Chasing Perfection

Bethany Bauer
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.

Centering My Life Around What Really Matters

Anna Egeberg
I grew up in a wonderful family with a mom, dad and younger brother. My whole family is very supportive and loving. We are all close and pretty darn nutty. I didn’t really grow up with a church. My family would go around Christmas and Easter. The church I went to later on in life had a mostly older generation as attendants. I never thought that faith was about having a personal relationship with God. I just figured that I would take church more seriously when I got older and be just fine. I thought of God as someone to run to or to blame when something wasn’t going right in my life.
While growing up, I realized that I had a hard time keeping relationships. All throughout elementary, middle and high school, I never had the same group of friends two years in a row. I usually grew apart from them because they starting getting into things that I wasn’t interested in like popularity, partying, drinking or chasing after boys. Since I wasn’t into the same things they were, they ended up going out on the weekends, and I was left out. I would make new friends next year, only to have the same thing happen again.
Every time I lost another group of friends I would feel bitter and lonely. How could they do this to me? How could God let this happen to me again? I had put so much effort into my friendships only to have them throw it away and leave me all alone.
In my junior year, I really believed that I had a solid friend group. I shared my difficulties with friendships in the past, and they all promised to never let that happen to me again. I was crushed when I saw them starting to make new friends, chasing after boys and drinking. This was the last straw because they promised they wouldn’t do that to me like everyone else had.
I was so upset and angry at the situation I was in. I felt like I was on my own and could only depend on myself. There was no point in relying on relationships because they would only hurt me in the end. I hit rock bottom. I started avoided everyone and cut off most of my relationships. I would shut myself up in my room away from my family and missed figure skating practices, which I loved. I also fell back into destructive sexual sin, which I had been struggling with for the past four years. This time it took over. I knew it was wrong, and that it wouldn’t help me in the end, but I didn’t care. I thought that I was only hurting myself. I had no idea the kind of damage it would cause on every future relationship I would ever have.
I decided that with any new relationships, it would be easier to not get attached to any one. It was much easier for me to be the funny girl of my new friend groups. I took a lot of pride in being the person that people came to when they need to talk or going through something tough. I centered my relationships around the other people so that they feel loved and cared for, while I would push away my feelings to keep up a facade of being indestructible. I didn’t let people get close enough to even have the option of hurting me. Because of those decisions, I continued to feel alone and ran back to the comfort of old destructive habits.
My friends my senior year were all strong Christians. When I came to college, I was looking to learn more about God, my faith, and make friendships that had potential to be stronger than any in the past. My CA in my dorm invited me to Cru. At first I felt so out of place because I had no idea what some of the people were talking about, but everyone I meet through Cru was so encouraging and supportive. I continued to attend Cru and my bible study, but I felt like I was just going through the motions. I didn’t have a relationship with God, which was something that everyone kept talking about. Later that fall I decided to go on Cru’s fall retreat. I thought that I could meet more people and have a nice weekend out in the woods away from campus. Little did I know that on this retreat, I would find what I was missing in my life.
Throughout the retreat I learned more about what it is to be a Christian and what it means to live my life for Christ. On the last night, my small group leader pulled me aside. She asked me straight up what my relationship with Christ was like. I told her that I didn’t feel ready to put my trust in him because I felt like I needed to get my life in order before I brought him into it. She told me that God doesn’t want me to wait to let him into my life because there is no perfect time. He knows exactly where I am and wants to be apart of my life right now. I had never heard someone explain God’s love for me in that way, it was exactly what I needed. So I decided that night to start taking my faith seriously and to center my life on Christ. My small group leader prayed with me, that I would take the first steps of walking along side God, that I would keep Him as my life’s focus, and that I would trust in him with my future. With this prayer and life adjustment, I now had a guarantee of salvation that nothing could take away from me. I had been given exactly what I didn’t even know I was searching for.
Since I started my relationship with God, I have grown more that I thought was possible in a year and have learned so much about my faith. I don’t need to keep up the façade that I am all put together because I know that I’m a sinner and will continue to sin for the rest of my life. I know that my Creator’s love and forgiveness for me is unconditional and unfathomable, and that I can’t do anything to loose it. I have also learned that my God is always with me, through struggles and through triumphs. I now have a strong and healthy community of friends that are there to keep me accountable, challenge me, forgive me and love me every day. Once I put God at the center, He put everything else in order for me.

