The children bickered all day. Each time I settled an argument, the muscles in my neck twitched and the rock in the pit of my stomach grew heavier. As a home schooling mom, I have plenty of opportunity to see their struggles. That day, one of the children exploded as I taught spelling, another argued with me over a reading lesson, and everyone seemed to forget their chores. By bedtime, my shoulders slumped. I forced myself through the nightly routine, praying prayers I didn't feel.
When the house finally quieted, I wrote in my journal, turned out the light and put on my favorite CD. I lay on the couch huddled under an afghan, defeated. I mourned my sins of omission, listening to a singer who knew failure.
"After all," I told myself, "if I were a good mother, my children wouldn't talk back, bicker, or be angry." Good mothers had better discipline. Good mothers had more patience. Good mothers had done a better job in the early years and their post-preschool children were always obedient and kind—And of course a good mother could go to bed with a clean kitchen because the children had done their chores without being reminded!
As I lay in the dark, I asked God to reveal His truth. It came a few days later as I sat in my blue recliner, writing a prayer in my journal. I was doing it again! Taking guilt that wasn't mine. Blaming myself when Christ had declared me blameless . . . and what made it worse is I took my children's sins upon myself as well.
The Lord showed me I had to release my children to Him. To let them be human. Like me, they weren't perfect. Like me, they needed to own their sin and let Him forgive. How could they learn to follow their Lord if I stayed in the way, confusing them by blaming myself for their mistakes?
My children didn't need a savior. They already had one. My children also didn't need a perfect mother, one who knew how to settle every argument, discipline away every stray word, and tame every rebellion. They had a Lord for that. They needed to confront their need for the Holy Spirit's moment-by-moment intervention and empowerment.
I'm beginning to see how closely perfectionism and guilt are tied together. If the enemy can make me think I should be perfect he can quickly defeat me . . . and I'm back in that same old ugly cycle of guilt and failure.
Perfectionism rears its ugly head too often in my life. It sets unreachable standards for myself and causes me to take on other people's faults.
As a young woman, I worked very hard to be good. I wanted to please God and yet I felt I never lived up. A few years ago I studied the book of Ephesians. When I began chapter four, I became angry. "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." (Ephesians 4:2 NIV) "God!" I cried out in desperation, "I can't be completely patient and gentle for one hour! How can you expect this of me?"
As I sat quietly before Him, I was reminded of the first three chapters of Ephesians. They showed me that I was the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, raised up with Christ, and seated in the heavenly places. In chapter 2, I'd read, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus . . ." (Ephesians 2:8-10b NIV)
I began to understand that anything good in me was a result of God's loving work, not my own effort. Finally, my eyes fell upon the end of Chapter 3, where Paul prays that the people of Ephesus would grasp how wide, long, high, and deep Christ's love is so that they could be filled to the fullness of God. (See Ephesians 3:16-19) Wasn't that my desire—to be like God, filled up with Him so I could be patient and good? Wasn't the scripture saying that the way to do that was to discover the depth of Christ's love for me? In that moment I felt a whisper in my heart. "Paula," my Lord said, "all your life you've tried to be good. Get to know me and I will make you good."
The Lord is teaching me to let go of perfectionism. Showing me that the secret to the Christian life is a relationship with Him. Anytime I focus on my behavior and working harder, I've lost the battle. My focus should be on Christ and what He did at the cross. This journey is not about me. Christ is the One who is perfect. He's the author and perfecter of my life. (See Hebrews 12:2) He's the One who takes all my mistakes, sins, inadequacies, and failures and changes them into something beautiful. He's the One that replaced my old, messy human heart with His own perfect one. My job is to keep my eyes on Him.
I forgot this as I let guilt consume me with my children that day. After all, I have no greater desire than to see them walk a godly life, fully devoted to God's plan for them. In my zeal to create the perfect home, the perfect life, the perfect KIDS, I returned to the enemy's lies.
Praise God! The pressure is off. I can get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit bring conviction, love, and change in my children. I can remember that they, too, have sinful flesh which battles against the Spirit within. I can quit taking their faults upon myself and let God make us all vessels that will glorify Him.
Good-bye guilt. Good-bye perfectionism. Hello, Jesus!
A home schooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God's grace and intimacy with Jesus. Her website offers home schooling hints, book reviews, and a free weekly devotional, Soul Scents. Subscribe to Soul Scents at www.soulscents.us. You can contact Paula at Paula@soulscents.us. This article originally appeared in Christian Families Online: http://christianfamiliesministries.com