I lay on the couch like a mannequin. Perfectionism paralyzes my body, keeping me from walking across the room and meeting my enemy. I know what will happen. I’ll feel defeated before I try to fight. I must avoid it then, and play dead.
This enemy lives on the baseboards, the windowsills, the shelves, or on any physical object that hasn’t been moved in a while. If I see the first particle, I will want every minuscule bit gone—forever! I dip my washcloth and scrub and wipe. My white rag turns charcoal before I finish the target area. I doubt my ability to finish. I blame myself and call myself names. I vow to never let the enemy come back—to invade the space with my toxic chemicals before it does. But I know perfectionism will paralyze me again. It always does. Meanwhile, my enemy grows and multiplies.
I procrastinate more things than the killing and disposing of dust. Recently, I’ve procrastinated learning a new language.
I don’t need to know it this very minute, but I will later on. I have more excuses though—similar to how I excuse myself from the necessary cleaning. Once I begin, my weakness will most definitely show.
I’m scared. I know thirty years old is not the prime time to learn a foreign language. I know my thick, southern accent will be difficult to hide. I know my tutor will need to correct me, and I’ll be embarrassed. I know my memory will fail me, and I’ll feel stupid.
I fear others will catch on more quickly than I will—like my children or my husband. I fear it impossible for me to ever become fluent. This language becomes the new enemy. Anything that threatens my ability to be perfect does.
I want to be a natural—someone who catches on quickly. I want to sound like the natives and understand them too. But I must know it will take work! I must not let my perfectionism paralyze me, making me procrastinate day after day.
I must simply begin, and then I must continue with consistency and perseverance. Like the dust dwelling in my house, no progress can be made if I don’t begin to clean it. And no house will remain clean without a human (or a Roomba—though it has its limits) who consistently cleans it.
Ignoring the Unseen
No one knows when I spend three hours ridding the dust from behind and under the furniture. They only see stuff like a clutter-free counter and toys that are put away unless they happen to get in a push-up position and what’s under the furniture becomes exposed.
But living in a different country will quickly expose my lack of learning the language. I won’t have a rug to hide under, nor will I be able to live in a closet. Eventually I’ll need to speak if I want to buy food at the market or most importantly, share the good news with those who live there.
Perhaps being exposed is the most difficult reality for the perfectionist. We don’t want others to see our inability. We work extra hard to do well the things that are seen while ignoring what isn’t seen. Yet while what’s unseen remains invisible to others and ourselves unless we look for it, we know it’s there. And knowing it’s there still threatens our perfection.
God, however, sees the unseen (2 Chron. 16:9). He doesn’t command us to clean our homes six days a week, but he does tell us to be good stewards and to manage our homes well (1 Cor. 4:1-2). He also tells us women to teach younger women how to love our husbands and children (Titus 2). Is neglecting the cleanliness of our home loving them? Why do we find we must have it extra clean for guests but not for our family who lives in it 24/7? Will the build-up of mold which makes them sick or a diagnosis of indoor allergies get our attention?
What about the mission of God—to establish a church among every people group? Is this not enough to learn the language of people who have never heard of Jesus—despite our ability to know it perfectly in the beginning?
Care for Both the Seen and Unseen Alike
1 Corinthians 15:58 has been my favorite verse and a constant reminder the last six years. It says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Thus, I can dust unto the Lord. I can study language unto the Lord. He sees. And he cares.
Get up. Open your ears. Speak—whatever you need to do. Care for the unseen and the seen alike. Don’t let perfectionism paralyze you, and abound in the work of the Lord, serving him rather than men (Col. 3:23).