Avoiding Perfectionism

One of the pitfalls of Catholic living is perfectionism. At the personal level, the Catholic faith is all about striving for perfection in holiness to become closer to God. However, it is easy to get confused here and think we are called to perfectionism. Perfectionism is the misguided belief that we can be perfectly holy on earth. On the contrary, Catholics believe perfect holiness has its end in heaven, not earth. Therefore, we can improve on earth, perhaps to the point of sainthood, but not reach perfection. As holy as they were by the end of their lives, even the saints regularly committed sins (though probably all minor venial sins). Both perfectionism and striving for perfection involve the struggle to be perfect, but perfectionism is unhealthy and leads to disappointment while striving to be perfectly holy is healthy and leads to happiness.

The perfectionist expects perfection, maybe not immediately, but in some short timeframe. Then when they fall short of perfection, they get frustrated, angry, and stressed out. The reality is that all people on earth have committed sin and will continue to commit sin. Catholics strive for perfection in holiness and do make progress, but they know they will continue to make mistakes throughout their life. When failure hits them, they don’t get frustrated, they simply offer it to God and ask what they should do. It’s true that we believe in every moment we are capable of doing the right thing, but at the same time, we know that everyone eventually succumbs to temptation. This doesn’t give us a free pass but instead prevents failure from causing discouragement. We fail, learn from it the best we can, then continue striving for holiness.

Unfortunately, many Catholics believe living the faith means adopting perfectionism. Instead of becoming holier, better people, perfectionism leads to frustration and stress. Satan and his followers then latch on to fill the mind with thoughts of despair. Eventually, this can lead to giving up and abandoning the faith. Perfectionism can also lead to the sin of presumption, that we can somehow become holy enough to get to heaven without God. This tends to happen within people that are so successful they don’t see their own imperfections. Whether perfectionism causes an unhealthy frustration or the pride of presumption, it does not lead to God.

So perfectionism is harmful and can have disastrous effects. Instead, Catholics should simply strive for perfection (or holiness), do their best, and let God take care of the rest. In the long run, they will continue to make mistakes but slowly improve, slowly become holier, and eventually get to be with God.

The truth is that God knows all about our human struggles. His own Son lived as a human, so he knows how hard it is to be perfect. God knows we won’t be perfect on earth, so he’s not expecting it. At the same time, he knows we must be perfect to enter heaven. Anything that is lacking will have to be improved during the suffering of purgatory, so it’s to our own benefit to improve while still living on earth. Our efforts at perfection in holiness will lead to improvement, which will reduce our suffering in purgatory.

Furthermore, our struggles are pleasing to God, not because he wants us to suffer but because our continued determination in the face of failure is the biggest sign of our faith for him. We are choosing to suffer purely out of trust in God. He has told us what our reward will be for this faith, but we don’t have it yet, not for many years. Right now it’s all faith. That is a huge sacrifice for God and he knows it. A person doesn’t make that big of a sacrifice unless they really love the other person. God is greatly pleased to see how much we love him through this sacrifice.

The peace of the Lord be with you,


The Suffering Servant

There are many different sides of Jesus. Some of this is evident in the list of qualities I made a while back, but there are other ways to look at Jesus too. Jesus can be thought of as a real man that took charge of every situation and fought back evil whenever it presented itself. Another side is the great, wise sage who taught people the true faith and set in motion the eternal Catholic Church. I have found that I most represent “the suffering servant” (Isa 53) in Jesus. As Messiah, Jesus had to suffer for the sake of others. While all Catholics are called to suffer for others, I feel like I have had to suffer a lot more than average.

From a young age (maybe age 14), I had lower energy than others. Whenever I was in a group, I usually became exhausted after just a few hours while everyone else had tons of energy. Most people were stronger than me too. I got really tired from what should have been easy things like a short bike ride. My muscles became weak and sore easily, and I would need a few hours to rest. Other than these minor problems, I was pretty healthy until shortly after college.

I developed social anxiety based on a false belief that strangers were all out to make fun of me. The anxiety was easy to ignore at first but eventually came to dominate my life. Anytime I was with other people I was nervous. The more people, the worse I felt. I was only comfortable with my parents, so I pretty much stayed at home. That same year, I developed digestive problems consisting of gas, bloating, stomach aches, diarrhea, and nausea. It started out just once a week but eventually became an almost daily problem.

