The perfectionism trap is the belief that we need to be perfect, look perfect, and act perfect in order to be worthy of love and acceptance. Anything less than perfection — illness, disability, family divorce, accident, addiction, unemployment — threatens to eclipse our unique beauty and ability to live in the light of love. Whenever suffering overshadows our life, we can feel trapped in a nighttime of painfully low self-esteem, isolation, and blame. Where does God stand in the midst of our human struggle? Do we image God as a harsh judge who reinforces our guilt and shame? Or is our God a loving liberator who frees us from the snares of perfectionism?
I believe that the solar eclipse we experienced this week is God’s way of expressing the truth that the darkness we suffer is temporary and will never defeat the radiance of our authentic identity. As we bask in the invincible light of God’s love, we hear the gentle truth speaking from within: No one is perfect. Join the human race! Let your love grow strong enough to accept yourself unconditionally and come to know the joy of being imperfect. As Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen puts it, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning to work on becoming yourself.” As witnessed by the solar eclipse, our light is not meant to be hidden, but to shine forth for all to see.
Our liberator God calls us to let go of perfectionism in our determination to love ourselves unconditionally. Can we begin to see our imperfections as neutral realities with both good and bad aspects? Perhaps our limiting disability has taught us empathy and compassion for others or our destructive addiction has taught us to trust in the saving help of God. Struggling to amend our moral imperfections builds our character and makes us better, more loving people. In our journey to become our authentic selves, God will be our compassionate guide and gratitude for our life will dawn like the sun.
Take time to reflect: Are you in the perfectionism trap? Can you give thanks for your imperfections? How has struggling with your imperfections made you a better person?
Do you ever struggle with being kind and compassionate toward yourself, especially in times of personal suffering? Even though one of the foundational pillars of Christian Spirituality is the love of self, we tend to be harsh and judgmental about our own flaws, failings, and limitations. In his teaching on friendship, the great Dominican theologian, Thomas Aquinas, asserts that since we are more closely united to ourselves than to any other person, all the good we desire for our loved ones, we most want for ourselves. Therefore, the heart of wisdom is to love and accept ourselves as our own best friend. This counsel suggests that when times are really tough and we are experiencing suffering, we give ourselves the patient caring and tenderness that we need.
Human development specialist, Dr. Kristen Neff, has developed what she calls a “self-compassion break.” This five-minute break in time of suffering consists of three main components. First, we must recognize that “this is a moment of suffering” and to speak gently to ourselves in naming our pain. She encourages us to say something like, “Sweetheart, this is really hard right now.” We then simply allow the difficulty to be present and we soften toward it. Second, she suggests that we remind ourselves that “suffering is a part of life.” Instead of feeling alone and cut off from the rest of the world, it is important to remind ourselves that suffering is a part of the human condition. Other people are suffering in a similar way as we are suffering. Third, we say, “May I be kind to myself in this moment.” We offer ourselves soothing and comfort with gentle kindness. She encourages us to put our hand on our heart and feel the care streaming through our fingers. See her website. Learning to love ourselves in this way enables us to love others; when we befriend ourselves, we can be true friends to others. Likewise, this friendship with ourselves also helps us to better open up to the friendship of Christ.
I invite readers to share in the comments:
What has helped you to love and accept yourself?
How has being a friend to yourself helped you be a friend to others?
How has being a friend to yourself helped you to be a better Christian?
"Act of Faith Hope Love Collage" by Art4TheGlryOfGod is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
When we look at the horrific sufferings in the world caused by war, poverty, various forms of oppression and ecological devastation we may ask, “What will it take to bring world suffering to an end?”
The Sufi tell a story:
Past the seeker, as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”
And out of the long silence, God said, “I did do something about them. I made you.”*
As we begin the New Year, this is exactly what we need to hear. We are the ones to bring God’s love to this world here and now. This is what the Incarnation is all about. God becoming flesh refers not only to the full humanity of Jesus but to the whole of humanity embraced by God. As the great patristic theologians declared, God became human so that humanity could become like God. Saint Paul loved to refer to the first Christian community as the “Body of Christ,” called to continue the mission of Christ in the world. As “other Christs” we are to use our gifts and talents to bring God’s love, justice, and peace to the human community and the entire earth. How are you being called to make a small contribution on a daily basis to bring the world’s suffering to an end?
*Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning (New York: Bantam Books, 1993, Kindle edition), Kindle location 1549.
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!