Traveling to far and foreign lands, exploring an unknown terrain, or setting out on an adventure: can there be a more thrilling experience? There is something about a journey that naturally draws us; some find it in a different state, some a different country, and some right in their backyard. I’ve always wanted to venture out to a different country, but the fact is that I’ve never been out of the United States before. I still love to travel and go to new places; whether it’s hiking in the mountains, walking the beach by the ocean, or just camping and sight-seeing in new places…I’ve been as far away as California and Florida and then a good amount of states in between. Some journeys have been a couple of days; some a week, and some a couple of months. But I would have to say that the longest and most significant journey I’ve made in my life has only been a matter of about 12 inches. And as much as I love to travel and would love to see the world, nothing compares to this journey of 12 inches. We all have a different journey, but I’d like to take you on mine.
The beginning of my trip starts with my family. I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home where my mom and dad were strong spiritual leaders that closely modeled what it meant to follow Christ. They brought Christ into our home and made him a part of everyday life; I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their passionate Christian influence. My three brothers and I received a solid upbringing in the church, going to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Youth Group, conferences, and retreats. I remember first asking Jesus to come into my heart as a little girl when my dad explained it to me one night. However, I don’t think that I really understood my need for it, but was just so accustomed to hearing about Jesus that it seemed natural.
The first time I really saw the depth of my sin and my need for Christ was at a summer camp in early middle school. I finally understood that I needed Jesus, that I was separated from God because of my sin and that it wasn’t enough to just know about him…I had to give him my life. Jesus was the only way that I could be right before God, so I accepted him into my life with a greater understanding. But as an early Christian, I still stumbled with trying to be good enough to earn God’s favor. I thought that if I messed up big time I would lose Jesus and have to re-ask Him to come into my heart and save me again. I had all the head knowledge about Jesus, but when it came to actually living it out, my thoughts and actions showed that I doubted that He could and would actually save me. So I struggled with trying to do all the right things all the time and fix myself before I came to God, which mostly manifested itself in my Perfectionism.
One thing that I’ve always seemed to wrestle with is trying to be perfect. It’s been pretty characteristic of me all along my journey, especially through my school years. I went to a fairly small school so everyone seemed to get a label early on that stuck with them. If you would’ve asked anyone in my school who I was or what I was like, they would’ve told you I was perfect, even if they didn’t know me. I became known as one of the smartest girls in school, involved in extracurriculars and “good things” like church, one who was responsible and mature, and always optimistic. From middle to high school I received straight A’s, and my peers were already predicting in middle school that I would graduate as valedictorian. I had this “image” to uphold and was put on a pedestal, but as much as I publically denied it, deep down inside I started to believe it and thought I deserved it.
This reputation wasn’t always negative though. People really respected me and saw me as mature, responsible, and having it all together. I’d like to think that they saw Christ in my life from that. No matter what was going on, I always had a positive outlook, an encouraging smile, and a quiet sense of confidence. I did have a joy from my relationship with God, but part of me was wearing a mask to hide my imperfections. If I was to be “perfect,” I certainly couldn’t let anyone know if I was having a bad day or something was wrong. I became very good at hiding my emotions because I was afraid to let others see anything less of me. I ended up emotionally distancing myself from others because I was only giving them a stereotype, not my true self.
I started to believe the lie that I could reach perfection and that I was a good person who deserved success. I went through high school carrying this persona, graduating as Co-Valedictorian as predicted. But even though I had great success through all of this, I was under so much pressure trying to have everything under control and have everything figured out. It was exhausting trying to live up to this standard. I felt that I was always on display and I couldn’t ruin others’ expectations for me, or my expectations for myself. And most of all, I was exalting my efforts over Christ’s by trying to be perfect. I knew in my head that I needed Christ to save me, but really…I believed in my heart that I was a truly good person; that I was somehow better than everyone else, and that I didn’t need Christ to forgive me as much as the next person, because “I was close to perfect.”
Towards the second half of high school and the beginning of college, God really woke me up and showed me how disconnected my heart was from my head. The 12 inches between them could’ve stretched for eternity for all I cared. I was following Jesus, but still trying to hang onto control and save myself; I was denying my own sin and my desperate need for a Savior. I didn’t recognize my need to change my ways or apply the Bible to my life, because I seemingly had it all together on the outside. God shattered that view by opening up my eyes to examine my heart, and I saw how my attempts at perfection were rooted in pride and being dependent on myself. God wasn’t concerned about what I knew in my head; He was concerned about what I believed in my heart and if was living out. It was here, at this realization that I made the greatest journey I could’ve ever made…a journey of about 12 inches: that from the head to the heart. Changing my head knowledge into heart knowledge has given me freedom from my attempts at perfectionism and my shallow understanding of what a relationship with God is like.
I’ve known Jesus since I was little, but my walk with Him has been a gradual learning process of what it means to completely hand over my life, to lay down my rights, and to live for Him daily. It’s taken a long time for my heart attitude to change and this one simple truth to sink in: that Jesus didn’t die for perfect people; His work on the cross makes us perfect in God’s eyes. I now understand my need for Him and how futile my attempts are without Him. I have rediscovered how amazing His grace is, and now walk in the work of the cross instead of my own. I still sometimes struggle with perfectionism, but I know that following Jesus is a journey, and as I travel I’m a work in progress until I meet with perfection itself.