Perfectionism

Written by Rachel Denison

Perfectionism is a really common term used in our society today. It’s often understood to even be a good quality for the most part, leading to lots of beneficial habits like being on time, doing any task with excellence or cleanliness. People actually use it at times as a cover for their personality quirks like worry, stress and the need for control and often use it as a cop-out not to release these things—worry, stress and control. (I know I do.)

I decided to look up a definition for perfectionism, this term so loosely thrown around in our culture. Here’s one I found:

“Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations.”

Does this sound like you? Because it sure sounds a lot like me. I think some would even read this definition and like it! There are a couple of words in this definition that stick out to me and are not so pretty: striving, excessive, overly critical of self, concerned with other’s evaluations. Sure, you could bend this definition to describe a hard working person who simply wants to do a great job for their employers, family, friends, etc. But I see this as a draining, life-sucking, endless treadmill.

My understanding of my own perfectionism is that it’s rooted in my belief that my performance decides my identity. To ensure that I am a person of value and importance, worthy of love and attention, I must walk my moral tightrope and never fall off. People must never be mad at me or think I didn’t do a good job. Failure is not an option. Instead of learning from my failure, I wallow in it and believe that it keeps people and God from loving me. It has taken me a lot of processing and being aware of my thoughts and habits to understand this about myself. All of this started for me as a young child; we pick up on societal norms like a standard of perfection before we can even articulate any of it consciously. And it begins to shape the way we live our lives.

What would God say to the perfectionist?

1. You are not perfect. I know that you are dust.

“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” –Galatians 3:3

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” –Psalm 103:12-24

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” -1 John 1:8

“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” –Ecclesiastes 7:20

2. My Son is perfect in your place. That’s why I sent him in the first place! Do you think I’d have sent my Son if you already had it all together?

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” -1 John 2:1

“This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” -2 Samuel 22:31

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” –Romans 5:8

3. My love and my Son’s finished work defines you. Allow yourself to be defined by my radical love for you. Throw off the weight of other’s approval and even your own self-approval. Rest in my unconditional love, and quit striving. You are fully loved, just as you are.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” –Galatians 2:20

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” –Colossians 3:3

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” -2 Corinthians 5:21

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” –Ephesians 2:8

It is in acknowledging our weakness and brokenness before God that we are made strong. God has never asked us to muster up the strength to do things on our own. That is the beauty of the Gospel at work in our lives. We who are broken, imperfect people can display the glory and beauty of God. And that is the only way for us, or we end up receiving the glory, which we all by nature crave. We must throw off our independence and self-sufficiency and rely fully on our kind, patient, perfect Father. The peace that will flood our hearts as we daily, minute by minute, decide to let go will become priceless. The rocky, unstable storm of perfectionism has tossed us about for too long, and Jesus is saying, “Peace, be still.”

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” -2 Corinthians 4:7-12