Working For Acceptance

Alanna LeClair
I grew up in a loving family with my dad, mom, and my two sisters. We went to church every Sunday, and I was the picture of a “good church kid.” I put my faith in Christ’s salvation when I was in second grade, but it really didn’t mean a whole lot to me then. The worst thing anyone could ever say to me was “I’m disappointed in you,” and I lived my life in hopes of never hearing that phrase. I was striving to be the perfect kid. I knew all the Sunday school answers, never got in trouble, and got good grades.
I was a huge people pleaser. I would do anything to make sure that peace was kept in any situation and that nobody was mad at me. The word “no” was not in my vocabulary. I felt so guilty saying “no” to someone that I just wouldn’t. I would rather take on a hundred new responsibilities than turn someone down. I rarely said what I truly felt and often felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted so badly to be accepted by others. It was a delicate front I kept up: changing who I was to fit into whatever group I was around at the time. And through it all, nobody really knew the real me. Some days I didn’t even feel like I did. This kept up through high school. I still went to church every week, still knew all the answers, but still felt empty inside.
God was working in my heart at that time, and near my senior year in high school, I went to a conference called LIFE with my youth group. It was there for the first time in my life I felt like I truly connected with God and saw how much He loved me. I realized that God’s love for us was unending. He sent His son Jesus Christ to die for our sins, in our place. I knew I deserve death for the bad things that I’ve done, but God has given a free gift of salvation. All we need to do is accept it. I realized my true need for Him, but had yet to let Him have complete control of my life. I still had tight control on my future and what I wanted to do with my life.
The summer before my freshman year in college approached, and I continued to feel lonely. I had friends and community, but I felt if people knew who I truly was, they wouldn’t really accept me. Stevens Point wasn’t my first choice in schools. In fact, I didn’t want to come here at all. Coming to college, I was terrified. I didn’t know if I was going to make any friends because I was so awkwardly insecure. I got involved in Cru and the Bible Study in my dorm, but I found myself on the fringes more often than not. I longed for community, but vulnerability was not an easy thing for me. I slowly started making friends, especially at Cru’s Fall Retreat, and looking back, I now know that God had His hand in the whole situation, and there wasn’t a better place I could have gone to college.
My sister had gone on a summer project (an extended missions trip) to North Myrtle Beach the summer before I started college, and she would not stop talking about it. I was curious as to what a project entailed and decided to sign up, avoiding North Myrtle Beach (NMB) as an option, simply because that was where my sister had gone. My whole life had been following in my sisters’ footsteps, from high school to college and everything in between. Though NMB sounded like a fantastic project, I let my pride get in the way of applying. God had other plans for me though. I didn’t get accepted to the project I applied for, and I was devastated. I put summer project out of my head and decided to pursue other options for the summer. A few months later, I got a call from one of the staff in NMB, offering me a spot on the project, I prayerfully accepted, without knowing that I was headed for the best summer of my life.
Going on project was something I was excited for, but also terrified of. There were going to be 100 students and 30 staff, and I only knew four people. In a few short weeks, they became my brothers and sisters. Not saying that the summer was easy, I was stretched to the extreme. I was encouraged to be vulnerable, and let people into my life. I had thought admitting I didn’t have it all together would isolate me from others, but in reality, the opposite happened. In our vulnerability, we bonded as a group and could encourage one another in our struggles. I also learned about how extremely broken we are as people and how great our need for God is. I was pushed out of my comfort-zone in a close community that was striving for the Lord. Yes, I was uncomfortable sometimes, yes there were times I just wanted to turn around and go home. But I wouldn’t trade my experience in NMB for anything in the world. I learned so much about God’s truly unending love and acceptance for me, no matter how awkward and insecure I feel. I learned about our call to be continually spreading the gospel. I learned so much about our broken world through the wonderful opportunity I had to co-lead the Prayer and World Vision Team over the summer. Once again, God knew exactly what He was doing when He put me in NMB instead of where I planned for myself.
My career plans have changed and I now want to go into full-time ministry of some sort. God calls us all to different career paths, but His will is that we are reaching out to others wherever we end up while following Him. This isn’t to say that following God’s will for your life will always be easy. A few weeks after getting home from project, one of the friends I had made that summer passed away in a car accident. The whole project was shaken, and we all wondered why. Through all my questioning and doubts, God is still sovereign, and His will is better than anything we could plan for ourselves. I want to encourage you guys to be open to anything God may be calling you to. It may not be what you want at the time, but His plan for our lives is so much greater. I still struggle with people pleasing and my insecurities, but I now know that God has accepted me right where I am, no matter how I feel. His grace, love and acceptance are unending. I want to leave you with one of my favorite verses, Zephaniah 3: 17 “The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing”. This verse gives me great encouragement, because I know that I don’t have to please people anymore and I don’t have to work to gain acceptance from God. He is pleased with us just as we are.

