The Battle With Perfectionism

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If you’ve known me for any amount of time, you know that I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. While I will not share the entire depths of what led me to being a perfectionist, I will share that becoming aware of this tendency has been a huge breakthrough for me. One of the blessings of therapy has been getting to the “how” of some of the behaviors I’ve exhibited. I would like to share with you all what perfectionism looks like in me. My hope is that through sharing my struggle, you will see that you are not alone not only in your struggle with perfectionism, but in any struggle that you have.

Perfectionism keeps me tied around the opinions of others. I want everything to go right because I am preparing to hear the opinions, complaints, and criticisms of others. There is no room for a mistake or error because what others think about whatever is going on is at stake. If everything goes perfect, there will be no criticism. Yet, within all of this I forget that some people are just hard to please….point blank!

Perfectionism shifts the focus of my life from what I think is best to what others think is best. In Daring Greatly, Brene’ Brown argues that “perfectionism is not self-improvement….Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think?”[1] Why is this a problem? Well, in my 31 years of life, I’ve learned that you and I are inconsistent. People may like one thing on Monday and change their preference by Tuesday. What a person wants you to do on Monday morning may be different by Monday afternoon. When I focus on what others think, I join the mind circus of others who say at 8am that they want spaghetti for dinner but end up getting McDonalds.

Because perfectionism is centered on others, I start to live my life based on what everyone wants. Within this comes something that tempts me to get away from being myself, and that thing is popularity. Peter Scazzero argued that popularity is one of the stumbling blocks to us being who we are because it gets us away from being free. Scazzero states, “True freedom comes when we no longer need to be somebody special in other people’s eyes because we know we are loveable and good enough.”[2]

So, what am I doing about this? First, I am bathing myself in God’s love for me. Life is cause you to believe that God only loves you when so and so takes place, or when you act in a certain way. God’s love reminds me that regardless of what others think, I can be secure in His love. Thus, if something doesn’t go exactly the way I want it to go, that is okay. If I have a moment when people are not as favorable of me as I want them to be, that is okay because of my security in God’s love. I do not see God’s love as a license for me to behave in whatever manner I choose; I see God’s love as a reminder of my value in Him.

Second, I am in the process of discovering more of who I am. The process of knowing who you are frees you from people who try to treat you as anything less than a child of God. We will make mistakes. We will mess up, but that doesn’t take away from the reality of who I am in Christ. Perfectionism is about putting on a facade in the name of portraying a perfect image. I know who I am, and within this I also know WHOSE I am. Thus, even when I am at my worst moment in life, I do not have to be fake because I have a solid idea of who I am.

Lastly, I am learning to live in the “enough” of life. Brown says, “If we want freedom from perfectionism, we have to make the long journey from ‘What will people think?’ to ‘I am enough.’”[3] This last point relates to everything else mentioned, but it doesn’t hurt to say again: when you know who you are, you realize that you are enough. Regardless of what failures you experience in life, you are enough. Perfectionism wants us to not be satisfied in authentically who we are. The authenticity of who you are includes your pain, brokenness, sorrows, etc. Perfectionism wants us to hide the pain to show people that we have it all together. Heck no! While we should be selective of where we bleed, it makes zero sense for us to eliminate the entire being of who we are because we’re worried about what others think. It really doesn’t matter what anyone else says. You, every bit of you, are enough!

As a recovering perfectionist and, as Brown calls it, an “aspiring good-enoughist,”[4] I hope that my struggle with perfectionism will encourage someone to, first, be honest about their struggle and, second, make steps to get away from perfectionism. Perfectionism is exhausting. It takes away the energy you need to accomplish everything God has placed in you to do.

If you’re struggling with perfectionism, I would love for you to leave a comment talking about your experience. Let’s support one another on the path to healing!

[1] Brene’ Brown, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.” 129.

[2] Peter Scazzero, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ.” 77.

[3] Brown, “Daring Greatly.” 131.

[4] Brene Brown, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.” 56.

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The Journey Continues….

In my 31 years of life, I have been blessed with the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Elon University (2010) and a Master of Arts in Christian Studies w/ Emphasis on Youth Ministry from Grand Canyon University (2018). These degrees have blessed me with tools to be more effective in serving God’s people. However, God has blessed me the opportunity to earn another degree to be even more effective in ministry. Thus, I am proud to announce that I have been accepted into the Master of Divinity program at Fuller Theological Seminary! I plan to start this fall. As it is becoming clearer in terms of what God has called me to do, I believe this Mdiv will allow me to use the gifts God has given me to fulfill my calling.

