Question #9: Are you rigidly perfectionistic?
Do you obsess over every calorie, every cent, or every minute spent? Are you a perfectionist with your home, your car, your appearance, or your work? Do you feel peace, only when you have everything under control? Do others think of you as rigid and inflexible?
I noticed that she wasn’t eating. She kept pushing the food around on her plate, but she had only taken a couple of tiny bites. I also noticed that our hostess was concerned by this. She kept asking if everything was okay with the food. I cringed when I looked at the proud, superior way this young woman turned her nose up at what had been placed in front of her.
Yes, our plates were loaded with starch and fat. No, there weren’t any fresh vegetables to choose from. And no, this meal wouldn’t help any of us face the scale the next morning.
But if any of us could afford the extra calories, it was her! She had the tiniest waistline of all of us. She obviously also had the strongest determination to stick to her eating plan.
Was her response right and good? Is holding to self-control always a godly response?
Two Responses to Limits
Here’s an excerpt from Control Girl:
I find that, out of my love for control, there are two ways I react to limits. Reaction one is to chafe against the limits and be irritated with them… [We talked about this reaction last time].
Reaction two is putting a stranglehold on the limits in an attempt to achieve total control. Reaction two is all about limits. It’s when I know exactly how many calories I’ve eaten today. Or when I’m stressed out because I only have two hours before bed and four hundred calories yet to burn. It’s when I’m vigilant about taking vitamins, getting enough sleep, and being on time–and angry when I don’t get the results I’m counting on.
So reaction one is when I reject limits out of a love for control.
Reaction two is when I clutch limits out of a love for control.
Are you someone who clutches limits, out of love for control? Sometimes, when other parts of life feel out of control, we turn our focus to the things that we can control–like keeping the house clean or keeping our spending or eating in check. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with being disciplined and orderly, there is something wrong with making that the foundation for our peace and security.
Perfectionism is often our way of controlling what people think of us. We hold up a projected image of perfection like a shield against criticism and judgment. Yet inside that shield often lives a scared and shy girl–terrified by the thought of not measuring up, or having her weaknesses exposed.
Friends, perfectionism is a facade. First of all, it can never truly be achieved. And the closer we get, the more heavy the burden of trying to maintain control. Perfectionism only brings stress, anxiety, and turmoil; not security and peace.
The Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians five talks about the fruit (singular) of the Spirit, not the fruits (plural) of the Spirit. So rather than picturing a tree with many fruits, we should imagine one type of fruit with many characteristics–with self-control being one among many.
Do you know any people who are quite self-controlled but are not patient, gentle, and kind? Or who have lots of self-control but no peace and joy?
We need to be careful to differentiate between a self-control that says yes to our own craving for control, and a self-control that yields to the Spirit.
The type of self-control that is born out of keeping in step with the Spirit will have all the characteristics of the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
So in our earlier illustration, the woman who refused the food set before her seemed to practice self-control out of her own craving to have control, not a desire to give control to God. See the difference?
Here are some examples of self-control, produced by the Spirit, not selfishness:
- Refusing to repeat words that would be hurtful and create division.
- Denying myself the jeans that are on sale and fit perfectly, because I know my growing kids need new jeans more than I do.
- Not losing my temper, but instead exercising patience toward my tantrum-throwing child.
- Eating the food before me, which doesn’t fit neatly inside my diet, out of deference and kindness to my host.
Friends, our control-craving hearts can take even something good–like self-control–and wield it into a control-gathering weapon. But the self-control that comes from the Spirit is all about giving up control to God, not seizing it for ourselves.
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Join me for a study of seven Control Girls of the Bible, who struggled with control in the same way we do: they pushed for their own agendas, tried to make everything turn out according to their plans, and made everybody miserable in the process. By comparing their stories with ours, we learn—in hundreds of ways and examples—that God is in control and we aren’t. And He invites us to live like it’s true.