June 23, 2015

"Cashin' in" My Do-Over Today

It is curious how things work out -- I mean -- just yesterday I blogged about "do overs," and here I am today feeling the need to do the day over! Yes, I blew it big time, and I made a complete fool of myself, and I feel so ashamed. You know, the whole bucket of self-condemning feelings that shout at you "You really did it this time!" I know, I know...

Romans 8:1 says, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus," which is comforting to remember. Still, my mind wants to say that there is no reprieve for me, at the least, not today.

Yet, I believe the Word of God, and I know that as a flawed and imperfect human being, I will make mistakes, I will do stupid things, and I will, at times, say things that are plain-old inappropriate. It happens to all of us, and it happens to me often. I think the reason I feel so condemned by my actions and words is simply that I hold myself to a high standard of perfection. I want to be perfect, to walk in perfection, to never make a mistake. This is flawed thinking right from the get-go because God's Word tells us that there is no one who is perfect, there is no one who is righteous (Romans 3:10). When I think about this idea of "perfection," I wonder why it is that some of us, me in particularly, think this way, feel this way, desire to be this way.

Where does this line of thinking originate?

According to Brene Brown, a sociologist who studies vulnerability and shame, we desire perfection because "We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame" (Brown, 2010, para. 2). Brown has spent the past 10 years researching the reasons why people feel the need to be perfect. She writes, "We all need to feel worthy of love and belonging, and our worthiness is on the line when we feel like we are never [good] enough" (para. 4). She discusses the difference between striving for perfection in being and striving to do our best in doing. She says that the two are vastly different things. Wanting to do a good job, to do our best, is one thing. Feeling as though we are never good enough is another. 
Living in a society that floods us with unattainable expectations around every topic imaginable, from how much we should weigh to how many times a week we should be having sex, putting down the perfection shield is scary. Finding the courage, compassion and connection to move from "What will people think?" to "I am enough," is not easy. But however afraid we are of change, the question that we must ultimately answer is this: What's the greater risk? Letting go of what people think -- or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?
Letting go of what people think is key. When we place the emphasis on what other people think of us, we say in short, that their opinion of me is worth more than my opinion of myself. Yes, we value what others think and feel about us, and we measure ourselves against an imaginary and impossible stick. Brown describes perfectionism as carrying a 20-ton shield around with us because we believe it will protect us (para. 4). In truth, it is simply a way for us to hide and be safe rather than something that emboldens us and causes us, as she says, to take flight (para. 4).

Brown says that after conducting interviews with people over the course of her research, she has determined that the only way to stop the cycle of perfectionism is to understand the underlying need of all human beings -- the need to be loved and to feel valued. The problem is not whether or not we are loved and valued by others, but rather whether we believe we are worthy of being loved and valued. She says it this way, "If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging" (para. 8).

Her response to this problem is courage. She says, "Letting go of our prerequisites for worthiness means making the long walk from 'What will people think?' to 'I am enough.' But, like all great journeys, this walk starts with one step, and the first step in the Wholehearted journey is practicing courage." She continues to state that courage is not about being heroic, which is a modern definition of the word. Rather, she stresses the original definition which meant "to speak one's mind by telling all one's heart" (para. 10).

Courage, therefore, is the ability to tell the truth, from the heart. In this sense, courage is saying to yourself (myself) that I am good enough in my size 10 jeans or I am good enough right where I am today (not where I will be in 10 years). Brown says that it takes courage to own our stories, to tell the truth about who we are, and to stop projecting perfectionism as a cover-up for what we think is "less than" or not "good enough."

Aligning with the Word of God

I am writing about perfectionism because I suffer from it. Not only do I desire and strive to do my best (always), but I live with impossible standards that I keep for myself, standards that say to me I am either "good enough" or not "good enough." I am tired of keeping these standards, of living the lie that says I will be OK when I achieve X, Y, or Z. I am tired of the game of mouse hunt, always feeling like I am being preyed on by my need to achieve, to be perfect, to be the best.

Getting right with God means several things. First, it means that we understand who He is and who we are. In short, we recognize that He is God (perfect, righteous, holy), and we are not. We are fallen creatures, created in perfection, but marred by sin, and doomed to live a life separated from Him. However, we are not lost because we have a Savior who has offered Himself as a ransom for our sin, our penalty, and as a result, we can accept His free gift and be restored to relationship and fellowship with God. Our worth, our value is encapsulated in this verse,
"For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life" (John 3:16 AMP).
God so highly valued His creation (the world) that He made a way for it to be redeemed or ransomed. In this way, we can believe that God considers each of us valued and of great worth. Our value individually was worth more than the love He had for His son, Jesus.

Therefore, our perspective on who He is and who we are must be changed and adjusted so that we begin to see things rightly or correctly. We must change the way we think, and adopt the way God thinks.

Secondly, our identity (our understanding of who we are internally or our self-hood) must also be reshaped so that it conforms with God's valuation of His creation. To do that, we must know that as children of God, we are valued and held in high-esteem because of the value and esteem God places on us. The Word calls us His children, Joint-Heirs with Jesus Christ, sons and daughters of the King. Our identity has been replaced. We were once disobedient and unlawful children, but now we are counted as righteous, holy, and redeemed.

