I can still remember sitting in the small, non-descript room and being terrified. I was twenty-two and looking forward to the possibility of experiencing overseas missions life for myself. No more books, no more guest speakers at church—I would be a missionary.
First, I had to face the psychological evaluation.
I thought I was doing pretty good so far, until he asked me a question: “Carol, how do you think your perfectionism is going to affect you on the field?”
I know, you were thinking he would ask me about other struggles (maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, I’m not saying), but this was the one that stuck with me for the past forty years.
My sin of perfectionism was about to be a roadblock to ministry.
I took a deep breath, wondering how all the paperwork I’d filled out gave me away, and answered that I thought I could be flexible enough to handle it. Little did I know…
I’m sure he laughed to himself at my simplistic and naïve answer, but thankfully, he decided I must not be too far gone, as I passed the test.
That was the easy test—mission life would soon teach me some soul-crushing lessons.
Perfectionism comes in many forms. You may be reading or hearing this and think you don’t suffer with the malady, but I can tell you most people do. The reason lies in the fact that perfectionism is just one of the many manifestations of pride. Perfectionists like to control their environment, schedule, outcomes, family, colleagues, and reputation. I may not admit that I came across as so domineering and demanding, because perfectionists can use words to hide their sin.
“I’m just particular that way, you know.”
“I function better when I’m on a schedule.”
“Oh, you don’t need to help me, I’ve got this.”
Sounds sweet, right? Sweet on top, bitter on the bottom.
I can now say, I’m a recovering perfectionist. (I’ll be recovering till Jesus comes, but at least I’m aware).
Why am I laying all this out there for you? Because cross-cultural service or overseas missions is where perfectionists are beat up with a big stick. Trust me, I’ve got the bruises to prove it.
Am I telling you that once you step over that abyss into service, you’re never in control again? Yes. Want to know a secret? You really never have been in control in the first place; it was all an illusion, so you might as well give up now.
Forgive me if that sounds harsh, but my heart hurts when I hear the continuing statistic that those who go into ministry are leaving after only a few years on the field. It can be for many different reasons, but I know that one of the main ones is a simple disappointment that it didn’t look like what was expected.
Expectations can be both about it just being a lot harder or also because we couldn’t control things.
- I’m not as good at this hard language as I thought I’d be. I expected to be proficient by now!
- I can’t keep my house clean, and they don’t have the cleaning supplies I’m used to.
- My husband and kids are with me ALL the time. I can’t figure out how to get everything done.
- I have to cook from scratch. I’ve never cut up a chicken before.
- Having an organizer is meaningless because people never come on time.
- Washing clothes and hanging them on a line takes most of my day!
- I haven’t witnessed to a single person since I got here, and I’m supposed to be a missionary.
Sound familiar? I’m not sharing anything I didn’t first say myself, so don’t think I’m beating you up. What I want to ultimately say is we all have to give control to Jesus, no matter where we live. Listen to this quote from Lilias Trotter, who served in Algeria at the beginning of the 20th century.
Nerves strained by physical stress become a playground for “the Enemy” who would not have his stronghold broken.A Passion for the Impossible p. 153.
When we walk in obedience into service for the Kingdom of Christ, we’re entering enemy territory, and Satan doesn’t like to give up control. That’s why he plays upon our own weaknesses and desires for perfection to push us off the battlefield.
Will you yield to perfection defection or to Christ’s perfect will? Stay on the Captain’s team for the victory he’s already won. All you have to lay aside is your game plan for his.
Grace and Peace