I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
– Galatians 2:21 ESV
Last week was holy week. I went to each of the evening prayer sessions dusty and irritable and not ready to pray. But God washes and soothes very tenderly, and it became extremely clear that He was calling me to give up my perfectionism for once and for all. Don’t nullify my grace. So on Tuesday night as I sat sideways in the pew, I said very simply, “God, I give up on me. Please take over.” And now I am working through the implications of that proclamation.
The notion that I am free from performance anxiety in my work, relationships and ministry is actually very strange. It grates against my obsessive workaholism. I have been a slave to my work for a long time, so there are a lot of habits to undo. Things that stem from my thinking that I cannot live with myself unless I am perfect. Like horrible sleeplessness and getting up at 5am and refusing to let myself go back to sleep because I feel like I should be working. Like worrying about being a failure in my summer internship all the way back in November. Cornering and condemning myself when a thesis statement doesn’t sound perfect or I am unable to debug something. And in ministry, too. Panicking and feeling guilty when people aren’t responsive. Despairing that so much is left undone. CONSTANTLY. It is a horrible life, and so needless that it is heartbreaking. I guess I have always known these things and occasionally grasped at their truth, but there’s a word — I think it’s hypocrisy — that summarizes my flippancy towards the gospel. Feeling that other people should definitely surrender the incredible urge to justify their existence and prove their worth over others, but quietly thinking well I’m just going to keep at it until something breaks irreparably. Because for a long time it appears to have worked. It has brought success and esteem and fulfillment, to a point.
This semester, God graciously appointed a breakdown. After I got back from spring break I buckled and disappeared from all community/classes/duties for a couple of weeks, because I couldn’t face anyone with my inadequacy. I experienced emotional and physical breakdown. The feeling of being lousy and useless and a failure was overwhelming. It was a humbling experience to have to ask for help, to give excuses and make people cover for me. But most of all it was humbling because I had two choices, either to continue living as a slave to unachievable perfection or to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t be the best at everything. The first is unlivable, and I testify to that emphatically. But the second is freedom, and allows me to rejoice in the work of the cross, to claim its sufficiency and live in the mercy that is portioned perfectly for me each morning.