September 3, 2016

Making Mistakes

It is Saturday, and I am sitting here at my computer stewing over an issue I have with one of my classes. I won't go into specifics, but suffice it to say, my heart is torn today, and I am feeling condemned. I know why I am being condemned, and I know who is attacking me. Frankly, I am getting tired of being in the "hot spot," but so long as I wear the mantle of Christianity, so long as I stand as an ambassador for Christ, I will wear a big red bullseye on my back. Yes, I will be a target for anyone and anything who desires to pull me down, steal my joy, and make my life miserable.

The good news is that according to Paul, Romans 8:1 (HCSB) says, "Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." I love this verse of scripture and I repeat it constantly, especially when I am being harassed by my enemy. The problem, of course, is that this verse is specifically addressing the issue of the law versus the spirit of grace whereby we are saved. In this context alone, God has set us free in Christ Jesus, and we are no longer slaves to the law. We no longer must try in our own strength and effort to keep the legalism of the law. Instead, through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to keep the commands and statutes of the Lord because they are now written on our heart and within our mind. In this manner, we know the truth of God's word, and through the Spirit, we are able to walk (or to stay) in rightness with God and His Holy standard. Yet, still, we struggle to overcome feelings of worthlessness, and our enemy seeks to remind us of our failings, how we have fallen short of not only God's standard, but of every other standard created by man. As such, we suffer the feeling of being less than "good enough," less than perfect as the law was made perfect through Christ Jesus.

The rub in all of this good news is that no matter how hard we try to live a life that brings glory to God, we will always feel at times, like an utter failure. No matter how often we surrender to God, give up our need to strive and to strain for achievement or attainment, we will always fall short of His standard and the standards the world sets for us. For me personally, I know that no matter how hard I work to do my best, I will at times fail to meet the expectations of others. Yes, regardless of my heart, my mind, and my body -- I will fail at times. It is in moments of failure that I will find my enemy at the ready, at the point of attack. I will be attacked, and I will be condemned for my failings.


Recovering From Mistakes

This week has been difficult for me. I started back to school at GCU, and frankly, I had a rough start. With all the construction going on around campus, I had to walk farther than normal to get from one classroom to the other. More so, I ended up walking up 6-flights of stairs and doing a real "number" on my legs. On top of the stress and strain, I struggled through my three back-to-back classes and while the week went well (overall), I felt the strange feeling that I was performing less than my best. Yes, I was feeling condemned for being "less than perfect." It is funny how that happens, but lately, I have been assaulted by my enemy for my tendency toward perfectionism. I admit that for many, many years, I lived a life bound up in perfection. I had to prove my abilities, whether in school, in work, or in relationships by never making a mistake, but always doing 100%, and by giving my best. Whenever, I would fail to live up to my own "unlivable" standard, I would feel crushed, ruined, and I would walk around with a little black storm cloud hanging over my head. I would engage in negative self-talk, put myself down for my inferiority, and I would become super sensitive to the words of others, to their criticism, so much so that often I would take offense at the slightest off-word.

It took a lot of years to undo my past behavior, and for the most part, I live free from that "rat race." But, every now and then, my enemy seeks to hit me, to hurt me, and to cause me to feel the pain and the burn of imperfection. This week, it seemed, was his big chance to knock me further into the dirt while I was already down on my knees. Let me explain...

Monday and Tuesday were difficult days for me. I struggled with excruciating pain from walking and standing for hours. Wednesday was a better day, but toward the end of my third class, I totally messed up. I got my power points slides out of order, and I ended up asking my students to do something that was rather pointless. Yes, I goofed big time, and my students could tell it (or at the least, it appeared as such). I recovered the best I could, marched on, and then in the end, left campus feeling as though I had failed BIG TIME.

Thursday was my day of recovery, praise be to God, and then Friday came and went without a hitch. I left campus last night giving praise to God for His goodness and for His ability to keep me from spiraling down into the darkness of perfectionism. Perfectionism is defined as the "refusal to accept any standard short of perfection" (Dictionary.com). As Christian's the only standard that is "perfect" is God's standard, which is measured by the spotless, blameless Lamb of God. There is no other standard than Jesus. And we know that when we stand against the perfection of Jesus, our Lord and our Savior, we clearly will never measure up. But, we take comfort in this truth, and that is that grace has saved us from the feelings of inadequacy, incompleteness, and imperfection.

The problem, of course, is not the Holy standard of God's word, but rather it is the human standards that are arbitrary and difficult to manage. Yes, we struggle more so with human efforts, the constant comparison, and the need to be accepted. According to AnxietyBC (2016), "Perfectionism...involves a tendency to set standards that are so high that they either cannot be met, or are only met with great difficulty" (para. 1). Moreover, "Perfectionists tend to believe that anything short of perfection is horrible, and that even minor imperfections will lead to catastrophe" (para. 1).

