From one perfectionist to another
I am a recovering perfectionist. The “recovering” bit is a recent development. This unwanted personality defect has invaded different parts of my life to varying degrees for as long as I can remember. Sports, my work, my appearance, my faith—I’ve struggled in all of these areas and more.
- I quit every sport I played because of the anxiety I experienced every time I stepped onto a field or a court. I was terrified of making a mistake in front of other people.
- When I started writing full-time, I spent four or five days preparing each article, though I’m capable of writing a good one in less than eight hours. I read, edited, and re-wrote each article over and over and over until I felt like it was “just right.”
- From age 18-24 I exercised excessively, trying to achieve the perfect physique. I skipped meals often. If I exceeded the number of calories I allotted myself each day, I would go back to the gym or make myself throw up.
- I’ve spent more days than not this past year excessively analyzing my motives and doing unreasonable things (beyond what Scripture commands) to make sure my acts of repentance were complete. I was afraid that if I didn’t repent perfectly, I might be demonstrating that I didn’t love God and that He didn’t love me.
I’m sure multiple factors contribute to my perfectionism. One could be a physiological element that is largely outside of my control. However, if this is a cause, I don’t think its the main cause. I believe the main causes are my desire to control what others think of me and my desire to feel valued. These are really two sides of the same coin. I believe I’m only as valuable as other people think I am, so I do this or that in an attempt to control how they perceive me.
- If my performance isn’t great, people might think I’m unskilled or talentless, and I’ll feel like a failure. So I don’t do anything in front of others that I’m not sure I can do well. As to what I think I can do well, I spend an excessive amount of time trying to do it perfectly so people will see me as especially gifted or skilled.
- If my body isn’t in tip-top shape, people might think I’m ugly. I’ll feel gross and undesirable. So I run 6 miles a day and purge.
- If I don’t “repent right” when I’ve sinned (or possibly sinned), God may reject me. I’ll be condemned for eternity. So I perform “acts of repentance” beyond what He commands me to do, just to make sure He’ll accept me. I try to secure His love through my efforts.
It’s at this point that someone usually starts giving me a pep-talk about how I’m perfect just the way I am. But the truth is, I’m not. Neither are you. None of us are! The reason we all exert so much energy trying to feel okay about ourselves is because deep down we know we’re not okay. Something is wrong with us. We feel it. We’ve been stripped of something, broken by something, stained by something. Instinct tells us we were made to be beautiful, dignified—glorious, even! But that beauty, dignity, and glory are missing.
The sad reality is these things are missing because they were stripped from us. And they were stripped from us because we turned away from the God who had given them to us.
I understand all human beings possess a kind of dignity because we all bear God’s image (tarnished as it is). But this post-Fall dignity is nothing compared to that which God intended for us. He created us in His likeness—to resemble Him. The heavens may declare the glory of God, but you and I were made to resemble the God of glory. Our wildest imaginations cannot begin to scratch the surface of what we would have been if not for sin.
But we do feel how far we’ve fallen. We feel our our dirtiness and nakedness. And we spend our whole lives attempting to scrub ourselves clean and clothe ourselves with success, power, the praise of man, our good deeds, and a million other things. We try our darnedest to re-create the righteousness we’ve lost. But all our striving is fruitless, not to mention idolatrous. We’re never successful enough. Never powerful enough. Never praised enough. Never perfect enough.
If left to ourselves, we’re hopeless. We’ll spend our whole life chasing something we can never achieve, die a painful death, and then suffer the eternal penalty for our sin and idolatry. But the good news is that God has not left us to ourselves! Though we’ve despised him and deserve to be crushed by his wrath, he has instead moved toward us in love in the person of his Son. Jesus descended into the world we wrecked so that he could do for us what we could never do for ourselves—make us perfect (Hebrews 10:14).
“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”(Hebrews 10:14; emphasis mine).
Are you looking to escape the tyranny of perfectionism? Then look to Jesus your Great Substitute! He has already borne the burden you and I are trying so hard (and in vain!) to carry. He blotted out our sins with his blood. We are clean. He accounted to us a righteousness not our own. We are clothed. And as if that weren’t enough, he also secured for us a future inheritance, which includes a glorified mind and body. No more sin! No more weakness! No more imperfection! God will glorify us not so we can feel great about how great we are, but so we can fully enjoy His greatness as he lavishes us forever with His kindness and grace (Eph. 2:7)! When that day comes and we are able at last to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, we will become in reality what the Father has already declared us to be in Christ Jesus:
Beautiful. Dignified. Glorious. Perfect.
Should we strive to do well in all that we do? Of course. Should we pursue holiness? Without a doubt. The gospel doesn’t excuse us from living righteously and responsibly; it enables us to live righteously and responsibly! However, we live so as children responding to the Father’s love—not as slaves attempting to earn it.
I’ve got news, ya’ll: we have zero control over where God chooses to direct His love. We don’t “do good” to get it flowing in our direction and “do bad” to lose it. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). He has always loved and treasured us, and He will always love and treasure us. We might as well go ahead and get used to it.
Matt Moore is a Christian writer living in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he moved in 2012 to help plant NOLA Baptist Church. Matt spends his days drinking way too much coffee and writing about a wide variety of topics at www.mattmoorewrites.org. You can find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.
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