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“Ask a Priest: How Can a Perfectionist Do Better?”
Q: I keep struggling with the same sins over and over again. The biggest is pride. What’s ironic is that I struggle with feeling that nothing I do is good enough, and I can never be worthy of God and constantly feel defeated every time I commit the same sin. So even when I do good act and/or stop myself from committing a sin, I ruin that by instantly becoming proud of myself that I have done good and or obsessing over the good act – even though it is God’s grace that leads to the good act. I don’t know how to stop these thoughts. Jesus said not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, yet I don’t know how to stop my mind from doing this. How do I stop this instinctual thinking? I’ve prayed so much asking God to take this pride from me, to purify me, to sanctify me, but it doesn’t seem to be getting better. – S.B.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Your sense of unworthiness before God and your drive for perfectionism are likely two sides of the same tarnished coin.
The deep issue is that you want to feel loved – and you want to be confident of that love.
The good news is that God already loves you. You are his beloved daughter. He loves you so much that he sent his only Son to suffer and die for your redemption.
The bad news is that you don’t quite understand the good news. And so, you believe that you have to prove yourself worthy of God’s love before he will give it.
You want love and validation, but you are chasing it by trying to be the best parishioner, the best organizer, the best sister or roommate or co-worker. But ultimately being the “best” doesn’t fill your heart. Why? Because you aren’t address the underlying problem.
Again, the root solution is believing in God’s love for you, here and now. And you don’t have to worry about God changing his mind.
Perhaps this fear of yours has its roots in your childhood. Perhaps there was someone who was overly demanding, someone who withheld affection when you didn’t “measure up.” If it were someone in authority, it is understandable that this might have affected your view of God, too.
But God isn’t someone who withholds his love. His arms are always open to you.
It might help to meditate on the Gospel accounts of the passion and death of Jesus, and to see him as undergoing this suffering as an act of personal love for you. This Jesus who loves you so much isn’t going to turn up his nose when you have your moments of weakness or mistakes.
Also helpful might be to try to look objectively at the people who have been demanding on you. Perhaps they struggled with the same problem in their youth, only to continue the vicious circle with you. Try to see them as suffering, too. And, if need be, make a conscious act of forgiveness.
If you keep some of these ideas on the radar, you might find less need to be perfect and more reason to feel loved. The paradigm shift in thinking could eliminate a lot of those thoughts that now unsettle you.
You might find two of our Retreat Guides especially helpful: “You Matter” and “Who You Are.”
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