Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My own case of perfectionism

President Samuelson, the president of BYU, stood up and said these words:
"I am grateful to add my welcome and greeting to you at the beginning of an exciting fall semester. This is a wonderful time of year. We hope you have had a productive, if not restful, summer and a welcome change of pace to help prepare for the challenging and exciting work of the weeks ahead. You are not yet too far behind in your course work, and the prospects for this fall are bright. This has the promise of a terrific year. It will be an even better year for each of us personally if we can avoid making unnecessary or foolish personal mistakes. You may believe I am talking only about slothfulness or Honor Code violations. Equally concerning to me is the rather common problem of perfectionism."

As he said them, I was believing I was in for just that: a talk about how I should do more and be better. And I couldn't listen to that because I was already sick in bed, laid up because my worry and stress had ground down my spirit so much that my body caved to the perfectionist in me.

My heart rejoiced though as he said what he was really going to talk about was the very ill that was making me throw up: perfectionism.

It's such an attractive trap to think you need to be everything, all of the time. It's understandable that we think that way, but we mustn't.

"We may not be happy with our deficiencies, but we also should not be incapacitated by them," President Samuelson says. I know what that feels like, and I'm learning what it feels like to overcome it.

"We teach the importance of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. I believe if you look carefully at what, for example, I myself and others have said and written, you can find ample evidence that we endorse these notions. There are times, however, when these cardinal strengths can become handicapping sins. Just as a young mother or father reaches out a hand of encouragement and support for a young baby who is beginning to think about walking, so our Savior and His Father do the same for us as we begin to think about risking a quest to get on the road to eventual perfection. Remember, while we mortals may tease each other on occasion, it is not in the personality or approach of our Redeemer. That is, He never pulls back his hand when it is extended. True, you and I, like Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee, might lose faith and withdraw ourselves, but God never does and never will withdraw the hand and support offered. But, and this is really a significant qualification, because of the necessity of agency and choice, we must be the one to grasp, figuratively or literally, the extended hand."
My dear friend Kent says that we have to ask God what areas we should be improving in, rather than beating ourselves up about the millions of good things we should be doing. He always promises that when we ask that, God will tell us.

Though I've believed that for a long time, I've struggled to make that transition from trying to do everything to really listening for what Heavenly Father would have me do. For me, it comes when I stop and ponder on the lessons He's been slipping in here and there. Now that I know what He'd have me work on, everything else becomes more manageable as it falls in its proper place.

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