Overcoming Perfection, Performance, and Pretending

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Is there a merciless critic living inside your head? Here's what every perfectionistic parent needs to know.

What every parent needs to know

I'm convinced that a merciless critic lives in every parent's head.

Mothers who are still in the trenches of early parenthood and mothers who are sending their youngest off to college all hear the same daily message from the merciless critic in their head: Other moms are doing this parenting thing in a far superior way. You have one shot to get this right and you're blowing it!

This merciless critic, it whispers, Perfection: Strive for flawlessness and don't dare fall short of those excessively high expectations you have of yourself and those around you. It whispers, Performance: You are what you do. So do a lot to prove you are worth a lot. And it whispers, Pretend: Wear a mask to hide behind the more likable version of yourself. The real you isn't enough. The real you isn't that loveable.

This critic keeps us in a vicious cycle trying to do more, be better, and try harder in order to be the perfect mom raising perfect kids.

I speak from experience on this one.

I spent most of my life trying to achieve unachievable perfection. Somewhere along the road I began to link accomplishment to acceptance, so I desperately wanted to get it right—whatever "it" was. And, of course, that's impossible. I got it wrong, a lot. Terribly and horribly wrong. So while shame was brewing on the inside, perfection, performance, and pretending was reigning on the outside, and my worth was becoming more and more dependent on who people thought I was instead of who God has claimed I am in Christ.

And when I became a mother, my quest to perfect, perform, and pretend only intensified.

Perfection was no longer just a goal— it was an idol. And it was stealing all of the joy, adventure, and wonder right out of my parenting.

Even though I had surrendered my heart to Jesus during my childhood years, I hadn't been living in the freedom of his grace, which meant I was incapable of parenting my kids in the freedom of his grace.

God's grace, his unwavering love and unrestrained affection for us, and his unconditional acceptance and unending forgiveness of us, because of the person and work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, was lost on me.

How did I drift so far from the lavish grace of God and sink so deeply into the lies of the merciless critic? Why was I so determined to pretend like I had it all together on the outside when I knew I was a hot mess on the inside?

Because grace is countercultural. Grace is counterintuitive. Grace can't be earned and isn't deserved.

Grace goes against every other reality in our lives. The world tells us that we are what we do. Grace tells us that we are what Jesus has done for us.

"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it," the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8–9.

But the message that awaits us at every corner in this world is that we are what we do. So we often continue to perfect and perform and pretend because we've listened too long to the message of the merciless critic who says we must be exhausted and worn out in order to be worthy of being known. To counteract this critic, we must find our identity and our worth in God's radical, wholehearted, and unconditional love for us. We are all thirsty for a no-strings-attached kind of love. A love that says, "You can stop pretending to be somebody you're not—I love you just as you are, not as you should be."

This desire was planted deep within us for a purpose. It was planted in us by God to make us run to Jesus—the one who knows the real you. He knows the thoughts of your heart. He knows the shame and pain you carry over things you hide in the deep recesses of your heart. And he loves you. Wholeheartedly and perfectly loves you. With no limits or breaking points.

And to prove it, he carried all of your imperfection and sin to the Cross. He accomplished what we couldn't do, and he gave you a new identity—one that doesn't have anything to do with your success or your failure, but has everything to do with Jesus' work on your behalf. And that identity is beloved, child of God.

You are going to stumble and fall. You are going to make mistakes—daily. Your love is going to be human and imperfect.

But that's not the end of the story.

Grace, the unrestricted love of God, gives you permission to admit you are not perfect.

Grace invites you to stop pretending, stop performing, and stop striving for perfection—and to find your hope and your rest in the good news that Christ's strength is made perfect in your weakness.

"My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)

If perfection, pretending, and performance are wreaking havoc in your soul and in your parenting, freefall into the arms of grace and see how it changes you from the inside out. There is so much grace waiting for imperfect people like you and me. There is so much joy and freedom waiting to bubble up inside us as we surrender to God's wholehearted love for and acceptance of us, as we let grace make its home in our heart, and allow our brokenness to become beacons from which God's wholehearted love can shine.

Written by Jeannie Cunnion


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