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You're Loved No Matter What
Freeing Your Heart from the Need to Be Perfect
By Holley Gerth
RevellCopyright © 2015 Holley Gerth
All rights reserved.
Why You Really Don't Have to Be Perfect
She walks into the room with a smile, but I can see the weariness in her face, so I ask her how she's doing. With forced cheerfulness, she declares, "I'm fine!"
After she sits down across from me, I lean in, look her in the eyes, and gently inquire, "Okay, how are you really doing?"
She sighs and shifts her gaze downward. "I'm worn out," she replies. "I'm tired of trying so hard all the time."
She tells me about all the pressure in her life. Whether it's her looks, her relationships, or even her faith, it seems there's always a standard to meet. She carries an impossible to-do list in her heart that never gets completed. She lives in fear of letting someone down and yet at times resents the very same people she's trying to please. Sometimes she fantasizes about running away from her "blessed life" just so she can have some peace. She says it's been this way as long as she can remember, and she doesn't know how to live differently.
I nod in understanding and think of how I've wrestled with the need to be "perfect" too. The struggle began in my teenage years when I realized there were expectations to be met in every area of my life—school, social relationships, and even spirituality. I learned to hold my true emotions inside and perform so that I would be accepted. On one particular day my boyfriend broke up with me, and I felt devastated. But I walked into my next class with a forced smile. Fortunately, someone loved me enough not to let me get away with it. A friend took me by the shoulders, looked straight at me, and said, "Holley, stop faking it."
That moment turned out to be life changing because of this: until then I didn't think anyone could tell when I was faking it. I had become an expert at going through the motions and trying not to let anyone down. I thought my performance had been believable. But now someone stood in front of me, cutting through the masquerade and saying, "It's okay to be real."
I desperately wanted to believe that truth. I didn't want to keep pretending, but I had no idea how to change. Even more than that, I was terrified that if I let my struggles and true emotions show, God would be disappointed in me. Fear held me back and held up the corners of my smile like strings on a puppet.
Although I made some progress, I never really figured out how to stop trying so hard in high school. By the time I graduated, I had come to believe I could never live up to the standards and expectations. So when I went to college, I took a chain saw to the pedestal I'd been placed on and completely rebelled. I made poor choices and ended up miserable. Then I truly felt trapped. I didn't want to be perfect, but I also knew my destructive way of living had to stop.
God began relentlessly pursuing my heart in that in-between place between law and grace. He sent people into my life who accepted me in all my brokenness. He caught me when I fell. He revealed the legalism and lies that had led me to this cage of desperation. I learned—or perhaps relearned—that walking with Jesus is always first and foremost about a relationship. My heart had begun to heal.
Then I got married and began a career. In my midtwenties my husband and I decided to start a family. Only it didn't turn out the way we planned. Seven years of infertility and loss led me to struggle desperately for control of my life. I thought if I could just do everything right, then surely God would give me what I wanted. But he didn't. I fell into depression, and he met me again in that place. He showed me once more how hard I'd been trying to keep it all together. And in that season, I learned how love could hold me together even when my world fell apart.
God has continued to peel back layers of perfectionism in my life bit by bit. He's restored me in more ways than I even knew I needed, and he continues to do so. When I began working as a counselor and then a life coach, I discovered other women struggled with the need to be perfect too. And as I wrote about this on my blog as well as in books, I heard more of the same through comments and emails.
Here's the reality: I've yet to meet a woman who doesn't struggle with the pressure to be perfect. Even the ones who seem to have it all together. Maybe especially those who seem to have it all together. We are all in this battle, and we can help each other find victory. So on the day when yet another woman shared with me what I'd heard so many times before, I knew the time had come to write this book.
I reached across the table and touched her hand with newfound hope in my eyes. "You don't have to be tired anymore. Your life really can be different."
She looked up at me with a half smile. "I would love to believe that," she answered. "I think I'm too worn out to try anything else."
I smiled back at her and said, "Well, that's great news, because the first thing I want you to do is stop trying."
I'm saying that to you today as well, friend. Before you read one more sentence in this book, please pause and promise this one thing: you will stop trying to change on your own. Aren't you exhausted? Aren't you ready for a break? Then get off the treadmill of perfection. You have permission to do so. Because this book isn't about making yourself better. It's about learning to receive what's already yours. It's about knowing you're loved no matter what. It's about rest and grace and living in an entirely new way.
