Katherine Ladd is an Anglican M.A.T.S. student at Beeson Divinity School. She loves Drake, Doctor Who, writing science fiction, and playing video games. You can see her tweets about all these things here.
My personality type is one that wants to help everyone and fix everything. It has to be me. It feels much more difficult to ask for help than it is for me to take on several tasks. In the past few years of working for my church, Sunday morning feels just like another day on the job. Even when the service begins, I am constantly thinking about what could go wrong, and what I will need to do to fix it. Unfortunately, I’m also an anxious person, which means when I’m concerned of what could go wrong, I’m borderline hyperventilating.
The worship service has become a time of anxiety for me. It’s difficult for me to even listen to the Scriptures without my heart pounding from fear that I prepared the wrong readings (despite checking several times and asking others to check behind my work). A recent Sunday, there were technical difficulties that were out of my control, but there was no way I could be convinced of this. That’s when it happened. Thirty minutes before the service began, I had a panic attack. There were a series of small things that made me tip over, and it made me extremely sensitive the rest of the service. I could not participate in worship. I couldn’t even listen to the sermon.
We are taught that Sunday deserves the best. You wear your best outfits, with your best hairstyles. If you serve, you serve with all you have. God needs your perfection, right? So how does God feel when you exert yourself to be “perfect” but breakdown afterwards?
Perfectionism is toxic. It’s a lie that tells us to push ourselves to prove our worth (whether to ourselves or others) while simultaneously saying nothing we do is good enough. It is rooted in pride. Giving God our best doesn’t include anxiety. But how can someone like me, who strives to deliver the best performance, not be anxious? If God wants my best, this is how I give it—right?
Philippians 4:6 comes to mind: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Throughout the Bible, God uses imperfect people and situations for his plans. God did not call us to be perfect. Even in our failed attempts to do right, he loves us still. This is great news that we must believe. Despite being sinful, imperfect people, God can and will still include us in his plans.
When I’m sitting in church on Sundays, and I’m doing my usual nervous ticks while waiting to find errors, I miss out on hearing God’s word. I miss out on real worship when I worry about what could go wrong and what is going right. There is nothing I can do to be perfect, but Jesus is perfect. In Hebrews 12:2, the author describes Jesus as “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” A reminder that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves perfect or righteous. It is only through him that it can happen. Every Sunday, we confess our sins and we say, “Apart from your grace, there is no health in us.” God’s grace is sufficient.
Now, this does not mean we shouldn’t aim to do our best, but our best shouldn’t include an increased heart rate and tears.
I wish I could promise that the next Sunday, I’ll remind myself that the Lord honors my efforts, and that worship will continue through trivial or big mistakes, but it is a process. However, I look forward to the day when I am completely delivered from this burden. For those of us who tend to mourn over our mistakes or failure to fix situations, let us rejoice in knowing that Christ is true perfection, and the source of our freedom.
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:4)
This God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (Psalm 18:30)