Over the next five years, I developed a few more health problems each year until the present, where I have around 18 chronic problems. I typically have 4-5 problems each day. About half (52%) of my days I consider to be “good” with minimal suffering, 41% are “bad” days where the suffering is bad but I can push through it, and around 7% are “horrible” days where I’m just trying to get through the day. This means on average, I have 4 good days a week, 3 bad days a week, and a horrible day every two weeks. My health problems are pretty random each day, but I can go into “remission” and “flare-up” phases, sometimes feeling really good for several days in a row or feeling really bad for several days instead.

For the most part, the doctor doesn’t know why I have all these problems. They get worse with anxiety, but weren’t caused by anxiety. I’ve done all the tests for cancer and infections. Everything has come back negative. There is no explanation. It’s a mystery. All I can guess is that I have bad genes.

Because of the randomness of my problems, I never know how I will feel on any day. It’s hard to make plans with anyone, not knowing how I will feel on the day of the event. Working out of the house has become impossible. The Internet has become my way to socialize with others and work. I’m not able to make enough money to support myself, but I have been able to pay most of my personal bills like my student loan and health insurance. My parents help with the rest.

Obeying the call to serve others has been hard for me, so I had to be creative. I found that I could offer up my suffering to help others through the redemptive power of Jesus (CCC 618, 1502, 1505, 1521). I just offer it to Jesus to use as he sees fit. Many times I have offered suffering for loved ones in need, and it seems to help. There is no guarantee that this is happening, but sometimes it seems to be more than coincidence. That is enough for me. In addition to offering my suffering, I do a lot of praying for others. I also found the Internet to be a good way to communicate with others. One of the reasons I write this blog is to hopefully help the occasional person that happens across it online.

While my health problems caused me a lot of anger and sadness in the beginning, I’ve mostly learned to accept them. I can still have negative emotions, such as after a dream where I had perfect health, but I have learned to accept my bad health. I am really happy about my ability to help others through my suffering though. Everyone can pray and write about the faith — I’m not the only one — but very few people suffer as much as I do. Other people are stronger than me, make more money than me, get married, and countless other things, but I get to suffer more. It’s what makes me unique.

Sometimes I wonder if bearing my suffering patiently and offering it up is actually my calling. So far God has not given me any answer, so I will continue to work on treating my health problems and finding a way to support myself. I haven’t found success yet, but I won’t give up. During my free time, I can pray, write things on this blog, and most importantly, offer up my suffering. That is enough for now. I greatly look forward to the end of suffering in heaven and my just reward for all I have endured.

Still, I suffer many days and ask if you can find it in your heart to pray for me. Some days I feel absolutely horrible. My suffering is a constant reminder that I will die one day. Some nights after getting into bed, I tell Jesus I am ready to go to heaven if he wills it, but I always wake up the next morning. It must be a sign that my suffering has purpose. I need the help of your prayers. God can work through you to give me the grace of patience in suffering. You can make a real difference in my life. I am eternally grateful for any help you can provide and will remember your aid when we meet in heaven. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,

What Hell Will Be Like

One of the excuses people make when confronted with sin is that they’d rather go to hell and get to make their own choices than follow God and have to limit their choices. This feeling contains a massive assumption: hell isn’t all that bad. They believe hell is just like earth. Like earth it must have its ups and downs, but they can survive there. To put it more clearly, they believe hell is just an eternal earth. It might not be an eternal paradise, but they could get used to the idea of immortality on earth. There will be ups and downs, but at least with their immortal life, they can work towards having more ups than downs. Unfortunately, there is nothing further from the truth.

If you can remember the worst days of your life, hell is that worst day for all eternity (CCC 1035). Maybe a loved one tragically died from cancer after years of great suffering. Maybe your homeland was under attack, forcing you to leave behind all you knew. Maybe your family and friends wrongly abandoned you, and now you are all alone. I’m sure everyone could think of many more worst days in life. In those horrible days there is no upside. It’s just bad. On earth, we focus on just getting through the bad day, knowing the next day could be much better. Well, in hell the next day is never better. The next day is just as bad as the worst day, and the next day after that too, and so on.

In hell, the suffering and pain never ends (CCC 1034). It is constant. It isn’t just a worst day but worst eternity, a nonstop horrible time. Even more, there is no escape from hell. On earth people sadly commit suicide to “escape” their suffering, but in hell everyone is already dead. You can only die once. There is no second death. After a person receives their particular judgment to be separated from God (CCC 1021-1022), hell is a constant bad dream without the ability to wake up. It becomes worse after the final judgment, when on the last day God will raise all the dead, even those who have already been condemned to hell (CCC 998, 1059). Now in addition to their mental anguish, hell is the worst pain they have ever felt with no end. Many people don’t believe that hell can be this bad, but the reason is simple.

