It’s hard to give my daughter a compliment, not because the words we say are untrue–I’m not one to pass out empty praise, believe me!–but because she squirms under the scrutiny of others. You see, no matter the level of excellence she has achieved, my truly beautiful, highly intelligent, exceptionally talented daughter is always convinced that she could have done better, that she could’ve been better.
I can relate.
In fact, I suspect I have taken perfectionism to another level entirely. For, deep down, in my still-too-human heart, I crave affirmation with intensity. Little else drives me like the opportunity to win or accomplish. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these desires, the way that I pursue them can become a stumbling block to others if I’m not careful.
They can become gods in my life.
Here’s a hard truth for someone like me: Perfect doesn’t exist this side of Heaven. It just doesn’t. The ideal that we humans chase is just a mirage, subjective, changing, and, therefore, unattainable. Even when we get to Heaven, the perfection wrought in us there will not be the result of human effort, but the divine work of the Holy Spirit (Phil 1:6).
Does that mean we shouldn’t push ourselves, work hard, and set goals? Absolutely not. The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” to “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Col 3:23, Titus 2:10).
It does mean, however, that we must keep things in perspective. In the Kingdom, obedience to the Father, not self-actualization, is success, no matter the observable, measurable results. It’s when we lose sight of this truth that bad things happen.
The practice of perfectionism in my own life, rather than making me better like one might assume, really brings out the ugly, stealing my joy and fanning into bright flame guilt, fear, anxiety, self-hatred, dishonesty, suspicion, mistrust, and a critical spirit. It keeps me from resting, enjoying what I have, investing, being present in the moment, extending hospitality, serving, savoring milestones, giving thanks, practicing contentment, rejoicing with others, receiving praise or instruction, inspiring, forming deep friendships, trying new things, being productive, or developing my spiritual gifts. It sets a bad example for my children and leads others to believe that I expect perfection from them when nothing could be further from the truth.
And that’s the short list! (Please, feel free to add to it from your own experience in the comments below! Let’s learn from each other.)
All things considered, hyper-focusing on personal perfection is not only futile; it’s counterproductive, especially for those who seek to please the Father, build up the Body of Christ, and advance the Gospel.
That’s why I am letting go of perfect.
I hesitate to say so because it’s only been a few weeks, and I’m not very good at it yet–Oh, the irony!–but I’m learning as I go. The road to Perspective is a long one, for sure, but there’s freedom in every step.