Taking Pleasure in Toxic Perfectionism: The thorn in my flesh made perfect through Jesus Christ’s grace

Until recently I lived under the burden of countless expectations as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Do family history, attend the temple, study the scriptures daily, hold organized and faith promoting family home evenings and family scripture study, serve others, protect my children from pornography, share the gospel, prepare my children for missions, and so on. When I was doing well in any of those areas, I judged others thinking, “Well, if I can do family history with my busy life, then she should be able to do it too.” When I struggled, I felt like a failure, that too much was expected of me, and that I would never be the person the Savior expected me to be. I knew I was a perfectionist, but I didn’t know how to be any other way. I heard the warnings such as when Elder Holland said, “My brothers and sisters, except for Jesus, there have been no flawless performances on this earthly journey we are pursuing, so while in mortality let’s strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call ‘toxic perfectionism.’ We should avoid that latter excessive expectation of ourselves and others…” (“Be Ye Therefore Perfect-Eventually,” October 2017 General Conference). I added this to my “to do” list, another expectation for which I was a failure.

Turning Point

But as with Paul, the Savior used the thorn in my flesh to teach me of the power of Jesus Christ’s Atonement. A turning point for me was when I received the calling of Relief Society President for my ward. I was overwhelmed. I knew I couldn’t accomplish this responsibility on my own. I plead in prayer daily for the sustaining and guiding influence of the Spirit. Day after day, experience after experience, I saw how the Lord loved me and the women and families I served. One example is when I needed to talk with a sister in my ward, but I didn’t know how to get in touch with her. I felt the need to walk in my neighborhood in a direction I didn’t usually go. That sister drove towards me in her van and she pulled over and we visited.

The Savior’s Grace

When I stopped trying to be perfect and allowed the Savior’s grace to strengthen me and make me more than I could be on my own, I was finally able to “strive for steady improvement without obsessing” and “avoid ‘toxic perfectionism’” as lovingly taught by Elder Holland.

Could I have avoided years of guilt?

So why didn’t I figure this out years ago when I had three small children and was the Primary President or when I was begging for volunteers to staff Cub Day Camp or when I saw countless needs publicized on Facebook that I couldn’t fulfill? If I had just followed all I’d been taught about Jesus Christ and turned to Him instead of trying to become perfect on my own, I could have avoided years of guilt and failure.

Refining takes time

Because for most of us, the refining process, the method of Jesus Christ’s grace turning our weaknesses to strengths takes time. We are on this earth to learn. Our Savior is a patient teacher.

Pleasure in perfectionism

While I still try to understand my need to control my life and others, I don’t wish I was a more relaxed person with different weaknesses. I take pleasure in my “toxic perfectionism” because that is one of my weaknesses that the Savior uses to teach me to rely on him.

I glory in my infirmities.

I testify with Paul in speaking of Jesus Christ, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).