Those in hell are completely separated from God (CCC 1035), but since God is the source of all love and all good comes from love (CCC 1723, 1955), there can be no good whatsoever in hell. Whenever a person does something good, it originated from God. Without God they would be incapable of doing good. So we know all people in hell are completely separated from God and that no love is possible without God. It’s easy to see then that in hell there are no ups and downs. It is just downs constantly, all the time. In fact, even the worst times on earth are better than hell.

Think about the horrible war torn lands on earth, where people are constantly fighting. There is no peace. But even in these horrible parts of the world, many people have families, a spouse, or children that they love. Maybe 99% of the surrounding people are enemies, but 1% are loved ones. In hell, there isn’t even that 1%. There is no family, spouse, or children, and no friends or kind strangers. Everyone is an enemy, everyone looking for their own personal pleasure without a care for anyone else. Not only that, since there is no pleasure in hell, the fruitless effort to find pleasure drives them to madness and anger. In their anger, they go out of their way to harm anyone they come across. From the Catechism, we know God gives man faith, hope, and most of all, love (CCC 1812), so complete separation from God brings the inability to trust (faith), have hope, or love others. Therefore, people in hell are reduced to animals, primitive creatures whose actions are completely bound by the instinct to seek personal pleasure. They are incapable of anything but evil actions.

The truth is hell has nothing good about it. Those in hell are condemned to constant suffering with no escape for all eternity. It is a place that should rightly be feared by all living souls on earth. I hope that in reading this you will see how bad hell really is. A healthy fear of hell can lead to the first step taken towards positive change. We all know the sins we have a weakness for. Focus on one of those, come up with a plan, and make the first small change towards improvement. If you have already started on the path of improvement, let this article motivate you even more to keep up the good work. Whenever you find yourself starting to think a sin isn’t all that bad, come back and read this short article. Understand where that sin will lead and it will keep you on the right path towards holiness.

Our sinful bodies, with the aid of Satan, are constantly trying to keep us in the present. After all, many sins don’t have an immediate consequence, but we must always be thinking about the future. Is my next choice going to lead me to heaven or to hell? What are the long term consequences of this decision I am about to make? Answer these questions well, for your eternal life hangs in the balance. I pray in reading this you will be motivated to do your best to live a good life. There is too much at stake to ignore this.

For those with scruples, this text may have caused great fear in your soul, but remember with scrupulosity you can’t trust your judgment on matters of sin and culpability. It is very likely you are much better than you think you are. To set things straight, I encourage you to go to confession every week for continual assurances from your priest and confessor of where you are at on your path to heaven. Also, really listen to your friends and family when they say you aren’t that bad. Sometimes it is easier to see the truth from the outside (your friends) looking in (at you) than from the inside (yourself) looking out.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,

The Challenge of Tough Times

As Catholics, we live our lives doing our best to follow the laws God and the Church have given us (CCC 2342). This is a hard enough challenge in itself, but it’s even harder when times are tough. It could be the death of a loved one, a good job lost, or a devastating injury. Whatever the case may be, these tough times shatter the peace in our lives. We may have felt like we were finally getting somewhere with holiness, but then some big obstacle appears that throws out all we have learned. We are like a baby learning how to walk again. These are the times when God sees what we’re made of (CCC 164, 272).

In most cases, there is no running away or ignoring tough times. No matter how much we resist, they will change us. The choice we have is how they will change us: in a negative way or a positive way. In the negative outcome, a person asks “Why me?” and becomes angry. When they eventually get through the tough time they remain bitter at what happened, complaining to everyone they come across about how the world wronged them. In other cases, sadness takes hold and when they get through that period, they end up depressed, forever scarred by the experience. I’m sure everyone has had an experience where you ended up angry or depressed, but that’s not how God wants us to be feeling.

In the positive outcome, the person realizes they don’t know everything, the world is more complex than they initially thought. They are not God. They thought they were nearing perfection in holiness, but they are actually still infants compared to God and still need him very much. With this new perspective on life, they gain new appreciation for all their blessings. Their life might not be going the way they wanted, but at least it still has a few good things. In doing this, they are able to be grateful to God even in the tough times.

In one outcome, the person loses ground in their battle for holiness. In the other outcome, the person ends up stronger and happier than where they started, gaining more holiness along the way. It can be very tempting to choose the negative path because that’s always the thought whenever something goes wrong. Maybe we want to blame someone for the bad things happening. Other times, we might want other people to feel our pain by throwing anger everywhere we go. God has told us how to act throughout life though.

