I’m used to going to confession and admitting the same sins over and over again. It’s annoying and I feel bad, but I once heard that I should be grateful that at least I’m not adding new sins.
Fair enough. Though I still prefer when I go to confession with less sins to report than I did last time. When that happens, I have more hope that I can become a saint because I can see God healing me of old sins, making them easier to resist so that I don’t confess them as frequently.
Well, last year I began confessing completely new sins.
I began feeling like an even greater failure. I was supposed to be sinning less as I grew closer to God, not replacing past sins with new ones.
Back in December after a confession in which I admitted one of those new sins, I sat with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and was honest with Him. I told Him how discouraged and tired I was, feeling like I was just going in circles. I asked Him when was I ever going to be a saint? How much longer until I loved Him perfectly? How much longer until I was finally perfect?
You’re still learning. And that’s okay.
God showed me that confessing new sins wasn’t proof of failure but proof of my growth. I’m leveling up!
I’m facing new temptations, like when I play video games and each subsequent boss gets harder to defeat and requires new skills and tools. Usually the first time I face a new boss I don’t do so well. It can take me many, many times to beat them, but after each attempt I learn and improve until I finally win.
The same is true in my spiritual life. While I can’t become a saint overnight, with God’s help and the prayers of loved ones I receive more graces to do better with each day and each new battle. But the enemy doesn’t like that. He wants to keep me paralyzed and stuck at the lowest level possible. And one of his preferred weapons of choice to attack me with is perfectionism.
I’m used to these paralyzing attacks in my writing, which can leave me too scared to write for days, but that day I realized I was letting perfectionism paralyze me in other areas of my life, too. One being my relationship with God.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I realized I’d actually tried to hide my imperfections from God. Silly, right, trying to hide my heart from the One Who created it?
In trying to be a perfect disciple and make God proud, I’d tried to act more spiritually mature than I am. For a time I was putting up a mask of faith and trust because I didn’t want to complain. Complaining meant admitting I wasn’t God’s perfect daughter yet, that I was ungrateful and weak.
But the truth is I am ungrateful and weak. I’m not God’s perfect daughter yet. And that’s okay.
Spiritually, I’m still akin to a toddler. It makes no sense for me to strive for immediate sanctity or wallow in self-pity for not becoming a saint overnight. It also makes no sense for me to strive for any of this on my own, to not place my weaknesses before the Lord and ask for His help.
I believe God is a loving Father. He won’t condemn me for mistakes while I’m still learning. He’ll correct me, of course, but He’ll do so lovingly and patiently. So, instead of beating myself up for falling, I should rely on the Lord even more to teach me.
The only way I can heal is if I open my heart honestly to Him, by being myself, as I am in this moment. Which is broken, impure, selfish, cowardly, lazy, etc. I don’t have to hide that from God, in fact I can’t. He knows what I’m struggling with—even when I’m lying to myself.
Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.Ps 55:22
By being vulnerable and honest with Jesus back in December instead of putting up a front as I’d been doing, I learned it’s okay to be a child with Him. To ask Him more questions and to rely on Him more even as I grow closer to Him.
It was a beautiful experience, one I would’ve missed out on if I’d tried to act perfect.
The funny thing is that I didn’t even think perfectionism was a problem before. I used to be proud of being a perfectionist. In my mind being a perfectionist meant I strove to do things the best way possible, and that’s a good thing, right?
Jesus opened my eyes to the fact that striving to be perfect when rooted in Him is good and healthy. It’s freeing when we humble ourselves and accept that we’re not the best without help from others. When we embrace that there’s always something new to learn, that there’s always someone better we can learn from, we have something to work toward and someone to ask for help. That’s both motivating and encouraging. It makes striving for perfection hopeful.
My perfectionist mentality, however, was rooted in none other than pride. I didn’t want to do my best just to help others or to not let them down. I also wanted to prove myself. I wanted to impress… even those who have more knowledge and experience.
Once I realized that, a lot of things made sense. Like why the fear of failure paralyzes me, why I’m so hard on myself when I make mistakes, lose all confidence, and want to quit. Why I like staying in my comfort zone.
Because comfort zones are ideal places for perfectionism to take root. When I’m comfortable it’s easy to believe the lie that I’m closer to reaching perfection when the truth is I’m just not being challenged—I’m not being humbled.
“Seek advice from every wise man” (Tob 4:18). That’s something I want to live by going forward. I want to surround myself with people who are wiser, holier, and more talented and learn from them (my mother actually told me to live like this when I was younger, but clearly I didn’t listen to her).
I want to keep a spirit of learning, asking for help, trying new things and making mistakes, no matter how much it hurts, and oh boy does making mistakes hurt. But that’s how we improve.
Most importantly, I want to do all this with a spirit of patience and hope. Because the thing with perfectionists is we think we need to be the best yesterday, and we think making a mistake invalidates all our prior growth. But that’s not true.
The only thing that invalidates our growth is staying down when we fall. So long as we continue to rise, no one can ever take away what we gain. And God doesn’t ask us to be perfect in an instant. He gives us our whole lives to improve, little by little, asking only that we do our best as imperfect as we are. He will fill in the gaps and make us whole again.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.2 Cor 12:9
I still want to be a saint, the epitome of perfection, and I’m still going to work towards being one. It doesn’t matter how long it takes me, how many times I fall, with God as my Light I’ll make it.
In the meantime, I’ll keep learning, because I’m not perfect. And that’s okay. Because as our editor, Caitlyn, reminded me, Jesus doesn’t ask us “Do you want to be perfect?”
He asks, “Do you want to be well?” (John 5:6).
I do want to be well. I want to be healed and made whole. I no longer want to base my self worth on what I do, whether perfectly or imperfectly, but in who I am.
And who I am is God’s messy and beloved work in progress.