Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect

By Linda Conrad

Many years ago, my older adult sister was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a heart valve transplant. My husband and I visited her to give encouragement and pray for a quick recovery. She told us her doctor advised her to stop smoking. But she said she really didn’t want to stop because she liked it too much. I couldn’t fully understand her reasoning because I never smoked. Why would she want to keep smoking? Didn’t she remember that my Dad died of emphysema because of his 50 years of smoking! Why would she want to risk a similar demise? After presenting what I thought was a solid case against smoking, my sister called me a "Goody Two-Shoes." Those words really hurt. I’ve never forgotten them.

I learned that the phrase "Goody Two-Shoes" was popularized from a children’s story called "Little Goody Two-Shoes" published by John Newbery in London in 1765. "Goody Two-Shoes is a variation of the Cinderella story. The fable tells of Goody Two-Shoes, the nickname of a poor orphan girl named Margery Meanwell, who goes through life with only one shoe. When a rich gentleman gives her a complete pair, she is so happy that she tells everyone she has "two shoes". Later, Margery becomes a teacher and marries a rich widower. This earning of wealth serves as proof that her virtuousness has been rewarded, a popular theme in children's literature of the era." (From Wikipedia)

Because I had to know, I looked up the official definition of "Goody two-shoes": a person who is goody-goody; also: a person who is uncommonly good. An urban definition says: A person who always does the "right thing", never does anything that they're "not supposed to do" and acts "perfect" in every single way possible.

In reality, that was my life. I did do everything just right or at least tried to do everything just right. I was a perfectionist in every way and had high expectations of everyone else around me. That was how I lived my life…picture perfect.

In my defense, I led a life that I thought was pleasing to God. As others looked at me, they sometimes shared with me their perception of my "perfection". A new girlfriend at church told me that I must work around my house wearing a dress and pearls because she thought I had it all together. Another comment came from a male church staff member who told me that we had the perfect family!

My Mom told me that when I was a very young girl, my Dad and she would have to wait on me to leave the house because I had to finish perfectly coloring inside the lines! Being exact isn’t so bad, is it?

Today I can’t read a program or article without finding a typo. It seems there’s always one! Those mistakes stick out to me like a sore thumb. Am I becoming critical or do I just pay attention to detail?

How did I get like this? Did it come from my Dad? He was a machinist and had to be exact in his measurements. How about my Mom? She always excelled and learned to read before she went to school and even graduated high school at age 16. Maybe I gained some of their tendencies. But that’s not all bad….unless, the need to be perfect and gain approval affects my own perceptions of myself, which it has…many times! I’ve come to realize that when I try to get things/relationships just right, so perfect, and can’t, that often causes some stinkin’ thinkin’ about myself… I’m not good enough; I don’t measure up; or even I’m not worthy. That can tailspin me into a bit of depression. Or when I think I screw up with a conversation that replays in my head, I can’t forgive myself for saying something so dumb. What will others think of me? I’m such a failure! Staying up so late or even all night to get a school newsletter finished with the perfect graphics (or doing anything that needed to be JUST SO) would simply take precedence over my need for sleep. My own self needs were overlooked because of the need for perfection, and so much time was spent on doing everything to the extreme. I had to keep up the perfect appearance, which became very self-absorbing.

Even looking at Facebook to watch other "perfect" people (as I typically just look at others’ posts and rarely post anything myself) when I entertain comparisons, then there’s always trouble. The lies I believe in my mind can be overpowering. Did you know that we actually think over 1,200 words per minute, and only speak about 240 words a minute! That’s a lot of self-talk. I create a lot of expectations for myself, which often translates into very high expectations for others.

Recently, in dealing with the staff at my Mom’s nursing home, I became very critical of everything that was done or not done to my expected level of care. That was okay because I love my Mom, yes, but also because of my intense perfectionism, I caused some hurt and defensive feelings in the nursing home staff.

Even with my breast cancer diagnosis, double mastectomy and reconstruction this year, I’ve expected detailed perfection. Thankfully, my plastic surgeon has been gracious with my constant questions, and over time I’ve come to realize it’s all good! I’m very thankful for my outcome of being cancer-free!

What I continue to learn about myself is that because I will never be perfect, it’s OK to be open to share my thoughts and feelings about things because they really are worthwhile. In the past I found I was a great reporter giving usually only the facts because I love learning and researching, without expressing my feelings. Interestingly, my same sister told me I was just like an investigator… "just the facts, m’am, only the facts."

Not everyone will like me or agree with me, but do I want to speak lies or truth to myself? What’s important to me is to be me and be able to express myself as me. I know the truth: God made me unique. I do have talents and gifts and have a voice to share. Constant comparisons are not good and only hinder my potential and negatively affect my relationships. This quote says a lot… "Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best."~Author unknown.

Also, I focus on Scripture to set my mind in a positive frame, especially these two verses:

Philippians 4:8 "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."

Romans 12:2 "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."

Now onward to living life well, not picture perfect, but confident in who I am as a Christ follower, loved and forgiven by Him, valued and worthy, made to be connected, growing and serving.

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