While reading some very creative and insightful articles for preaching, I had a thought that I wanted to share with you all. You may relate to the thought, or it may seem completely opposite to your nature. Either way, I hope it helps you to better understand me and something I still struggle with- perfectionism.
When I had my endorsement interview, I remember thinking that things were going really well. I enjoyed talking about my faith story, the ups and downs of seminary life, and was surprised to realize how far I had come in a year and a half. In the midst of talking about classes and which professors I liked (I said all, and I truly meant it) Pastor Scott hit me with a question that caught me completely off-guard. He asked me if being a perfectionist got in the way of my studies. WHAT?!? Me, a perfectionist? I remember sitting in a chair outside while they discussed their decision and writing on the pad of paper that I had brought with me “Am I a perfectionist?”
Pastor Scott’s question hit me like a slap in the face, and the next day when I spoke with Susan (my adviser) and asked her if she thought I was a perfectionist, she responded with a blatant “YEAH!” Since then, I have been slowly realizing that what was so obvious to them (and likely to many others as well) was completely hidden from me. Recognizing it and finally admitting to it has been a struggle. I encountered it again when discussing internship sites with Dr. Sayler. She told me that I’m too hard on myself and second-guess myself too much. After I stopped putting myself down for putting myself down, I realized it was because of that perfectionism again.
Being more aware of it, I’ve noticed that it has affected my life so much and kept holding me back. In dieting, I tried to be perfect in counting every calorie and watching every little thing that I ate. When I goofed and ate too much or scarfed down something unhealthy, all was lost in my mind. I screwed it up, so I might as well give up. Writing assignments, especially major papers, have been so hard because I worry so much about doing it right that I’m too scared to even start. Even in cleaning my room, I will put it off because I don’t have enough time to clean it to perfection. And it’s all so silly! I’m so caught up in doing it wrong that I can’t even do it at all!
I’m reminded of a trip last summer that I took to the cabin up north. I wanted to whittle something, so I got a pocket knife and found a large branch and started whittling away. The branch was a bit dry, so at times pieces would break off, and there was some discoloration in places. As I tried to fix all the mistakes and cut out the discoloration, it kept breaking and new spots kept showing up. Eventually all I had left was a tiny little piece of wood, about as long as my fingernail. The tip broke off, so I threw even that away. Looking back, I realize that my perfectionism is the knife and I’m the piece of wood. Whenever I tried to do something, that need for perfection would cut away at me until there wasn’t anything left.
So what does this have to do with the preaching articles? In reading them, they repeatedly remind the reader to keep the Word in mind. All too often sermon writers try to form some perfect masterpiece, or tell this perfect story, but at the expense of the Word. When they don’t keep Scripture at the center, it becomes all too easy to keep hacking away at it until there’s nothing left. The same goes for ourselves. If we forget who we are, as children of God, and forget that our goal is to share the Good News, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, help the poor, and love our neighbor, it’s easy to get caught up in life until there’s no real meaning left. We find ourselves constantly busy trying to find fulfillment in empty things. And what does that mean for us? Well, for me it means I have more schoolwork to finish. For you? Well, you’ll have to figure that one out yourself. If you figure it out, let me know. I’d love to hear what God’s calling you to do.