Elaine’s Story: Burdened by Perfection

This story illustrates how one woman was under the heavy burden of trying to be perfect, and how questioning the uncertainty of her worthiness led to discovering real and lasting hope.

While some of the stories we share here are written as fiction, they reflect the themes and key messages we’ve heard from real people who have discovered the truth that Jesus is enough.

Meet Elaine

My name is Lydia and I would like to introduce Elaine. Elaine has been one of my assistants for a little more than a year. I am one of two physical therapists in our clinic and each of us has two part-time assistants. Elaine entered the workforce after her youngest child started school.

She has been an adequate assistant. Several clients have told me she is friendly and compassionate, but a few others have said she can be irritable and discourteous. I’ve also noticed this. Some days she would be up and others down. I genuinely enjoy working with Elaine and there was something about her that made me want to reach out to her. It was in my heart to help her with whatever was troubling her life.

I believed that Elaine and I had developed an amicable relationship based in large part on trust. The events of this story put Elaine’s trust in me to the test.

She came in to work obviously in duress; she appeared to have had been crying. The first two clients had canceled so I took the opportunity to see if I could get Elaine to open up. She was sitting at her therapy station, so I casually leaned against the table and asked if she wanted to discuss what was happening.

At first, she resisted. I witnessed a range of emotions flash across Elaine’s expression, but she did not take me up on my offer. Not wanting to push too hard I was going to let it go; but as I turned away, she blurted out, “I just want to figure out what’s wrong with me!”

An outpouring of tears followed her exclamation. It was as if I had tapped a secret reservoir of pain. I said a silent prayer that the Holy Spirit would strengthen my resolve and bless my efforts. I responded by offering Elaine a tissue and asking, “Can you tell me what has happened?”

Elaine’s Private Pain

It took her a little while to compose herself. She looked sheepishly at me and whispered, “It’s not your problem. I shouldn’t be bothering you. I’ve just got to learn how to handle my own problems.”

For a moment I thought she would retreat back into herself. I could clearly see her pain, but I had no idea what its source was. And I would never know, would never be able to help her, unless she let me into her private battle. The thought: “Do you even want to go there?” crossed my mind but I quickly banished it. I knew this was an opportunity to be the Lord’s servant. Another silent prayer; this time that Elaine would accept my offer of help, and I said quietly, “I’ve got the time and I’d like to help if I can.”

Elaine looked grateful and slowly started to explain: “I don’t want you to think less of me, but I don’t know where to turn and I hardly know where to start.”

She glanced down as she confessed: “I am consumed by guilt. I have been struggling with my integrity. It’s not like I’m a thief or adulteress or anything like that. But I harbor bitter feelings towards some women at church who make me feel inferior. I resent my husband, Jim, because he never seems to want to give me any attention anymore. I’m always losing my temper and yelling at my children — even when they haven’t done anything that bad. Jim’s been laid off for two months, but I still buy my fancy chocolates. I hide them so Jim doesn’t know I still buy them. They seem the only solace I’ve got. Sometimes I can’t deal with our client’s petty complaints. I’ve even been mean to some of them. And those are just the things I can remember at the moment. I’m so different from the other women at my church. I just want to live a righteous life. But I am so self-centered!”

As Elaine shared, she seemed to gain momentum. Her face became flushed as her voice rose. Her last words sounded like a judge’s pronouncement of a death sentence. I was uncertain how to respond to her veracity. I needed more information, so I asked her, “What happened today?”

Burdened by Perfection

My question seemed to shock her. Her shoulders dropped and the tears started flowing again. She reached into her pocket and produced a piece of paper. As she unfolded it and handed it to me she explained, “I get daily messages emailed to me each day from my church. They are brief quotes from church leaders intended to help us through the day. This is one I received yesterday.”

I took her paper and read the message:

“I have felt impressed to speak today about the need for integrity—old-fashioned, personal, practical integrity. To me, integrity means always doing what is right and good, regardless of the immediate consequences. It means being righteous from the very depth of our soul, not only in our actions but, more importantly, in our thoughts and in our hearts. Personal integrity implies such trustworthiness and incorruptibility that we are incapable of being false to a trust or covenant.”

