Perfectionist. All one needs to do is read that word and there are immediate thoughts that begin to formulate. Thoughts of how we, ourselves strive for perfectionism; or the face of someone we know pops into our heads because they represent to us what a perfectionist is. I have lived the better part of my life trying to be a perfectionist and let me tell you, it’s exhausting!!! As I delve into the reasons many of us feel like we have to be perfect, one focus is going to concern the Christian community. I know that some believers are going to feel defensive, concerned that this will turn into a Christian bashing session. I assure you it is not. I also know that people will read it and may conclude, she is bitter; I assure you I am not. In response to my assurance, people may think, if she has to say she isn’t bitter, then she probably is. Once again…I assure you I am not. The community I am addressing is one that I am an integral part of and I do not hold bitterness or anger toward anyone. I would like to believe that I have gained a balanced viewpoint through my experiences and, therefore, am sharing that knowledge. If we can address this issue of revolving standards, there won’t be so much pressure to be perfect.
When I turned twelve, my dad made me start working for him during tax season. He first taught me how to fill out a 1040-EZ form for his clients. As I wrote about in Chasing the Winds of Approval, I wanted to gain his approval and I made it my goal to be perfect. I mastered it very quickly and my dad was impressed…YES!!! In response, he moved me up to the 1040 forms and these were a lot more complicated. I did my best to do them right, however, the information was confusing sometimes and I would get the numbers wrong. My dad would look over the form and, if it was correct, he would smile and hand me the next one. However, if it was wrong, he would yell at me and fire me by saying, “Get the hell out of my office!” For the next few days, I would sit on the living couch and wait for him to leave for work. If he was still mad, he would ignore me and walk out the door and I knew I was to stay home that day. If he was over it, he would look at me and say, “Well, what are you waiting for, get your @$$ up and let’s go.” I would jump up, excited for another opportunity to “get it right”. This was a pattern that was repeated until tax season was over and he no longer needed me. I would guess that in one season, I would get fired 10-12 times. But he needed the help and I needed more chances to become perfect.
In many ways, this is how I feel like the Christian walk has been for me. At first, there was a lot of grace extended to me because I was a new believer, however, that grace was short lived. I joined a community that I felt would teach me how to walk in the ways of the Bible and in many ways it did. But I remember in my second year that a new group had arrived. A roommate and I had gotten into a little argument and I walked outside upset. The leader came out to find me, however, she did not come to find out what was wrong; she came out to scold me. She was embarrassed that one of the new students had witnessed it and said that, as a second-year member, I should know better.
If you look back and read my story and where I had just come from (The Breaking Begins, Nini), it will put this conversation into the context I am talking about as far as unattainable standards. I was only two years from coming off the streets; one year into the Christian walk; and had no counseling to address the multiple traumas I was reeling from in in every way. Yes, I was beginning my second year, but that was a year of studying the Bible and learning how to serve. I was not given any tools to “know better” when it came to knowing how to relate to other people in a normal way. This was my first experience with what I call revolving standards.
Today, the Christian community has made strides in learning how to extend more grace toward each other. However, there are still many different standards that we somehow internalize and expect others to live by. Here are two examples of the different standards I am referring to. As I describe each situation, please know that I am not condemning their personal situations, but explaining who they were in order to bring context to how they relate to the subject matter.
Many years ago, there was a couple that I worked with whom identified as Christians. They lived together before they were married and never attended church. They were the information station for anything gossip worthy and thrived on getting any juicy news first. One day, someone I was close to in the company suffered a devastating loss. When this couple came in, they immediately went to many co-workers, including myself and, with a mask of concern told us of the loss. They ended each ‘private’ conversation with, “But don’t tell anyone else” (insert rollie eye emoji here). They didn’t want us to say anything to anyone else because they wanted to be the ones to do so! I felt very angry that I was hearing this from them and not from an appropriate source who should have been sharing it.
When my friend came in, she pulled me aside and, with deep sadness shared her loss with me. As we were about to finish our conversation, she said, “I know that I can’t keep this private but I don’t want to tell people what happened because it is too emotional. I trust you with this and would appreciate it if you could please let everyone know what happened.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her news had already been told by the couple. A few weeks later, I was talking the situation through with someone who knows the couple because it was still bothering me and I needed to process it. The person I was talking to shook their head in disbelief because they knew how wrong this was. But it is what they said next that really got to me. “Well, that is very sad that they chose to do that, however, we all know how they are and expect this kind of behavior from them.”
And there you have it, a low standard for long time Christians simply because they are known as gossipers and it has become accepted as ‘this is who they are’. They did not strive to better themselves as believers in their daily lives and were given a free pass to be the town square gossipers. Now, take this low standard, raise it super high, and you have the next story.
Many years ago, I met a man I will call Ezra, who became a very good friend of mine. This guy lived his Christian life in such a genuine and authentic way. For years he had served faithfully and with great passion. I looked up to him and still have a ton of respect for him. To quote the old adage ‘He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it’. Sadly, he was married to a very difficult person who had cheated on him twice, was verbally abusive and, on occasion physically abusive. Ezra had more patience and forgiveness for this woman than I have ever witnessed. She never attended church and she belittled him for doing so. Many people advised him that his situation was escalating and that he should try to separate from her. But he was concerned that getting a divorce would make him look like a bad Christian. As we learned in Ebony Part 1, you have to make decisions that are safe for you and your loved ones no matter what others think. Ezra would learn this the hard way.
One Sunday, Ezra came home earlier than expected and found another man in his house. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He lost his temper, kicked the man out, and demanded that his wife leave. This was the first time over their ten-year marriage that he had lost his temper; but his wife called 911 and reported that her husband was attacking her and that she was in fear for her life. The neighbors, who knew the truth of the situation, reluctantly admitted that they had heard him yelling. This one situation turned into a fiasco that was blown completely out of proportion by his wife and her male companion. I wish this is where the fiasco ended, but it wasn’t. A few days later, Ezra called the church in order to reach out for some help; but his wife had already called the church and spoke with someone on the staff. She related her story that he had ‘attacked her’; the police were called and added untruthful facts about the situation. That person reported the story to the pastors, who called a meeting and determined that this was not a good look for the church and later asked him to step down from his leadership position.
Just like that. Ezra, who lived his life striving to be a godly man, was held to such a high standard that he lost credibility from one situation. Mind you, they did not hear his side of the story before making their decision. Even worse, they took the word of someone they had never met over the person who was faithfully serving every week. To be fair, after a few months, Ezra went back and had a long meeting with the pastors and, after hearing the truth, they apologized and publicly reinstated his leadership role. Although the whole situation was handled so poorly in the beginning, the church recognized their error and humbly corrected it.
I do not understand why it is that people who serve with faithfulness and integrity are held to this kind of impossible standard. These are the ones who should be given the benefit of the doubt, grace, understanding and trust when any situation arises. If they have consistently proven their integrity, why does it only take one or two opposers to allow their character to be questioned? It is man who has created this pressure of being perfect and it is not a sustainable way of living.
Jesus does not hold anyone to these same standards. Yes, the Bible lays out the expectations that we as believers should live by. However, God does not expect every one of us to live every single rule to perfection. He gave us access to grace because He knew we would need it. He gave us access to mercy because he knew we would need it. He is the reason we should be living without the pressures of man upon on. He is the reason we can be who we are, right our mistakes, and live in peace. Whether you are a believer or not, the pressure to be perfect is one that no one should live with because it is unattainable. Be at peace with who you are and don’t let others put expectations on you that you simply don’t need to live by. When you are the genuine you, you are picture perfect!
Until next time, live pressure free and stay safe!