My name is Jake Moore, and I am a perfectionist.
Seriously, I am totally that guy who needs to have a clean apartment, an organized desk, and if one thing is off, then you might think the world is ending.
OK, so maybe I’m not THAT bad. Because most (at least I hope most) would say that I come across as generally laid back and unassuming, and many wouldn’t know what I struggle with internally. But lately I have been trying to talk about it more, not only for my own healing, but to encourage someone else who might also be dealing with the silent battle of wanting to have it all together. If you take one thing away from this, it’s that you aren’t alone.
Our society seems to give off this vibe that’s very contradictory. On one hand, our cultural influencers flaunt the “you do you” way of living, (YOLO, am I right?). But on the other hand, our world has created a rather stifling and competitive environment, blasting the constant and overwhelming narrative that you and I need to prove ourselves to get noticed or be successful. The world says that we need to fall in line and mold into the persona the rest of our peers expect of us. Kind of a confusing message, isn’t it? But here’s my story…
I was born as the oldest of 5 boys. I come from a loving Catholic home raised by the best parents one could ever ask for. I credit my religious upbringing to them, and I hold it as the greatest gift I could have ever been given.
Yet despite my cradle Catholic upbringing, somewhere along the way I got this idea in my head that I needed to prove my worth, that in order for me to be loved I needed to perform. It wasn’t from my parents that I got this idea — I think somewhere along the way, I just became that stereotypical first-born.
I was that “do no wrong” type of kid who thought that one mild swear word was practically a mortal sin. I fell in line, said the right things, did the right things and generally stayed out of trouble. I remember the one time I got a detention in 6th grade, I was horrified that my grade school crush would find out and dump me, casting me off as a future druggie who’d play the role perfectly in the next Breakfast Club sequel.
But all of this “doing good” exhausted me; and for a time when I was at a wonderful evangelical college in the Chicago suburbs, I did consider leaving the Catholic faith. I got the false impression that, in order to be truly Catholic, I needed to be truly perfect. I guess I missed the “hospital for sinners” memo.
For these reasons, in college, weekly Confession was a regular norm. I suppose that’s a good thing in many ways, but I was still missing the point. In fact, part of the reason I started going to Confession so much was because I honestly fell into some sinful habits. I was looking for ways to cope and unfortunately became addicted to things like cutting and sexual sin. Thankfully, the Lord has freed me from this bondage, but my soul was starving for authentic love. All I wanted was to be loved for who I was, not how I was perceived to be. I had my walls up and was afraid of not being accepted, not being approved of and not “making the cut.”
I began going through the motions: weekly Mass for the most part, regular Confession, occasional advice from a spiritual director, many counselors. But the truth was not taking root. The seed was not falling on fertile soil but rather was being eroded away on rocky ground. I did what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t really believe in it. I didn’t truly believe that Jesus loved me, in spite of my sin and brokenness.
So what saved me?? Lots and lots of time in adoration. And the influence of FOCUS on my campus was life-changing for me. But it hasn’t been this lightning bolt, “Saul to Paul” conversion. In fact, it has felt more like I am taking one step forward and two steps back. And that’s OK. I’m convinced this is the way that Jesus has wanted me to heal.
I got married a few years ago, and my wife Cathy has been particularly instrumental in helping me deal with my perfectionism. Not too long ago, she reminded me that Jesus truly desires my healing, more than I could ever desire it on my own.
So with all of this said, I want to share my journey with you through this blog post. I feel called to share what I am learning and how I am learning to put aside this scourge of scrupulosity. Frankly, I’m not convinced that our Church talks enough about OCD, scrupulosity and perfectionism. Yet I know so many people are hurting just as I was. I want you to know if you find yourself in this situation similar to mine, that the Lord’s mercy is so much more powerful than your sin. Never get tired of going back to Confession; don’t be afraid that the priest is judging you. The priest is “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ”); and when you confess your sins, remember that you are being held and embraced by the Lord himself.
The other thing I would 100% recommend is to look into St. Therese of Lisieux and her “Little Way.” You may not know this, but she too, struggled with perfectionism and scrupulosity. She found healing and comfort from the Lord as she was reminded that her call to holiness was not by having it all together, but my embracing her littleness. It is counterintuitive to the world’s message, but Jesus desires us to recognize our brokenness. The more we are aware of our faults, mistakes, and sins, the more the Lord can come in and fill us with his eternal mercy and love. But we need to be open to receiving that love; we must be humble enough to admit our need for his love, and most importantly, we must trust. The Lord is most pleased with us when we trust in him and put away our dependency on ourselves. If you’d like to learn more about this amazing message, check out Fr. Michael Gaitley’s Consecration to Merciful Love. You won’t regret it.
I’ll share with you more next time, but I should probably go clean my apartment now. It actually does need cleaning.