I have a specific memory of a moment in the fifth grade.
In this moment, I was weighed down with school supplies: three packs of loose-leaf paper, two boxes of yellow pencils, and a box of crayons. I reached my desk, unloaded the supplies, and neatly stacked the pencils, crayons, and paper packs. Paper on the bottom, then pencil boxes, and finally crayons. My ordering was well-orchestrated, the stack of crisp supplies was wonderfully arranged. I was proud of myself as a classmate asked, “Is all of that yours?” For a brief moment, in the top left corner of my desk, I had constructed perfection in the form of school supplies.
This fifth grade memory is not the only recollection I have of self-constructed perfection. Perfectionism, unfortunately, has dotted my life (and usually on a daily basis). From my obsession over straight-A’s in in elementary school through college to making sure the food in my fridge is stacked perfectly, I can think of only a few days where perfectionism hasn’t reared its ugly head. And like me, maybe you can relate to the constant edginess related to seeking perfection.
Most recently, I’ve struggled with balancing my chosen religious devotions. As a new Catholic, I’ve discovered so many new ways to pray to and worship Our Lord: novenas, books, daily readings, the Rosary, and chaplets. Lately, in an attempt to find a steady devotional schedule, I’ve found myself overwhelmed with my own expectations. For example, in the mornings, I typically participate in the daily Mass readings and pray the Rosary (or at least a decade). Throughout the day, I try to pray a few times using the Liturgy of the Hours. At night, I write down my thoughts using an examen journal and my own personal diary. For a perfectionist who is keen on completion, this can be tricky.
Though it’s good to participate in daily readings and prayer practices, I am often in my own worst enemy. I may think “Ah! I only prayed one decade of the Rosary today! If I don’t pray the whole thing, I’ll break my daily streak.” Or, “Ugh! I missed a day in my examen journal and now it’s all off kilter for the month!”
It’s in moments like these that perfectionism takes my attention from Christ and shifts it upon myself. Perfectionism lets me believe that I am in control of everything, that I am the center of the universe. If I forget to read the daily Mass readings, then I’ve messed up my day. This mindset totally ignores the power of Christ in my life and disregards the fact that ultimately, He is in full control. The world’s balance does not depend on whether or not I can complete a task or not.
Now, don’t mistake me for promoting apathy.
As Catholic Christians, it’s critical that we read Scripture and pray on a daily basis. But, lest we fall into the harmful pattern of perfectionism, we must understand that our perceived “goodness” will not help us maintain control. Many people who are devout have also suffered great trials. However, it was the grace of Christ that carried them through. Rather than rely on ourselves, we must learn to rely on Christ.
We must abandon perfectionism, one little error and trial at a time.