they're unrealistic, but knowing it somehow doesn't help.

It's like having grit under my contact lens. A constant irritation.

A feeling of never being quite good enough, not quite getting it right, not quite being enough. I would so, so love to be one of those people who can give something their best shot, appraise it and find it good enough. Not to matter that it isn't perfect, but it'll do.

'It'll do,' is something that I struggle to say, and even if I do say it I rarely believe it. How much easier life would be if I didn't have to work so hard at getting everything right. 

Rick Warren pointed this out to me (as if I needed it pointing out):
'If you're an average person, you have three things on your daily 'To Do' list. You get one of them done, you leave one of them unfinished, and the third thing you just forget about. You go home and put your feet up at night and feel good about yourself. 
'If you're a perfectionist, you have 29 things on your daily 'To Do' list. You finish 28 of them and you go home and feel like a failure.'
(Rick Warren, 'The Purpose Driven Connection' daily email devotional) 

This might sound humorous but that's exactly how I function, Lord. You made me, you know what goes on in my head. Which innocuous little strand of my personality got all exaggerated to make me this way? Why?

I've had to stop making 'To Do' lists. I had an app on my phone and it had so many things on it that it frightened me. For every thing I ticked off, half a dozen things were added, and then, believe it or not, I started adding things that I'd done, just so that I could tick them off and the list would be complete. Obsessive and oppressive. It felt as if I was constantly failing. Always getting it wrong.

Running to stand still.

The problem is that just because the To Do list is no longer on my phone, or on paper, doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. I sort of hold it in my head, and try to squash it down when it lurks threateningly at night. Perish the thought that I should miss something. 

This perfectionism spreads to all areas of my life. It saps my confidence, even in things that I know that I'm good at; being good at something doesn't seem to help much. I'm always worried about not being good enough, not spot on. Worrying about what people think; having to be perfect so that there'll be no room for criticism. My life is full of 'I should...' and 'I must...' or 'I'd better....' Maybe it's all wrapped up in people-pleasing and the need to be accepted, acceptable; a pathological  fear of failure and rejection. Better not to have a go at all than fail.

How much easier would life be for the people round me if I were less of a martyr to my perfectionism? If it didn't matter quite so much if the picture was hung on the wall exactly exactly where I perceive that  it should be? If the craft activity mess on the kitchen table were not cleaned up immediately? If I didn't hiss in my daughters' ears with irritation when they get too boisterous in church?

Of course, the knowledge that my need to get it right affects the people I love doesn't make things any easier to handle; much, much worse. Indeed, the other day my daughter Katy gave up on a beautiful drawing she'd been labouring over for hours because she'd tried to write a loving message on it and made a mistake with her spelling. She's five. She wouldn't be persuaded to make it right; she said, 'No, Mummy, now it's ruined.'


I am better than I was. Honestly, I am.

Stop that thing with the raised eyebrows, will you?

Take the Christmas Tree, for example. Years ago, in the Time Before Children, my Christmas Tree was a work of art. Colour co-ordinated, with tasteful white sparkly lights and garlands evenly spaced. Look at it now. A riot of lopsided colour with preschool decorations dangling precariously and hardly any of them above two thirds of the way up as that's as far as the children could reach. Multicoloured lights all over the place. And yet I don't mind.

Really, I don't. Maybe there's hope.

That nativity scene - the one made out of tin foil and cotton wool, (yes, that's a nativity scene, there's you in there) - that is more precious to me than the crystal bauble and a host of grown up and tasteful white lights. There's a reindeer's head made out of pre-school handprints that comes out every Christmas, even though he's a bit bent these days.

The reindeer makes me smile.

But today everything is getting me down. Help me with this, will you, Lord.

You've forgiven me for everything that's bad in my life. You've forgiven me for some terrible things that I've done and you have forgotten it all. You look at me and you don't see the rubbish, you see one of your children who loves you and who is completely spotlessly clean. If you've forgiven me for all my mistakes, why can't I?

How come I beat myself up about things so much?

Yesterday Elizabeth was off school. She had been poorly on Sunday and so Monday was her getting better day. This morning I chivvied her into her uniform until she sat down and cried. It's her Christmas party later and I thought she was just nervous about going back to school, and needed some determined encouragement but by ten o'clock she'd been sick again and it was clear that she was still poorly and best at home. I would have sent her to school. What sort of a Mummy misreads the signs from a little pale-faced seven year old like that?

So today I'm sharing sofa time with a small poorly person again. Jobs are piling up around me and I'm feeling stressed and overwhelmed when I know that I should just be focusing on my little girl who needs her Mummy to be relaxed and reassuring.

I need to work down the mental 'To Do' list.
I need to sit with my little girl and watch some kids' telly.

I need to get ready for Christmas - presents to post that haven't even been bought yet.
I need to read her stories and do more jigsaws.

I need to get things done.
I need to chill out.

I need you.

I am not very good at this.
I know that I've got to want to change, and I do. I've had enough of this.

Lord, help me be less of a Martha and more of a Mary. I talk a good talk about stillness and waiting and just being but I find it hard to get my priorities in order. Help me to sort out what's important and what's not important. What's real and what's trivia.