First, I want to thank God for the support of my wife and family. Second, I would like to thank Rev. James Wilkes, Dr. James Garrett, and Rev. Yvonne King for their assistance and guidance in this process. Lastly, I want to thank the Elon First Baptist Church for allowing me to use the gifts God has given me for His glory to serve our community.

I am excited at receiving more tools to be an effective servant of the Lord in this day and age when people continue to question the need for the church. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I pursue this opportunity at further development!

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Picture of Fuller Theological Seminary’s LIbrary

How Do They Do It?

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Picture Courtesy of The GODD (the G is silent) Show

As a thinker, I am always contemplating different ideas, thoughts, and perspectives about life. Based on the definition of philosophy by the English Oxford Living Dictionaries, I could probably classify myself, to an extent, as a philosopher.[1] One of the things that I’ve contemplated, as of late, is the reality of life as something that goes forward. It does not take a long time to realize that life is something that does not allow us to go backwards on. Today is today, and tomorrow is a new day that will NOT look like today EVER again. How scary is that?

So, this is what I’ve contemplated lately: how do people, who had a rough childhood or have had certain negative experiences, continue to live their life with some level of normalcy after the fact? According to Judith Herman in her discussion about trauma, once a traumatic event takes place, “things are no longer what they seem.”[2] In other words, once something traumatic happens in life, everything about life changes. So, knowing this about the impact of trauma, I have to wonder how people, who have experienced some type of trauma, continue to live their lives to the best of their ability knowing that they cannot go back in the past to change what happened.

By the way, I believe that it is best to give a definition of trauma in order to contextualize these thoughts that I have. According to Esther Giller, psychological trauma is “the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions in which the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed, or the individual experiences (subjectively) a threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity.”[3] SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) noted that traumatic events could include abuse (sexual, physical, emotional, etc.), domestic abuse, bullying, etc.[4]

Thus, if trauma affects the person in a significant way, how do they live their lives with some level of normalcy after what has happened has happened? Thinking about this allows me to agree with those who would say that time DOES NOT heal all wounds. By the way, for those who are Christians, my thoughts do not contradict my faith in Christ. My faith is in Christ, but the reality of life is that it is brutal. The reality of life is also that traumatic events, of any sort, can hurt us to the core. I am convinced that we live in a society where people are carrying around so many “secret” hurts that manifest itself in outward behaviors that are destructive and inward thoughts that hold the person hostage mentally.

So, if you’ve been hurt traumatically by life, how do you move forward in your life? I do not believe that the hurt is something that you can cover up. However, I believe there are resources available to help us live the best life we can in spite of what we’ve been through. At the same time, I think we have to be realistic about how difficult it is to live a “normal” life after we experience any kind of traumatic event. This thought bothers me because it feels “unfair.” It doesn’t feel right that there are many people who will never be able to experience what a “normal” life looks like. It makes me mad to know that many children (and adults) will never know what it’s like to have an innocent childhood.

Hence, I conclude this post by reminding us of what Kirk Franklin said: “Everyone Hurts.”[5] Consequently, this reminder should encourage us to live a life of love, compassion, and care. You never know what an act of love can do for someone fighting to live their life in spite of the trauma they’ve experienced. Also, you never know if you’ll be the one that needs the love and compassion. Life is an interesting journey. You never know what tomorrow holds.

[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/philosophy

[2] Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence—from domestic abuse to political terror (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1997), 53.

[3] https://www.sidran.org/resources/for-survivors-and-loved-ones/what-is-psychological-trauma/ The author also recognizes that trauma can be physiological (affecting the body) along with psychological (affecting the mind).

[4] https://www.samhsa.gov/trauma-violence/types

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoEHWgVf_GE

My Mental Health Journey

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In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness month, I have decided to share my mental health journey to the world.

So many of us are privileged to see signs when our physical health is not where it needs to be. If we see signs of something wrong with our health, we, for the most part, will inquire on what is wrong and, at some point, seek medication attention. However, what happens when there are signs that something is not right with us mentally? Do we tend to inquire about what is going on, or do we just ignore it? This year became the year that I had to stop ignoring what was going on with me mentally and start seeking answers to some of the questions I had.

