This past holiday season, I had the joy of performing one of life’s most satisfying but irritating tasks: stringing up Christmas lights. The frustration begins right off the bat with figuring out how to untangle them. Then, you need to make sure they all work (because there is always that one broken bulb that ruins the whole bunch) and figure out how to replace it. Finally comes the task of repeatedly wrapping a long string of lights around something over and over again. For me, placing the ornaments on the tree was always much less stressful and more enjoyable.
This year, I had the task of hanging up lights around an outdoor gazebo for a youth ministry Christmas party. It seemed to be a simple task, but as people came along to help, I could feel the anxiety rising. How is the string of lights that that person is putting up going to connect to the whole circuit? That doesn’t make sense. It would be simpler if they did it this way. The way they are hanging the lights doesn’t match the way I’m doing it. That looks bad wrapped that way. I had so many ideas and options running around in my head that I just stood there frazzled, frustrated that the operation was not running the way that I wanted it. I even took a lot of it down after working on it for a while and restarted. Eventually, a friend of mine helped me get things going and said something like, “At this point it just needs to get done.”
That hit me for a second. I remembered, “Oh right. They’re just Christmas lights. And no one is going to care how neatly or tightly they are hung.” I had to force myself out of the role of crazy, overbearing captain of the ship and be okay with letting go a little bit. There are certainly more serious examples, like perhaps being unable to finish an important task at work, or being unable to finish an assignment for school, but the problem is the same. Perfectionism can fixate you so desperately upon your own performance that it paralyzes you. In the end, it will rob all joy that could be found in doing the task.
Of course, perfectionism has its good sides. Someone might think well of you for being a perfectionist because you pay attention to details, have a lot of good ideas, and tend to do a good, thorough job. On the other hand, perfectionists procrastinate a lot of the time. They have a hard time completing tasks because it is hard, if not impossible, to work to the standard or vision you have set for yourself.
I recently stumbled upon an article online titled “Why Saying This Four-Letter Word Can Transform Your Productivity.” That word is “done.” The tension for the perfectionist is this: we are finite, limited creatures and we need to be reminded that done is sometimes more important than perfect. Perfectionism hurts you if you are so bogged down by it that you can’t accomplish anything. However, the article presents this solution: “The moment we say we’re done with something, the electrical activity in our brain shifts from being activated and engaged into a more relaxed state… A neurochemical shift in the brain occurs simultaneously. Serotonin is released, creating a sense of calmness and satisfaction. This new relaxed state then allows us to take on the next task and builds our confidence… allowing you to take on even more challenging tasks.”
As I read the book of Revelation this week, I was reminded of this truth—it is done. Let’s be honest. Revelation is one crazy book, and it would be unhelpful for me to try to fully understand each piece of imagery that goes on, but the message seems to be clear. God wins! The book provides these fantastic images over and over again of magnificent creatures giving glory and honor and thanks to God. John sees the final judgement of the first earth and its passing along with the coming of the new heaven and the new earth. He will have his New Jerusalem, and we will be made new, and most importantly, we will dwell with God once again the way we were made to. In chapter 21, verses 22 and 23, we see that there is no need for the temple in the city. There is no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God will give it light.
Reading Revelation is like taking a deep breath and saying to yourself, “Done.” It is what the perfectionist like me desperately needs to hear. Stop trying to make things perfect. Stop trying to convince yourself that you will be okay as long as everything is under control. Stop letting your performance control you. It is done. There comes that serotonin release. That is our ultimate sense of calmness and satisfaction.
The article then goes on to offer practical advice on allowing yourself the space and time to say “done.” One of them is to visualize yourself completing the task. Leslie Sherlin, the psychologist and neuroperformance specialist that was interviewed in the article, says, “Even though we haven’t achieved the step yet, imagining that step having been achieved created momentum and motivation, which allows us to get there much quicker.”
Revelation does just that. It is stepping into the imagination of God. Let’s be excited when we read these pictures of heaven and imagine ourselves with God. Things will be the way they are meant to be, and God is making you and all things perfect. So breathe a little. Perfectionism for me has really been a manifestation of my own lack of confidence. I am a finite being, flawed, and fallen short. If that was the end of my story, then I really don’t have any reason for confidence. But if an ounce in me can remember that I am forgiven, and that I have the promise of renewal, then I can be confident. Yes, I am still broken. But I can be broken and still have peace. I can have confidence even in my fallen, messed up state, because I have the promise of renewal and that God will one day dwell with me.