Lord, our sofa is big enough for three. Come and sit with us and let your peace be enough for all of us. Help me see this time less as precious time wasted and more as precious time with my baby girl. Help me focus not on what I'm not doing, but on what I am.

Life is like this; it doesn't always go smoothly. It's not perfect; not by a long chalk, and I can't make it so. I'm running after something that can never be. If I got to the bottom of the bottomless To Do list what would I find? Somehow I suspect that it would still not be a well of peace and satisfaction.

Help me to stop running for a while.You love me just as I am. I don't have to get it right all the time.

Help me to stop the 'I need to, I've got to, I must...' and stop striving so much.

Help me delete the 'To Do' app in my head. To climb off the hamster wheel.

I'm tired of running.


  1. I started teacher training at the age of 40. Up until then, I'd more or less succeeded at other things, but while training, I really struggled with finding I was doing everything badly. I cried lots of nights! Someone then said to me, 'You need to learn the concept of 'good enough'.' Very wise words, and I've used them on myself many times since ...

    1. Thanks Fran. I need lots of help with this one. Thanks for the 'Me too' moment. I'll have to start telling myself the same thing more often.

  2. Hello Helen, my name is Joy and..gulp!..I'm a perfectionist too. Is there a club we could join to get straightened out? I fully agree that "perfectionism and slovenliness can co-exist" as health problems keep me from doing much housework at all and it was never my strong point before. Instead, I would get distracted from the general by over attention to the specific. Hello again from another Chief Tree Decorator/Co-ordinator aiming for visual symmetry and style - favouring Victoriana, naturally.
    It is often a sign of being "all wrapped up in people-pleasing", frequently due to lack of positive parental affirmation as a child. I wonder if God is trying to say the same thing to many of us as my previous blog post not only had a hamster on a wheel reference, it also spoke of accepting 'Good Enough' instead of aiming for 'Perfect-Schmerfect'. Let's learn to embrace our imperfections as we rest in God's total love and acceptance. Deal? Blessings :)

    1. Joy there's loads to think about there on the subject of people pleasing and perfectionism. Hmm. It's something I struggle with and have done for years. Only in the last few have I realised the scale of the problem and it's a good job that nothing is impossible for Him!
      Baby steps.
      Thanks again for reading and commenting. Means a lot.

  3. Oh ladies - perfection club! can I join? I so get the Christmas tree, I have tinsel on mine... Tinsel I hate it but I grit my teeth because children love it. My tree also used to look like a work of art and now it looks like fun. May God bless you with a quiet peace of mind so that you can focus and enjoy this great time of celebration :)

    1. Tania, the more the merrier. Or maybe not... :-)
      Thanks for coming and thanks for commenting. And yes, know what you mean about tinsel.

  4. Hello, my name is Ginger, and most--okay, some--days, I'm a recovering perfectionist. Just when I think I've put it down, He shows me another place where my "perfect" is bumping up against His grace. In "Jesus Calling" this week, Sarah Young calls it "unbelief". Ouch, but I fear it's true. Let's pray for each other that we'll trust Him with everything!

    1. I read the same thing! 'Unbelief'? Surely not... oh dear, maybe...
      Yes, definitely. Praying for you as we start the new year with this in mind.
      Thanks again, my friend-across-the-sea.

  5. I woke up this morning feeling as grey as the weather outside. A young couple in our church look as if they might lose a longed for baby in the 26th week of pregnancy. Just the time when they lost the last one. I'm hosting a meeting in my home which I don't want to host in a format that I don't feel comfortable with - because it's to be done in a way I wouldn't choose. I am Marion,I am a recovering Perfectionist! In Brian Draper's book 'Less is more' I read this 'Instead of asking what can wrong today, ask 'What could go right?' Thought I'd give it a try. Mum and baby are in Addenbrookes and labour hasn't started - yet. Which is good because every day counts. And I've had an idea about re-jiggng the meeting which is acceptable to others. So rain,rain go away. What else can go right today?

    1. I need to do just that. Thankyou, Marion, for this gentle suggestion. I find I get derailed so easily and need to change the way I think about things.
      I'm going to check out the book you mention.
      Thanks for your encouragement.

  6. Something I wrote about not too long ago was accepting that God is Omnipotent, all powerful in all ways we could ever imagine. It's a tough thing, even in the littlest ways our "old man" wrestles as much control of us as he can.

    My prayers are with you and I've started following your blog (as well as added it to my page on my own blog)

    Keep on humbling yourself like this and I know God will help you out.

    Much love.

    1. Thankyou so much for following and for coming to say hello, Ajay. Means a lot.

  7. Hi! Joining you here from "Faith Filled Friday". I needed to read this post and realize that I was not alone:) When you said, "I would so, so love to be one of those people who can give something their best shot, appraise it and find it good enough."...I found myself in that statement. Ah, to let go and let give Him the details and not try to work it all out myself...that's what I'll be working on in 2013! Thank you for reminding me to rest. Merry Christmas!!

    1. Welcome! thanks for visiting. And thanks even more for the 'Me too'. It's a new year's resolution and a half for me.
      Here's to 2013!


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