Yes, it's possible to overcome the trap of perfection. I can say with all my heart that I'm a freer woman today than ever before. I know who I am and what I'm called to do. My days are far more joyful. My anxiety is less than it's ever been. Yes, I will be in an ongoing process of healing until I get to heaven. I will have bad moments and messes. But that's okay. And I've discovered it's okay with God too. My life is not perfect, but it's better and fuller than it's ever been. Yours can be too. Truly.
Before we get free, we need to understand why perfection so quickly traps us in the first place. What makes us so willing to give up the wide-open spaces of grace?
The Lure of Perfection
We're drawn to perfection like a magnet. Our hearts feel the pull from the time we're little girls. The new school year began here yesterday, and social media sites filled with photos of kids in their "first day of school" outfits. I remember that ritual well too. Every bow, backpack, and pair of shoes had to be just right. We do the same as grown women, only now it's our homes, careers, or faith we hope are perfectly put together. It seems that desire for a flawless first impression never goes away.
As I think about why those "first day of school" outfits mattered so much, it seems many of the heart needs we experience as children remain even when we're grown-ups. We want to be accepted. We want others to think favorably of us. We want to be safe and avoid exclusion or hurt. I think at the root of every desire for perfection is simply this: fear. T he way we battle fear as humans is through control. And being perfect is the ultimate expression of control.
The enemy knew that when he tempted Eve all the way back in the Garden of Eden. Every time I return to this story, I seem to discover something new about who we are as women. And as I did so today, this one phrase stood out to me: "You will be like God" (Gen. 3:5). The enemy spoke that false promise to Eve to tempt her. But why that line? He could have offered her many other things—riches, illicit pleasures, the chance to rule the earth. But he chose those words: "You will be like God." In other words, you will be perfect.
What Eve in her innocence didn't realize is that she already was perfect. Yes, she was human rather than divine. But she was complete and whole in every way (which is the true definition of biblical perfection—we'll get to that later). She didn't lack anything. And yet, in his craftiness the enemy was able to convince her that she did. Friend, he still does the same with us today.
So how is "being like God" different than being human? What was so appealing about that to Eve? What does God have that we want for ourselves? I think there are five core answers:
Complete control—God has infinite power. Nothing is impossible for him. He's never surprised. Unlike us, he can do anything he wants whenever he wants.
Absolute knowledge—God understands everything. He can fathom more than we can even imagine. He never has to figure out a problem or search for a solution like we do.
Rightful glory—God alone deserves praise and honor because he created all things. He doesn't require affirmation to soothe his insecurities.
Self-sustaining love—God exists in perfect community within the Trinity. He doesn't have a "black hole" of love within him that he needs to have filled by anyone.
Secure identity—God's character does not change. He is who he is now and forever. Nothing can change or reduce him.
When women wrestle with trying to be perfect, it's related to one or more of the core needs above. We are trying to "be like God" in ways he never intended for us. We usually do so not out of arrogance but out of fear. Let's take a look at how that might unfold in a woman's life.
Complete control—Rachel grew up in a chaotic environment, so she learned to take charge. Now that she's a grown woman, that tendency shows in how she runs her home. As long as the house stays absolutely spotless and everything is in order, Rachel feels safe. Sometimes she's weary of trying so hard, but any alternative seems far too frightening.
Absolute knowledge—Kate doesn't know what's going to happen in her marriage. She senses a distance from her husband and once came across some inappropriate sites on his internet log. She tells herself, "If I can just do everything right as his wife, then he won't leave." She wants to confront her husband but fears what might happen. So she plays the role of the ideal wife while she remains deeply lonely inside.
Rightful glory—Sarah learned early how good achievement made her feel. An A on a test or an extra point scored in a game earned her pats on the back from her peers and parents. It's not that she wants people to think she's awesome; it's just that she's afraid if she isn't, they won't think of her at all. So she focuses on winning in life, but a lot of times there's simply no joy in the game.
Self-sustaining love—Gloria has been meeting the needs of others for as long as she can remember. When the phone rings, she answers. When the committee meets, she volunteers. When the friend goes into crisis, she shows up. She thinks being needed is the same as being loved. If she ever said no or let someone down, then she'd be rejected. On the outside she still wears a smile, but on the inside she's beginning to worry about the resentment she feels.