My eyes questioned, “…we are incapable of being false…”? I could easily imagine how such a statement of absolute and unattainable perfect behavior could burden a soul. How much more if the soul was already weighed down by the recognition of her casual sins — sins which betrayed the covenant she had made with her god.

My heart ached for Elaine. I knew I had the prescription that would relieve her pain forever. But I didn’t know how to dispense it to her. As a therapist, I knew how giving a patient a treatment plan was one thing, but getting them to follow it was another. For the third time, I said a silent prayer; this time for the Holy Spirit to give me the right words.

My prayer was answered in the form of a story. I squeezed Elaine’s shoulder and said, “Have you ever heard of John Henry Purcer?” She looked up and shook her head to indicate that she had not. I could tell I had aroused her curiosity.

“John Henry was a client of mine some years back. He was a farmer from one of the rural communities outside of town. When I first saw John Henry he was a strong healthy man who had injured his hand in a thresher accident. He came to me for physical therapy. But as I treated him, I noticed a decline in his health. During his final visit, I questioned him about it. He told me he was suffering from exhaustion and had gone to the doctor to learn what was wrong with him. The doctor told him there was nothing wrong with him that hard work and a healthy diet wouldn’t fix. So, the doctor gave him an intense exercise program and a high protein diet. It seemed odd to give a farmer an exercise program, but I didn’t say so.”

The Wrong Prescription

“The last I heard of John Henry was about a year later… in the obituaries. John Henry had died of a hereditary blood disorder. It turns out the doctor had completely missed it. Worse, the high protein diet fed the disease and the heavy exercise reduced his immune system’s ability to fight it. John Henry literally worked himself to death.”

I paused for a deep breath. I could see by Elaine’s questioning look that she was uncertain as to my story’s relevance, but I knew I had succeeded in gaining her interest as she murmured, “That doctor killed him.”

To which I replied, “That doctor denies to this day that he was wrong. He still believes he prescribed the right treatment plan. And the worst thing is that a simple blood transfusion would have made the disorder benign and saved John Henry’s life.”

Elaine reacted, “No way! That is so tragic. If only he had learned what was really wrong with him!”

But my story wasn’t finished. I again squeezed Elaine’s shoulder so that she would look into my eyes.

Another in Danger

I looked at her intensely and said, “Today I found out that John Henry has a sister. She has the same hereditary blood disorder that her brother had. She has gone to the same doctor and he has given her the same intense exercise program and high protein diet as a treatment plan.”

Elaine was visibly shaken. She stood up and took both of my shoulders and shook them, shouting, “Lydia, you’ve got to tell her!”

To which I replied quietly, “I will, Elaine, with the Lord’s help I will.”

I waited a few moments for Elaine to settle back down into her chair. Then I said with courage that came from a divine source, “Elaine you have a hereditary blood disorder. You, and I, and every other human being suffer from a hereditary condition called ‘Sinful Human Nature.’ When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, he brought sin into a sinless world. Though created without sin; he became sinful.”

A Hereditary Condition

“Every child born to Adam inherited his sinful nature. After the flood, God divulged the nature of man saying that every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood. Centuries later, Psalm 14 declares, ‘The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one’ (Psalm 14:2-3).

In Romans, Paul repeats these words. To the Ephesians, he describes man as by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Also in Romans, he describes himself as a wretched man because he had found the law of the sinful nature at work within him causing him to do evil when he wanted to do good (Romans 7:24). He said, ‘I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me’” (Romans 7:21).

I could tell Elaine was considering my words as she murmured, “That is certainly a frightening diagnosis!” She didn’t sound completely convinced. Then she added, “But what the Apostle Paul said about being wretched is exactly what I am feeling!”

