Erin McCole Cupp shares her experience with perfectionism and meeting God’s expectations.
“Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”
Such were the words of one of my music professors. I didn’t think he was too far off the mark. After all, didn’t Jesus himself say in Matthew 5:48 to “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect”?
In college, I strove for the highest grades, the best research papers, the perfect performances.
With friends, I stove to be the most considerate, the most compassionate, the most honest, the deepest spiritually, the most reliable.
In dating and then marriage, I strove to be the hardest working, the most transparent, the biggest giver, the most devoted.
Then children came along. I fought to be the most generous, the most disciplined, the most informed, the greatest teacher, the healthiest parent ever.
Of course I failed, repeatedly and ever more spectacularly, along the way. Still, I thought that if I just punished myself enough for my failures, everyone — including and especially God — would see how hard I was trying. They’d honor me for my backbreaking efforts. Most of all, I thought that as long as God could see how hard I was trying to be as perfect as He is, He would not pass me over for salvation. Not that I thought I could earn salvation… but I’d better not act like I thought salvation was a given.
As my children have grown older, though, and my husband and I follow suit, I am seeing and feeling the painful effects of my perfectionism. My children have learned from me most of all how to beat themselves up mentally and emotionally, or how not to bother trying unless the results are guaranteed to be perfect, or how to react so explosively to criticism that honesty and correction becomes nearly impossible.
In my striving to pass on all my striving, all I managed to do was pass on harshness. That is far from the heavenly Father’s perfection.
And then today I came across Romans 8: 19-21, in which Saint Paul reminds us,
For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Long story short: God reserves the work of perfection for Himself. He does not expect us to be perfect. Thus, if we want to be as our heavenly Father, we need to stop expecting perfection of ourselves, our spouses, and our children. Just like nothing in the universe seems able to exceed the speed of light, we cannot exceed God’s expectations for us.
I hope to carry this into my Lenten penances this year, as well as through all my days, in all my relationships, especially with my family. May mercy and compassion lead how we speak to and live with others as well as ourselves.
Copyright 2021 Erin McCole Cupp
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About the Author
Erin McCole Cupp is a wife, mother, and lay Dominican who lives with her family of vertebrates somewhere out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. Look for her All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family from Our Sunday Visitor in June 2021. Get to know her at ErinMcColeCupp.com.