This year has served as more of an evaluation of where I am in my life. A part of this evaluation has also involved taking a serious look at the future towards what I want to accomplish and who I want to be moving forward. I came to the conclusion that I was not going to have a chance to progress to what I want to be until I deal with my mental health. Looking at some of my thought patterns and behaviors, I finally realized that I must seek help to figure out the reasons why I felt like my mental health was not where it needed to be. I am a very prideful person, and thus, it was hard to admit that I needed help. However, thanks to the encouragement of my wife, I decided to set up an appointment with a therapist that has the reputation of providing great work. The first session was an assessment of what I believe was going on. Just in that first session, I felt a sense of freedom that I haven’t felt in a while. It was relieving to be honest with this stranger regarding what was going on with me mentally.

On the second appointment, the appointment that started the official therapy session, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. According to DSM-5, generalized anxiety disorder includes “excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months…..anxiety/worry causing significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”[1] As I look at my life the past few years, this diagnosis was on point. Since I’ve started therapy, I’ve begun to see some of the roots behind my excessive worry and anxiety. Jordan B. Peterson argued that a lot of mental health issues boil down to the complexity of life, and how we, at times, struggle to handle it.[2] Some of the situations I’ve experienced in 31 years of life have been complex and complicated to deal with. However, I have not taken the time to properly deal with what was going on. The reality of life is that it is complex. It can become so complex that we get overwhelmed and the overwhelming feeling can affect us mentally.

Today I share my mental health journey to encourage each and every one of you to seek help as needed. There is NOTHING wrong with having to admit that you do not have it all together. The truth of the matter is that NO ONE has it all together. It takes A LOT of courage to admit that things aren’t going the way they need to be, but on the other side of your courage is freedom. My mental health journey is one of good, bad, progressive, and ugly days. However, with what I believe God is going to do through me for the rest of my life, I am determined to be in the best shape mentally. Life is rough. As my childhood pastor used to say, “if you haven’t had any rain in your life, just wait awhile.”

Lastly, I’d like to give a shout out to everyone who works in the mental health field. Your work is highly appreciated and needed in this day and age. On a daily basis, we see how complex life is. Your service to humanity has been the difference between someone giving up on life and someone pressing forward.

I say one more time: it’s ok not to be ok. If you need the help, do not be afraid to ask for it! Your life is precious, and you deserve to be at your best mentally!

[1] https://images.pearsonclinical.com/images/assets/basc-3/basc3resources/DSM5_DiagnosticCriteria_GeneralizedAnxietyDisorder.pdf

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW_zpi2hmI4

In the Words of Usher, “These Are My Confessions.”

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Picture courtesy of KUT, Austin’s NPR Station

This coming up week represents what could be a significant turning point in life. After much prayer, discussion with my family, and research, I have come to a simple conclusion: I am in need of therapy. Thus, this week, weather permitting, I will be in my first therapy session.

According to Mental Health First Aid USA, a mental illness is an illness (diagnosable) that “affects a person’s thinking, emotional state, and behavior and disrupts the person’s ability to work or carry out other daily activities and engage in satisfying personal relationships.”[1] As we know, the mind is arguably the biggest influence in terms of how one lives their life on a daily basis. An injury of the mind affects the daily activities of the individual. While I will not go in extreme depth regarding what I believe I am struggling with, I have concluded that my struggle has reached a point where it is affecting my daily life.

The decision to seek therapy is a difficult one for someone like me who is, first, a man; second, a black man; and third, someone who struggles with pride. I do not like admitting that I need help. I do not like asking for help. However, I also believe that admitting that you need help is a sign of strength. It is easy to preach to others that they should ask for help when they are weak or vulnerable. The hard part of any message you teach or preach is applying those same words to your own life.

I believe that I am at a critical turning point in my life. I believe that many great things are getting ready to take place in my life. However, I am also aware that what I am struggling with mentally can be the biggest detriment towards moving forward in what God has prepared for me. I intend to serve as a helper in every career path I take for the rest of my life. Yet, it is hard to be a helper when you’re the one that needs help. Nevertheless, I am hoping that my journey to wholeness mentally will give me even more strength to move forward in what I was created to do.

