Perfectionism, Shame, and Freedom in Christ

DUSKI VAN FLEET|GUEST

Sitting in my counselor’s office the day after I lost my temper with one of my children, I shared the details of our hard day and my disappointment with how I responded. I tell her how puzzled I am when I mention my failures as a mom, because people often tell me they could never see me angry or yelling at anyone. They rave about what a wonderful mom I am and point out the ways they see me getting things right. It seems to me they think I have it all together, while all I think is, “If you only knew me. If you could only see how hurtful I can be.”

Her response takes me by surprise. “Well, why can’t both be true?  Does it really have to be one or the other? Is it possible for you to be both a really good mom and a mom who makes mistakes?” Hold please, while I let this one sink in.

Considering her questions, I began to think of other similar scenarios that trigger the same thought pattern within my brain. For instance, when I realize I forgot about a friend’s text from days ago expressing a need for help, I suddenly declare myself a thoughtless, selfish friend. When I interrupt my husband again and he becomes frustrated, I pronounce I am a terrible wife. As I thought about my roles in life throughout the rest of the day, I realized how often my failures define my identity.

Stuck in a Thought Cycle

Black and white thinking keeps me stuck in a cycle of perfectionism and shame. I invest a lot of my time, thought, and emotional energy into learning how to love my people well. I also work hard to put what I am learning into practice. I love my husband and my kids so much, and I care deeply about their hearts and the stories God is writing for them. I want to be a part of those stories and impact them for good. I am a good wife and a good mom. That is one truth.

There is also another truth. I am a sinner. I carry in my body the sin passed on to me and every human when Adam and Eve chose to sin. I live in a fallen world that has broken and wounded me. Evil is hunting me and through deception, wants to obliterate the good God desires for me, my husband, and our children. There are times I choose to believe the devil’s lies, and I emotionally wound the people I love. This grieves my heart.

I believe the Gospel is true, and I struggle to apply it when I get stuck in the hamster wheel of perfectionism and the subsequent shame when I fail. Perfectionism crowds out the space to be human which the Gospel provides. Evil leaves me feeling beaten up when he tells me I cannot be both a sinner who hurts others and a woman who God uses to impact others for good.

What the Gospel Says to Perfectionism

While God’s standard is indeed perfection, He has already met that standard for me in Christ. Christ lived a perfect life to fulfill God’s requirement of holiness, then willingly died to take the punishment for my sin. Romans 8:3-4 says, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” My “perfection” is secure by Christ’s righteousness, and my “shame” has been covered by the cross. Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” So, both perfectionism and shame are in opposition to resting in what Christ has done for me.

I am sinful. I am also, through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in me, often a loving mother, a thoughtful friend, and a faithful wife. Jesus was victorious over evil, which means my failures are powerless to nullify the good He is working in, around, and through me. One of my favorite verses of Scripture reminds me of this truth: “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:10-11).

I want to notice and resist black and white thinking by enjoying the ways I see God working in and through me, accepting my humanity, and receiving the grace eagerly given by Christ when I fail. I want to honor my Savior for His obedience and sacrifice, and I want to glorify my Creator for the ways He is choosing to use me in the world He made.

The impact of evil in my life and our world feels so crushing at times. If you, like me, struggle with these thought cycles, my hope is that you feel less alone! Remember the kindness and gentleness of our Savior towards those who are humble and broken over their sin.  Join me in fighting evil as we bring our best efforts and our biggest failures to Jesus where He promises we will always find rest and abundant life.

About the Author:

Duski Van Fleet

Duski Van Fleet received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Samford University in Birmingham.  She is wife to Daniel, who God is using more than anyone to show her the woman He made her to be.  She is thankful to be spending her days learning and playing with her two kids, and she also enjoys letting them spend time with their grandparents while she goes to work once a week.  She enjoys quiet mornings with coffee, especially when she doesn’t have to reheat it multiple times.  She loves to sing, is learning to play the piano again, and is passionate about helping others look for God in their stories.  Her favorite day would be spent outside on a warm day with birds, a gentle breeze, and a good book.  She and her family are grateful to be a part of their community at Christ Community Church in Helena, AL.

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