The Wrong Prescription

I had told Elaine what was wrong with her, but that was not the only bad news I had to deliver. The rest would likely be even harder for her to accept. Again, I said a brief silent prayer, “Lord give Elaine the patience to hear my words and not shut me out!” Then I continued, “You have gone to your doctors, your church leaders, to learn what is wrong with you and they have said ‘There is nothing wrong with you that good hard work and a high obedience diet won’t fix.’ But like John Henry’s doctor, they have completely missed the diagnosis.

“Their treatment plan will lead you to eternal death — eternity in Outer Darkness with Satan! Hard work cannot cure you. Striving to be worthy through good works in order to remove your guilt will not work because you cannot stop sinning. Such an exercise regimen will only lead to exhaustion and overwhelming guilt. Likewise, a diet of obedience cannot make you righteous because as James decried, ‘For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all’ (James 2:10). Imperfect obedience doesn’t cut it! Believing ‘All you can do’ is good enough only hides your need for a real Savior. It prevents you from seeing the danger you are in. What you need, Elaine, is a blood transfusion.”

The Moment of Truth

Now it was up to the Holy Spirit. Elaine learned what was wrong with her; now would she reject the cure? As I looked at her, I could see contrasting emotions. There was hope, quickly replaced with doubt; anger, and then fear; thoughtfulness, and then indignation; uncertainty, and then resolve; then anger again. It was at that point that I thought I had lost her. I felt the anger she harbored towards me for attacking her church, for being so ‘evil’ as to say her apostles and prophets were ignorantly sending her to her eternal death. I braced for the onslaught.

But there was one last, slowly resolving emotional transformation. What returned to Elaine’s persona was the same look of over-burdening guilt, despair, and pain with which she had entered the clinic: a look of hopelessness. Her pain was evident as she quietly cried, “How do you live with it?”

Inwardly, I rejoiced at her cry. Recognizing helplessness was a necessary step to recognizing Christ’s offer. My work was not yet done, but neither was Christ’s prescription yet rejected. I responded delicately, “As I said in the story; the cure is a simple blood transfusion.

The Real Cure

“The blood of the Lamb of God freely offered in the Atonement washes away every one of your sins.” I reached over to my bookcase and took down my Bible. As I opened it to 2 Corinthians 5 I explained, “The blood of Christ, that is, the sacrifice of His perfect life, literally transforms the man who trusts solely in it for his salvation.” Then I read 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” I interjected, “This new creature still sins but these sins can no longer condemn him.”

Then I continued reading, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.”

I explained, “Through faith, I am cured. While my sinful nature still lives and I still struggle with it like the Apostle Paul, it cannot cause my eternal death because I have been reconciled to Heavenly Father. I am reconciled because my sins are no longer credited to me. I am guiltless because Christ took my guilt to the grave with him! As verse 21 triumphantly declares, ‘For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.’ Instead of my inability to stop sinning, earning me an eternal death sentence in Hell, through faith and by grace I have been given eternal life.”

I continued, “The Apostle John said it very clearly, ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life’ (John 3:36). Notice he used the present tense. If you believe you are saved by faith alone then you are no longer a child of wrath doomed to eternal death! Instead, you have eternal life as a gift.”

A Fatal Belief

“But many people, like John Henry’s doctor, reject this clear scripture. They contend you must first prove you are worthy of this gift before you can receive it. They command you to ‘do all you can do’ to add works and obedience to your faith. They attach this impossible condition to eternal life because they deny that your sins are no longer credited to you. This lack of faith in the healing effect of Christ’s blood transfusion condemns them and those who follow their prescriptions to the eternal fate of John Henry Purcer,” I said.

The Miracle of Faith

Again, I watched the emotions on Elaine’s face. It was as if the Holy Spirit had granted me the unparalleled blessing of watching him at work. I saw Elaine transform before my very eyes. A timid smile replaced her pain. In her eyes was a look of hunger and of eagerness. The first words of her new faith were, “Where can I learn more?”

We still had another hour before our next client arrived so I took Elaine to my computer and shared with her some of my favorite Bible studies, devotions and resources.


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