I ask that you pray for me as I take this significant step in my life. I also want to say this as one that is finally practicing it: if you are struggling with anything mentally, get whatever help you need. I believe God blessed our world with therapists, and I believe they are in this world to be a source of assistance for us in the daily journey of life. I thank God that I can be a part of the continued rise in African-Americans seeking mental health counseling.[2] Here’s the bottom line: I refuse to let ANYTHING hinder what God has placed inside of me to do. I declare that my mind will NOT hold me back from being the individual God has called me to be. The journey to mental wholeness starts……NOW!!

[1] https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/therapists-say-african-americans-are-increasingly-seeking-help-for-mental-illness/2013/07/09/9b15cb4c-e400-11e2-a11e-c2ea876a8f30_story.html?utm_term=.db9af205f5ab

The Indefensibility of Judging Others

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Photo courtesy of YouTube and CNN. 

If you’ve lived long enough, you have probably heard someone say the following words: “only God can judge me.” And while I do believe that many have used this quote as a way to justify doing whatever they want to do, I believe this quote can be a powerful reminder of what our role is compared to the role of God. The late Rev. Billy Graham stated, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”[1] It is my conviction that when we look at what is included in this journey called life, and look at what we’ve experienced on a personal level, we should come to the conclusion that we do not have a right to judge others.

Before delving into this topic, allow me to express that this blog post does not advocate for ridding ourselves of accountability. I am convinced that a lack of accountability opens the door for us to do more harm than good in the society we live in. A huge part of the Christian experience is not just individual salvation, but the collective experience we have through the church (referring to the body of believers and not a building). However, my conviction is that accountability is not the same as judging others. Thus, the question is this: why is judging others indefensible?

First, all of us were created in the image of God. While there are different genders, races, ethnicities, experiences, and backgrounds, the fact remains that all of us were created in the image of God. Consequently, we should see each other as a product of God’s creation. Through the vehicles of racism, sexism, ageism, and any other ism, we make the statement that God did not create a particular person because of whatever makes them distinct. Some may argue, particularly when it comes to gender, for a view that says that God did not create men and women the same. While I will not entertain this debate on this post, I will say that regardless of whether a person is a man or woman, the reality still remains that God created each person. This is a truth that white supremacists fail to apply.[2] Nicki Lisa Cole defined white supremacy as “the belief that white people are superior to people of color.”[3] This viewpoint is simply unacceptable. When it’s all said and done, God does not see any of us as superior to anyone else. God sees us as individuals created in God’s image.

Last, the human experience is an equal opportunity employer. When you think about the human experience, what comes to your mind? For me, the human experience means survival, a daily battle, love, joy, peace, pain, good times, bad times, hurt, and eventually death. I am convinced that unless a person has had it all together their entire life, people will experience some aspect of what it means to be human. This human experience is not limited to just “ordinary” people, but it also works its way to those who are highly influential. For example, Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan recently opened up to the world his battle with depression. Regarding his battle with depression, DeRozan stated, “It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day. We all got feelings.”[4] In this day of whimpy boldness, someone on Twitter may attack DeRozan for being honest about his struggle. However, what that person would fail to see is that the human experience is not limited to those in everyday society, but it has no respect of a person’s influence, wealth, or status in the world. As my childhood pastor said many times, if you haven’t had any rain in your life, just wait a while.

So, what can we do to stay away from the indefensibility of judging others? I believe it starts with having compassion and empathy for others. Scott Sauls tweeted, “Pain is universal. Everyone needs compassion.”[5] Compassion and empathy calls for us to put ourselves in the shoes of others. One of the problems with an individualistic society is that it puts the needs of the individual above the needs of the collective. While we must have an individualistic focus at times, it does not excuse us from not showing empathy and compassion to others. This leads me to my final point. We should listen attentively to the stories of others. Too many of us, myself included, focus a lot on giving our two cents to a situation. Every situation and conversation with an individual notes not call for our opinion. There is power in authentically listening to others. Dave Earley made the case that one of the ways that we honor others is through listening and giving our full attention to the person we are talking to.[6] I believe that actively listening to others will allow us to learn more about the individual we are talking to. You listening to their story could save their life. Through listening to their story, you may get the inside scoop on why they behave a certain way. You may see why they have a hard time trusting others. You may see why their thinking is mostly negative. You may see why they struggle with anger. What’s my point? You never know what you will learn about others when you listen to them.