The one commandment from which all others come from is to love (CCC 1823). Half of love is giving, but the other half is receiving. That means when times are tough, lean on God, your friends, and your family. Continue doing your best to serve others, but this is the time to reach out and ask for help in return for all the sacrifices you have made for your loved ones. Not everyone will understand what you are going through, but God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes without understanding they may help exactly the way you needed, a loving act inspired by the grace of God.

Besides remaining positive during tough times, the other big challenge is remaining holy. When life is tough, a person might feel so bad, they just want some quick relief. The problem is this can lead to bad decisions. In their struggle with suffering they might start up an old alcohol habit again or take out their suffering on friends. These things might feel better in the short term but leave deep regret in the long run. Then even when the tough times are over, they have lost all the progress they made against the alcohol or worse, permanently lost a good friend. Even worse, they could trigger another tough time. Maybe the alcohol habit becomes an addiction and now a job is lost, a continuing cycle of negative events. We are most susceptible during the tough times, so this is when we must be extra careful about everything we do.

Overall, the challenge of tough times is turning a potentially bad period in our life into a very good period. If we can do this, we are well on our way to sainthood. The goal of all Catholics is to go to heaven (the beatific vision, CCC 163), which requires becoming a saint. Tough times can be some of the greatest growth periods in our life, but we have to work extra hard. Otherwise, we will be worse off than where we started. I encourage you to slow down during tough times, so you have time to make good decisions before every action. There is no rushing holiness. Be patient every day, doing your best in every moment. Look at tough times in this positive way: the path to sainthood, through perfection in holiness.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,

Social Anxiety

Because we live in a fallen world, we all have to deal with suffering in life. One thing I have suffered with is social anxiety. It’s only been a few years since I developed this problem, but it feels like it’s been much longer. One day I just started feeling nervous in social situations. Like most people I had a few embarrassing times while growing up, but they never caused me any problems. For some reason things were different now.

I mostly ignored the anxiety, thinking it would go away if I faced my fears. Before, I would worry about something, such as a new job, but after doing whatever I feared a few times, I got used to it. I would feel good again. This time was different. Over the months and years, I never got better. The opposite happened. I got worse. What started out as just an annoyance became so bad I rarely wanted to go anywhere. People became like a poison to my body. I didn’t want to be around anyone.

After a few years I looked into getting treatment for this, but there were obstacles. First, my insurance didn’t cover the treatment. At the time I wasn’t making enough money to pay for extra medical bills. Second, I knew there was no quick fix to this problem. Treatment mostly took the form of counseling to retrain the brain to not be nervous around people, medication for support. I was too interested in my video games though. I wasn’t ready to make a long term commitment like this. Lastly, I was really embarrassed about having this problem. I just didn’t want to tell anyone about it. I didn’t just keep ignoring my anxiety though.

I read all about this health problem. I learned several basic techniques for relaxation. They helped calm me down before and after stressful situations. Nothing helped in the middle of the situations, but I could at least have some control over the anxiety outside of them. I worked on finishing up all the things I had wanted to do in video games, so I would have no distractions when it came time for treatment. Eventually, I got over my embarrassment about the problem and was able to tell people I was having problems. With the obstacles gone, I was able to start counseling.

The counseling is still ongoing. My social anxiety has become so ingrained in my day-to-day life, I’m really not sure if it can be healed. I have some hope that I can feel a little better, but I also think I may have trouble with this for life. As much as I hate the suffering it has caused me, I am also grateful at how holy it has made me. Sometimes the only thing that got me through the suffering was constant prayer. That is still the case today. When it gets bad, I drop everything I can and pray as much as possible.

Without this suffering, I would have just continued spending all my free time doing selfish things. I remember before I would always think, “I’ll try to do better later when I’m older”. Now I realized there might not be a later. I might die young because of all the stress. I had to do better now. Still, it is so hard some days pushing through the suffering to everything I need to do. I feel even worse that most of these days there isn’t anything special going on. There’s no reason I should feel this bad, but I do. I will continue praying though, hoping to find healing someday.

The focus of The Catholic Optimizer is still to describe how to optimize yourself to become holier, so I won’t be writing much about this problem on the site. I will probably write about it occasionally, but it won’t be a regular thing. In general, I write about things I have some knowledge about, but I am helpless when it comes to social anxiety. Nothing I have tried has worked, so I have no hidden knowledge that would help anyone else with this problem. If I do write anything else about social anxiety, it will most likely just be a short update on any progress I have made.

Thanks for reading about my bad health. Please consider saying a prayer for me. Because of social anxiety and other health problems, I suffer greatly. I am eternally grateful for any grace I receive through your prayers and await our time in heaven when God will reveal how you have helped me. Do not feel obligated to do this, but I really need help. You can make a real difference in my life.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,