How we view ourselves, then must align with the Word. We must stop seeking perfection and approval from the World, and instead look to the Word of God for our affirmation. We must believe what God says about us, and then we must stop repeating negative and condemning words that the enemy feeds to us. We must reply to the enemies accusation with the affirming words of our Heavenly Father, who loves us so much that He did not spare His only Son!

Moving On From This Point

I know the truth of the Word, but lately, I have struggled with condemning thoughts. I know that despite what I believe and what I know to be true, I still fall victim to the old negative thoughts that tell me "I am not good enough or smart enough or pretty enough." So many of these negative condemnations came from my childhood. I was told as a child that I was not as smart as my All-State Scholar brother, talented enough as my two musician brothers, or pretty enough as my cousin the model. I was condemned because I wasn't a good student, I wasn't talented in any way, and I was homely, gangly, and very klutzy. In truth, I wasn't acceptable because I didn't possess, brains, beauty or brawn (or bravado!) Thus, I was labeled by parents, teachers, friends, extended family as being "less than," and those comments stung me, struck me, and still stick with me. They hurt me when they were pronounced at 6, 8, and 10 years of age, and still today some 40 years later, they echo in my head, and inflict upon me twinges of pain. I am still "not good enough" -- not good enough as pronounced by other people's standards, by other people's measuring sticks.

Overcoming the negative comments is difficult. You would think it would take one achievement to overcome a negative condemnation. Rather, studies have shown that on average it takes 5 positive moments to counteract one negative moment (Gottman, 1999). Gottman dubbed this ratio as "the magic ratio." Researchers today still find that Gottman's original research, which studied successful marriage encounters, can be applied to much wider implications such as interpersonal and intergroup communication. Losada and Fredrickson (2005) studied positive to negative ratios and determined the "tipping point" to be at 3, which simply means that 3 is the critical point of the scale. Other researchers such as Losada and Heaphy (2004) studied team performance to understand how positive to negative ratio of feedback and comments influenced performance levels. Their research suggested that high performing teams function at a ratio of 5.6, with medium performance teams at 1.9, and low performance teams at .36 (more negative rather than positive comments).

Positive to negative ratio research has come under scrutiny of late, and some of these studies are now being questioned as to whether mathematically the statistical data represented results correctly. Regardless, I believe we can all agree that positive feedback is critical to the well-being and health and vitality of each individual. Fredrickson (2013), in defense of her earlier research says, "positive emotions have also been found to promote the development and maintenance of flourishing." Flourishing is defined as "feel good do good" suggesting that people who feel good about themselves tend to do good things for other people. She says "To flourish means to live within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience" (p. 3).

Interestingly, while scholars debate the mathematical preciseness of empirical evidence, one fact remains, and that is that positive comments generally promote higher valuation and esteem than negative ones. I think we can all agree that positive affirmations are far more critical than negative condemnations, at the least, where mental health is concerned (Fredrickson, 2013, p. 6).

So What Does All This Mean

Good question! I think the long-and-the-short of it is this: how we view ourselves and the world around us is important, not only to our own well-being, but to the well-being of others. Our words of affirmation, encouragement, and support can be life-giving. Likewise, our words that degrade or condemn others can strip life away, can demean and cause others to feel less valued and less worthy. Fredrickson (2013) says it this way, "Negativity can either promote healthy functioning or kill it, depending on its contextual appropriateness and dosage relative to positive emotions" (p. 7). The Bible offers a similar result,

"Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose" (Proverbs 18:21 MSG)

And again, in James 3:5b-8, we read,

“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,  but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”

As Christians, we have the power to bring life to those around us. Our words can build people up or they can tear people down. We have the power within us, and we must choose our words carefully, wisely, and always use them with respect and regard to other people's feelings and their life situations.

A suggested approach to building people up is to reverse the Golden Rule, which says, "Do unto other as you would have them do unto you." Instead, the wording is reversed to read,

Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

The idea being that instead of thinking about your actions and how they cause people to behave toward you (self-centered), turn your approach so that your words and actions are 100% seeking the better of others.

It is all about putting others needs before your own, seeking the welfare of others first, and then saying and doing things that lift up, build up, and esteem those around you.

Biblically, it is the servant-leader model, and it affirms the Word of God where it says,

Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them (Eph. 4:29 NLT)

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing (1 Thess. 5:11 NLT)


Today, as I think about my need for a "do over," I realize that much of what I think and do is the result of old patterns and habit, old thoughts that seek to condemn me rather than edify me. I look to the Word of God and I embrace the truth of the Word. I realize that I am not bound by any standard other than the Word, the Bible. My measuring rod is the one by which my Lord measures me, and thanks be to God, it is not a standard based on my own merit. Rather, it is the holy, righteous, and pure standard of the Lord Jesus Christ. I can do nothing in my own strength, I can never be "good enough" to measure up. But I can rest in the knowledge that my account is been made right, been accorded correctly, and as far as my Lord is concerned, I am good because He has said so. I am good enough today because my Lord loves me, and He died to save me -- just as I am, just as I am.

Just As I Am
Charlotte Elliott, 1841

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd'st me come to thee, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt;
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive;
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown
has broken every barrier down;
now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
the breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
here for a season, then above:
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

References

Brown, B. (2010, November 1). Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect - CNN.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/11/01/give.up.perfection/

Fredrickson, B. L. (2013, July 15). Updated Thinking on Positivity Ratios. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0033584

Gottman, J. (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co

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