Revolutionary Love Overcoming Perfectionism

I am deeply loved by God. You are deeply loved by God. We are deeply loved by God. 

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.       –1 John 9:10, The Message

A friend and I spoke over the weekend about these words, which aren’t anything new to a believer’s ears. Knowing at head level that I am loved by God is expected as a Christian.  But my friend and I came to the conclusion that believing at a heart level—that we are deeply loved by God—that’s revolutionary. 

Revolutionary because this truth frees our soul to radically love others. We are free to love, free to listen, free to set aside our worries, free to dig into people’s lives and free to respond out of love instead of reacting out of self-preservation. The excuses and lies that keep us from others, fall away when we live out lives as deeply loved by God. 

heart graffiti

The lie that has captured my soul consistently since middle school is that my worth comes from a perfect, controlled life.  I am loved when I am perfect.  When I believe this lie, the refrain—What if I mess up or fail?? –dominates my day and the choices I make.  I play it safe, choosing not to engage, not to risk, not to reach out in order to maintain control.

After one of the final days of teaching last summer, I collapsed on the couch in tears. Without believing that I was loved regardless, I tried to prove my worth with perfect lesson plans, perfectly behaved students, perfectly kept grade book, perfectly executed lessons.  My job became an exhausting 10 hours of self-preservation. I focused intensely on perfecting my own performance which led away from fully engaging with my students.

So began a 9-month journey into the depths of my heart, where the lie of perfectionism liked to take root.  David Benner writes in The Gift of Being Yourself--

 “As we see how deeply loved we are by God—in our depths, complexity, totality and sinfulness—we dare to allow God more complete access to the dark parts of our soul that most need transformation. And God precedes us on this journey, waiting to meet us in the depths of our self.”   

The lie didn’t go away easily. It took, and is still taking, constant discipline to overcome.  But my day starts with a gentle whisper to myself that, today, I am enough because I am loved by God. 

When I wake up worrying that I don’t have perfect lessons planned for the day, I remember that I am deeply loved, and my worth is not dependent on my organizational skills.

When I fear that the principal will walk in and see missteps in the lesson and challenges with behavior management, I remember that I am deeply loved, and my worth is not dependent on a perfectly run classroom. 

When I get angry with a student for not following my directions, I remember that I am deeply loved, and my worth is not dependent on me perfectly handling a student’s behavior. 

When I believe I am deeply loved, I can confront the lies and excuses not to love.  

Free to care for my students as they are.

Free to care for my students as they are.

I am free to love my students for who they are, right there, regardless of the state they are in.

I am free to let go of the need for a perfect performance.

I am free to make mistakes as I engage with them relationally. 

I am free to enter into their lives, their triumphs, their hurts, their fears without needing anything in return.  

I am free to trust that my worth will not crumble with the imperfections and unknowns that inevitably come when I invest in the messy, messy business of relationships.  

I am deeply loved by God and I am free to love. 

 

Sarah Papé is excited to return to writing after shedding lots of blood, sweat and tears on a degree in communication. She currently spends weekdays teaching middle school math and science.  In college she stumbled upon a service-learning trip to inner-city Chicago, which eventually led her down a path to advocate for social justice within urban schools.  On weekends, she restores her soul with outdoor adventures, long conversations with friends and reminders that through Jesus Christ, grace really does change everything.