If you come into Haley’s room and cuddle with her, she’ll want to talk to you.
If she starts talking, soon she’ll get emotional and start crying.
When she starts crying, her nose will start running, so you’ll need to get her tissues (usually a large box).
Once she has the tissues, she’ll realize that she’s thirsty, so you’ll need to get her a glass of water.
Once she has the water, you’ll need to somehow get her to stop crying so you can leave and go to bed.
If You Give a Haley a Cuddle, a modified version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
All jokes aside, I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours of sleep my mom has lost from our late-night conversations. One we had recently was no exception; it fit this poem to a tee, right down to the tissues. As I talked and cried, my mom noticed how frequently I was using the word “enough.” Eventually, she commented on it: “Haley, where are you getting your ideas of enough? Who gave you these standards? Whatever yardsticks you’ve somehow found for yourself, I wish I could just break them.”
Before that point, I hadn’t realized how many of my tears were coming from perfectionism and comparison. Because I wasn’t perfect, because I wasn’t like Everyone Else, or because I wasn’t perfect like Everyone Else, I didn’t feel enough. I saw myself as inadequate in my relationships, in how I take care of my body, in my academic and professional ambitions, in my walk with Jesus, in my living out God’s mission. I kept staring at the gap between where I was and where was perfect, frustrated and embarrassed at my inability to close it. I let that gap start to fill my head with lies about my identity and capability. And it all resulted from these stupid yardsticks.
The yardsticks of perfectionism and comparison will always be bigger than who we are and what we’re doing. If we use them to measure ourselves, we’ll grow exhausted, ashamed, bitter, and angry. We’ll end up exactly where we don’t want to be because we’ve strived and strived to get where we want to be but haven’t been able to quite make it happen. But the problem isn’t with us: it’s with our theres. We will never get there if our there is perfection and not progress, if our there is what Everyone Else is like and not who we are meant to be in this moment. The yardsticks get longer the harder we work to measure up to them.
I’d bet that if we dialed in to our thoughts and emotions, we’d all find perfectionism and comparison at the root of looooots of our problems. When we put pressure on ourselves to do it all, to be the very best, to be like Everyone Else or even better than them, we start focusing on where we’re not living up to those impossible expectations. We focus on the gaps we can’t fill instead of focusing on Jesus, who came to close the most important gap of all: the one between us and God. He lived up to every perfect standard so that we don’t have to, because news flash, we can’t. And the enemy wants to leave us striving instead of accepting grace. But that’s not what I want for myself or for you. I want us to experience freedom from the bondage of perfectionism and comparison. I want us to trust that our Savior has been perfect for us and made us perfect in Him, so we don’t have to live perfectly. I want us to live the life we were created to live, not by always trying harder, but by accepting our shortcomings and praising Him for forgiving them.
So today, I invite everyone into a process. It’s one I underwent in that conversation with my mom and one I continue in today. It can bring emotional, mental, or relational freedom. It can break the yardsticks. And even if you don’t believe me, it’s worth a shot. What do you have to lose? Here’s how it goes:
- Pay attention to the word “enough.” When you think or speak, where does it pop up? How often? Relationships are a common area that trips me up.
- Once you notice your use of “enough,” dig a little deeper. Why don’t you feel enough in this area? Is it because you’re not doing everything perfectly, or because you’re not doing it as well as Everyone Else seems to be? I sometimes don’t feel enough in relationships because I think I’m selfish or think that I don’t feel all the right emotions.
- Trace it back to the yardsticks. This is my favorite part, where the truth comes in. Realize that your yardstick is impossibly big… and realize that God’s love and grace for you are so, so much bigger. Acknowledge your yardsticks of perfectionism and comparison (or both), and then tell them: You are not realistic. I will never measure up to you, but I don’t have to. Because I have a Savior who’s already measured up, and because of His grace for me, I measure up, too.
- Break the dang yardsticks. Snap. them. in. half. If you need to, do what I did: march out to Home Depot, buy a yardstick, break it, and hang it up on your wall. Reinforce the truth that you are enough by living like it. Repeat the truth over and over, every single day, until it speaks louder than the lies of perfectionism and comparison. The best way to do this is to fix your eyes on Jesus. When you look at Him instead of the gaps between who you are and who you want to be, it becomes clear that God does not see the gaps when He looks at you. He sees His son or daughter.
- Repeat as needed. Even as I type this post, it seems similar to others I’ve written before. And that’s because it is, because I’ve struggled with perfectionism and comparison a ton in my mere twenty years. Yardsticks creep into my brain when I’m not paying attention. The enemy is sneaky. His lies take root in my mind and start to look like truth. And when that happens, I need to say enough with the not-enoughs, because I am enough as a daughter of the King. And you are enough, too.
- Help a brotha out. (I’m guessing I should never use the word “brotha” again.) Sure, we can try to take out the lies on our own, sit down with a journal and cup of tea until we’re believing truth again. But I don’t know if I ever would have realized my issues were stemming from yardsticks if my mom hadn’t pointed it out. We need one another. We need other people to speak truth to us, and we need to speak truth to other people. It’s certainly not a substitution for believing truth ourselves, but oftentimes, others can see our yardsticks much more clearly than we can. It’s so much easier to break those yardsticks together.
I hope this helps someone who is struggling with perfectionism and comparison. And if that’s not you today, I hope you bookmark this post for a time when the yardsticks might come to get you. Wherever you’re at on your journey, I hope you hear me when I say: You are enough. You are enough. You are enough.
Now let’s break some yardsticks.
For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.