At the end of the day, I believe that life is hard. As a friend of mine says often, life is real! It is my view that not judging others allows life to go smoother for all of us. Do we have an obligation to hold each other accountable? I believe we do. However, as John C. Maxwell has stated many times in various books, “people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We cannot authentically care for others if we are judging them. Your care for a particular individual could be the difference between them giving up or pressing forward another day. What do you want your legacy to be? Do you want to be known as someone who judged people, or as someone who genuinely cared for the person beside you?[7] The choice is yours. Make the choice today because life is short, and tomorrow is not promised to any of us!

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/833766-it-is-the-holy-spirit-s-job-to-convict-god-s-job

[2] I understand that there are other supremacists that are not limited to being white, but the issue of white supremacy has entered the conversation more recently as a result of Donald Trump being elected president.

[3] https://www.thoughtco.com/white-supremacy-definition-3026742

[4] http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/22582972/demar-derozan-toronto-raptors-depression-fight-all-human

[5] https://twitter.com/scottsauls/status/962495177381343234

[6] Dave Earley, 14 Secrets to Better Relationships: Powerful Principles from the Bible (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2012), 72.

[7] I need to emphasize that a part of caring for others is speaking the truth to them in love. I’ve learned that a caring individual wants to see you do well, and a part of that may include speaking hard truths to the individual. Speaking hard truths is NOT judging. The judging part, in my opinion, comes in when we condemn the person instead of loving them through whatever they are going through.

Reflections on Rev. Dr. Richard W. Styles

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Photo courtesy of The Times News of Burlington, NC

I really haven’t written for my blog in a while, but felt that it would be appropriate for me to express my thoughts on the passing of a magnificent servant of the Lord. I was stunned and speechless reading about the passing of Dr. Styles this past Sunday. As we get closer and closer to saying goodbye, for now, to this mighty man of God, my mind has been in reflection-mode a lot this week thinking about the legacy of this man.

First, what I loved tremendously about Dr. Styles was how friendly he was towards everyone he met. While I did not have a chance to have significant conversations with him, he was very friendly every time I had a chance to greet him and shake his hand. Finding people of Dr. Styles’ caliber as friendly as he is is rare. So many people at his level of influence have stuck-up attitudes and act like they are too good to speak to people. Dr. Styles was friendly with me every time I had a chance to speak to him. That left an indelible mark on me.

Second, Dr. Styles had a community mindset in his ministry. According to his obituary, Dr. Styles was involved in many community initiatives over the years including starting head start, providing housing, education, and many other components.[1] Dr. Styles saw his role as a pastor and shepherd beyond getting in the pulpit and preaching a sermon or two on Sunday. Dr. Styles’ vision was about reaching out and making a difference in the lives of others. Our community will forever be evidence of his strong passion for the community.

Finally, even until the end, Dr. Styles was passionate about his calling. Even until his dying day, he was still preaching, serving, and helping out wherever he could. I believe he was the type of servant that you did not have to beg to do ministry work. To serve as an interim pastor of 3 churches after being in the pastorate for over 40 years speaks to the continued passion he had for ministry and helping others. It is relieving to be around people that you do not have to beg to do ministry.

In conclusion, as I’ve shared with others, I feel like our community losing Dr. Styles is like losing an entire model and generation of servanthood in ministry. I didn’t realize until doing further reflections that his passing would have such an impact on me. If there’s any regret that I have it is that I wish I had had the opportunity to sit with him and get wisdom on what it takes to make it in ministry. As a young person in ministry, I believe that whatever wisdom he had in ministry would have been a blessing for me to have. However, the Lord has carried him from labor to reward.

Thank you Rev. Dr. Richard W. Styles for your work and labor for the kingdom of God. Thank you for being a great example to young ministers, like myself, on what it means to be a servant of the Lord. Thank you for not allowing your influence to get to your head. Finally, thank you for letting God use you to make an eternal impact on many souls and our community. To the Styles family, my thoughts and prayers go to you. While this is a tough time, please be encouraged by the impact that Dr. Styles had on so many. He will be missed by so many. Thanks for sharing the gift of Dr. Styles to the world.

[1] http://www.blackwellfuneral.com/obituary/rev-dr-richard-styles