Secure identity—Krista has always felt like a bit of a chameleon. She can drift into a group and quickly learn what it takes to fit in. She embraces the phrases they use, the places they shop, and the values they hold highest. She's lived in so many different places that this kind of adaptation feels like a necessity. But sometimes she wonders who she could really become if she stopped pretending.
We can all relate to one or more of the descriptions above. If you felt a poke of guilt as you read those, swat it away. That's just perfection trying to get at you. God knows we are human and our hearts are drawn to what's not best for us. There is no condemnation for us in Jesus (see Rom. 8:1), and that means we're free to be honest so we can find healing. With that in mind, which of those scenarios do you relate to most? Why? __________________________________________________________________
The reality is, we all have a little bit of each of these women in us. We're all fallen, broken, and searching for ways to fill the voids in our hearts. Like I just said, God understands and he doesn't condemn us. He sees how easily we can be trapped by the very things we think will set us free. He knows that we're tempted to try to be perfect so that we feel safe. He also knows that perfection is impossible for us. That's why he sent Jesus.
Here's the paradox: while we're not able to be perfect, we also must be perfect to stand in God's presence. We're born into sin, and none of us goes through life without messing up. Even if you're a really "good" person, that's not enough. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10). We don't have any hope of achieving perfection ourselves. So what does that mean? We need Jesus to transfer his perfection to us because we can never be perfect on our own.
When Jesus died on the cross, he took the punishment we deserved on himself and resolved our sin issue once and for all. That's why he said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). When we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we receive not only salvation but also a new identity. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). Jesus takes your sin and gives you his perfection in return. This truth is the center of the gospel. Without it, Christianity is no different than other religions, which tell people to try harder and do more good so they can get into heaven. You do not have to live that way.
The writer of Hebrews describes what Jesus did for us this way: "For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (10:14). Through Jesus, we are given perfection that we could never have on our own. That's positional perfection, and it allows us to stand in right relationship with God.
Positional perfection can only be received. It can never be earned. When we try to do for ourselves what only Jesus can, we take the power out of what has been done on our behalf. God wants to set us free so our lives will no longer need to be about pursuing perfection. He wants us instead to be a people of grace, love, and joy.
You might ask, "But doesn't God care about what I do?" Yes, he does. And when we realize how much he truly loves us, we care more and more too. So there's a second part to perfection: it's the process of "being made holy" described in Hebrews 10:14. This simply means that throughout our lives, God wants us to become more like Jesus. At the same time, he also knows that the process will not be complete until heaven.
And God is the one who perfects us—we don't do it ourselves. Our role is to stay in close relationship with him. As we do so, the changes that need to happen in our lives naturally begin to take place. Jesus said he's the Vine and we're the branches. Our role is simply to stay connected to him. Ironically, we stunt our spiritual growth when we're focused on making ourselves perfect.
We will go into much more detail about what I shared above throughout this book. We'll also talk about specific verses like "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48) that can cause confusion about what God expects from us. But for now I want your heart to take hold of these two essential truths:
* You do not have to be perfect for God to love or accept you. When you receive Jesus as your Savior, his perfection is transferred to you, and you are in right relationship with God.
* Until you get to heaven, you will be in a process of being made holy by God (in other words, becoming more like Jesus). In the meantime, God wants you to focus on your relationship with him and not on changing outward behavior.
You may be wondering, "But what do I do when I sin?" You can simply go to God and say, "I was wrong, I'm sorry, and I'm ready to change. Will you please forgive me and help me?" Then move forward knowing God loves you just as much in your worst moments as he does in your best.
Excerpted from You're Loved No Matter What by Holley Gerth. Copyright © 2015 Holley Gerth. Excerpted by permission of Revell.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Quick Quiz 13
1 Why You Really Don't Have to Be Perfect 17
2 Embracing the Freedom That's Already Yours 36
3 Trading Guilt for Grace 61
4 What Your Heart Really Needs Is Perfect Love 86
5 The God Who Loves You More Than You Know 117
6 Daring to Be Who You Already Are 142
7 Finding Healing in Your Relationships 168
8 A Practical Plan for Beating Perfectionism 194
9 A New Perspective That Will Change Your Life 220
10 The Perfect Place You're Heading One Day 238
11 Freeing Your Heart Forever 262
Go Deeper Guide (For Individuals and Groups) 281
About the Author 317