Paul Hewitt, Ph.D., has studied perfectionism for over 20 years. In his article, "The Many Faces of Perfectionism," he discusses some of the psychological problems that are associated with this disorder. According to Hewitt (2003), perfectionism manifests itself in many ways, with some manifestations being less severe than others. Hewitt and his research partner, Flett, state that one of the main problems with perfectionism is that it can lead to a whole host of psychological disorders such as depression and even suicide (para. 4). Perfectionism as such can interrupt the normal patterns of life, and can at times, affect how you behave, think, and feel. 

Recognizing that you have perfectionist tendencies is the first step in overcoming them. I know I have these tendencies -- shoot -- let's just say that I am a perfectionist, always have been, and yes, always will be. However, I am working hard to overcome them. One of the ways I am working to stop the negative patterns of perfectionism is to start saying positive things about myself, my work, and my efforts. Statements such as these (courtesy of AnxietyBC.com) help me to accept my limitations and to realize that no matter how hard I try, I will never perform, act, or think perfectly.
  • “Nobody is perfect!” 
  • “All I can do is my best!” 
  • “Making a mistake does not mean I’m stupid or a failure. It only means that I am like everyone else – human. Everyone makes mistakes!” 
  • “It’s okay not to be pleasant all the time. Everyone has a bad day sometime.”
  • “It’s okay if some people don’t like me. No one is liked by everyone!”
Another way that I am working to overcome my need to be perfect is to choose to see the big picture rather than always focus on the minutia of detail. Yes, I struggle with detail, and when I am focused on every minor detail, well I am living in a microscopic world. But, the world is complex, and it is larger than my tiny microscope. Thus, I need to focus macroscopically, and see the more important details such as learning experiences, growth, and change.

AnxietyBC.com states that one of the ways you can learn to overcome the fear of making mistakes is to actually practice making mistakes! I know this sounds crazy, but I have to say that I think it works. For example, the Lord often allows us to experience mistakes in order to help us see where we might be overly focused on a minor detail rather than a major one. In my case, I recently made a mistake with one of my classes. I am still stinging from the fact that I made an error and I may have caused students to be confused. I hate doing this, and it never is my intention to purposely cause this type of situation to occur ("I am human, and we all make mistakes!") Yet, I struggle with the fact that I allowed this to happen -- and because of my imperfection -- I caused a student (or students) to struggle. Yikes!

My desire is to learn how to accept failure, to recover from mistakes (unintentional) with grace and to extend grace to others when they do the same. I asked the Lord this week to help me be more gracious to my students, to help me practice goodness and grace. Well, the Lord delivered several situations whereby I have been immersed in situations that have required humility and submission. One of the things that I am coming to terms with is my desire for unrealistic standards regarding my own behavior, thinking, and feeling. I need to set more realistic standard for my daily practice and that means to set standards that help me do my best.  

In all, this has has been a difficult week for me, and I have made mistakes that, while not insurmountable, still have had some negative consequences. It is up to me to recover and to move on. I have confessed my error to the Lord, and I have sought forgiveness from my arrogance and my unrelenting pursuit of perfection. Now, I must deal with the outcome, with the results, and learn from this experience. My desire is to learn to be gracious on all matters, always considerate, and always seeking the benefit for my students, and for my family. In truth, agape love seeks actions that are mutually beneficial, meaning that the desire of one's heart should always be toward bettering the person, the relationship, or the situation.


In Closing

As I consider my week in review, one thing is for sure -- I am where God intends me to be. And, whether I like it or not, the truth is that I am not perfect. I make mistakes often, and I fail to keep standards and meet expectations. I do, I do. I admit it. I am flawed, failed, and imperfect human flesh, and as a result, I cannot redeem myself in anyway that will ever meet His perfect standard. I may meet worldly standards, but being that they are arbitrary and often inconsistent, I will typically fall short. Thus, I must realize that I am valued, worthy, and accepted by God alone on the basis of my faith in Jesus Christ. The world will reject me (the Word says it is so), and the standards I attempt to match may be impossible. I can remember, I can take heart to know that I am striving for His glory and not my own. I am working to achieve His will and not my own desires. I am seeking His praise and not the praise of men. In all things, I desire His glory, His praise, and His honor. Thus, when I fail, I will do so with humility for I recognize that where I am today is the result of His good work in and through me. I take no credit for my life, for my achievements, or for my results. It is all for His name, and to bring Him praise and honor this good, good day.

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