You Have One Father, and He is in Heaven

Miesha Martin
I am an only child, or as I came to nickname myself in high school- a lonely child. I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas to a family that loves and cherishes me. As a kid, I went to church regularly with my mom. I’ve known both of my parents to be believers in Christ, but I found it rare to see them ever take up their crosses and follow Him in their actions.
I was a rowdy kid; lots of running around, screaming, and flailing. My mom was forced to deal with me alone the majority of the time because my dad was always at work. Even when he was home, he would lay in the dark cavern of his room for days to cope with his depression. This took a toll on the relationship I shared with my mother. My wild behavior was taxing on her patience, and by the time I was 13 it felt like she had given up on me. It was around then that she began to swear at me and chafe at my morale with insults and vulgarities.
Around the same time, my parents decided to make the long journey north and move to Minnesota. I didn’t know what that would mean for me, an outgoing kid who had had the same friends for the majority of her life. I was excited to do my thing somewhere new! When I heard that my dad would be staying behind for a month to finish fixing up the house before he met up with us, I was worried about being alone with my mom – not having school or work to keep us apart and the tension at bay. I was reminded of the times my dad would stay at work overnight, choosing to sleep under his work bench rather than come home to us. By this time, my family had stopped going to church, and I had lost any interest that I may have had in having a personal relationship with the Lord.
So, my mom and I hauled ourselves to the north pole to wait for my dad. One month to refurbish the old house turned into two, and two months turned into three, and there was still no sign of him. By this time I had begun to feel alone and in a completely foreign environment. With no buffer of company or school activities, I was forced to face the strained relationship between my mother and I. She began telling me she hated me. I had never felt that way before, like my own family didn’t love me. I couldn’t see what I had done wrong, and I believed that there must be something inherently despicable about me. I couldn’t believe my own mother didn’t love me, and this was when I fell into my first bout of depression.
My dad finally came up, and I started school; however, things just got worse. I had never needed to act normal at school before to be accepted, so I didn’t know how to make new friends. Then I would come home in the afternoon to a lackluster environment where I was even more secluded than I was at school. I remember feeling like the only thing that merited attention for me was when I was being belittled. I stumbled through the year, beginning to retreat into a shell I didn’t even know I had.
I got a job at a ranch for my sophomore year of high school, and it seemed like a beam of light in my future. I decided to enroll in online high school as a way to spend all my time there, and in doing so I isolated myself emotionally from everyone.
Around this time I began praying to God that he would give me somebody that could prove to me that I could love and be loved because otherwise I just wanted to die. He answered my prayers. I met a girl through online school. She was a Christian. She loved and served the Lord, and she immediately showed me the love that I was left craving from my home environment. I began to see where my love could be found, and I knew I wanted to bring Christ into the hollows of my heart. I prayed that His spirit would consume and transform me.
I know now that the Lord gave me this friend to equip me for what would happen next. I got into a fight with my mom as she was trying to teach me to drive. Things escalated and all the tension between us exploded and she said that she was done with me. She didn’t want to speak to me anymore. She told me that if I had to talk to her, I should refer to her by name instead of “mom”, and she wanted me out of the house. I was destroyed, and I wondered if I had again done something wrong that God would allow such harsh abandonment. Plans for me to live with my Grandpa never fell into place, and I was left in an awkward state of limbo in my house where I was isolated from everyone. I didn’t talk to my mom for months, and my depression was at an all time high. I was crying out to God, literally at times, asking Him why He’d deserted me in my vulnerable state. My friend helped guide me in this time of pain, and her and her family really shone with the love of Christ in everything they did for me.
I began my junior year of high school practically living out of their house during the week. Spending so much time with her and her family resulted in me staying involved in church, youth group, and mission trips. As I learned more and more and became more familiar with the Word and developed a personal relationship with the Lord, I was able to see my life through the eyes of Christ. Until that point I had been living my life believing that the person who loves you the most is the one who determines your worth. I’ve found that I’m not wrong in thinking that, but in thinking that my value comes from my earthly parents. Matthew 23:9 says, “Do not call anyone on earth ‘Father’, for you have one father, and he is in heaven.”
Even though everything about my experiences told me I was alone and unworthy of love, Christ sees me as precious, holy, and loved. Because of that, He sacrificed himself to save me from my own wretchedness. Jesus didn’t just do it for me, but for all of you, too. We are all corrupt and unlovable if we put our worth on the judgment of man. It is Christ who created us, and it is He who judges us. He who has held the very oceans in His hands and numbered every star loves you more than even those overwhelmingly majestic creations. He humbled himself to the grave, not for the oceans or the stars, but for you and I.
Romans 8:38 is a reminder to us that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present not the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from [the love of] God, [our Father].” A worldly relationship, such as the kind shared with our parents or friends, is only a small glimpse of what Christ’s love and grace can feel like for us.
And so with that, I would like to say that even though I now struggle with a lack of trust, fear of commitment, reluctance to be loved, and a dread of abandonment, I know that forgiveness is the only gateway to freedom. And the only way to that gateway is through redemption in Christ.
Since I asked Christ into my heart as my Lord and Savior, He has enabled me to forgive my mother. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still struggle, but with God’s help, and a completely humble heart any relationship can be restored. I know that I can’t hold grudges and cling to resentment because forgiveness will not only set me free from the bondage of my shame and grief, and I am called to forgive those who trespass against me just as the Lord forgave me.