Some days as I breathe a heaviness overcomes me as it sits in my chest and motivates me to growl at the children to pick up the floor and I scrub sinks to sparkle and pick up even miniscule specs of thread and crumbs in the corners of the rooms because someone is coming over to see my house. My house represents who I am, it is my workplace. When someone says “I’ll be right over,” the panic sets in and the dreaded heaviness comes out of its hiding place and drives me again to do the “House Guest Shuffle.” It is the root of my insanity, the fear of failure, the whisper inside my head that I will be rejected if my home is not perfect… perfectionism.
Yes, it’s like a disease, but more accurately a sin that I am prone to committing inside and outside of myself. It is the worst of sins because I choose to heighten the stress level of our family by demands and barking of orders to this child and that. If someone were to see my imperfection then I would be ruined, my testimony, the thoughts they walk out of my door thinking about the piles of junk I have sitting on a table in the living room, on my kitchen island, and on top of my dresser (if they’re lucky to even get that far into the house). It is the inhospitable way that I keep cleaning when people have finally arrived and come to visit. I pick things up and wipe off the counter, “one more mess that might cause me to be rejected, gone, right in front of their face.” It is the thought that one day my children may hate having visitors come over because of my choices.
Frankly, perfectionism is ridiculous! It is a sub-standard too-high standard that I keep. It means that I am, well, sigh, NOT perfect! There, I said it… ugh! It is like the mother-in-law that has moved in and makes you miserable. It has at times made my husband a slave and robbed my children of afternoons of play time because they were also slaves to my constant cleaning, arranging, dusting, and vacuuming.
My perfectionism and a fear of rejection go hand in hand and I wish that I could say that this is a new development in my life but that would be a lie. It is something that has lived with me for a long time. And in reality, perfectionism’s other hand is holding to my pride. I hate to be less. I hate to fail. I hate to be sick and unhealthy. It all means that I am not doing something right…but that is a lie. It means that I am human and subject to God and His plan for my home being a place for visitors.
While in my head I know that perfectionism is wrong, I go right back to it. The habit of living that way for so long, some would call their “besetting sin,” relives itself over and over. I know the root of it to some degree living with a single mother in a little trailer that needed a lot of help. I would tell my friends, “Oh, don’t come to the door, I’ll be waiting for you.” It was much safer to my reputation if people saw the cool me come out to their car (because the cool me did not have a car or a license until college, ha ha) instead of coming up to the porch and seeing inside. I was always waiting and ready for their car to pull up in the driveway. Now that we rent a nice home, it is hard for me to not feel those same feelings when people want to come over. I did not realize that my thoughts back then of assuming people would only like me if I did certain things, wore certain clothes, and lived in a certain type of house were breeding this wrong thinking of perfectionism.
It is easy to say in your head that people understand about the mess and they know you have children, but do they really? My automatic thinking is “yeah right,” and I continue on in my flurry of cleanliness. Is our family clean all the time? Now, that’s a yeah right! We live comfortably and messy through our week but as soon as my ears catch wind of a visitor’s arrival then the scamper begins again. “Hurry kids, hide it all in the closet or underneath the cabinet!” Oh, you’ve done it too, if you’re honest!
There is a fine line between holding yourself up to a too-high standard and becoming enslaved to the lie of perfectionism. Perfectionism tends to be self-centered. It is a cloak for wanting to preserve yourself from being embarrassed or from losing face to those you wish to impress (everyone!). A good question I have to ask myself is “Why are you so stressed out about this?” When my answer is because I don’t want people to think ______________ about ME (key word), then that is a dead ringer for the root of the problem. Pride.
The cure for perfectionism for me has been confession. I confess it to God as sin and pride because I have no other way of dealing with it without going back to the kitchen and wiping off the table. God is the only perfect being, I can never live up to an expectation of myself that God does not even expect of me. I know that God is holy and I cannot live up to His standard because of my sinfulness. It is a perfect example of why that I need Christ’s payment for my sins. He was the only sinless person and the only acceptable sacrifice, because of His perfection. That is why my personal salvation is so valuable.
Last year I read a book and one chapter told the story of a lady that always was cleaning her house, like me, when people were coming over. She finally came to the conclusion that God had a purpose for each person that came for a visit . She also noted that her messes were used as a way to give the nervous visitor a task to do and she would find them picking up her floor, wiping her cabinet, or doing her dishes without even saying a word to them about it. In the few times I have tried it, it works! Typically people are very helpful and will love you no matter what your house looks like.
I have to take deep breaths and pray when people come over for a party or get-together. I have a real hard time letting go and enjoying their company and not being the slave to my perfectionism. Okay so this perfectionist can be a bit of a CONTROL FREAK… that is probably something else I need to confess… wink, wink. The art of making people feel warm and safe and welcome in your home takes work.
So I guess I have to say it again, I am not perfect… ugh! I admitted it publicly twice in this blog! When it all boils down to the nitty-gritty, it’s a hindrance to my spotless home because it takes the beauty of wholesome family love away when I enslave everyone to my sub-standard too-high standard. So this is where flexibility and God’s timing and control have to come in. It has to be my replacement of the sin of perfectionism so that we will enjoy having people over and other people will enjoy coming over. God has to be the author of my day and I have to become hospitable and flexible no matter what the floor and oven look like and how high my stacks of paper are. If people love me then I hope they will overlook my mess and help me with it or only whisper about it when they get into their car.
So there it is y’all, confession #1 of The Ministry Mama!