Escaping the Harsh Grip of Perfection
Do you ever feel like your life is characterized by constant pressure to perform?
Are you drowning in all the unspoken expectations from (and of) the people around you? Are you exhausted from running on a hamster wheel of endless demands, trying to complete them all…perfectly?
Oh, p e r f e c t i o n.
It’s such an easy thing to chase.
When we talk about being a ‘perfectionist’, most of us say this lightly, jokingly and even proudly when explaining how much we love a job well done. Going the extra mile (or two), being extra critical, and overworking ourselves never hurt anybody, right?
Maybe not initially. But if you’re anything like me, when high ideals and meeting standards perfectly drive your life, the pressure to perform will eventually dry up your soul, cloud your vision and disillusion you into believing that you do not need grace because well– you’ve got it all under control.
Is Perfectionism Really a Bad Thing?
The heart is perfectionism is ultimately about a good performance– for others! We often justify our high standards, overworking, over-meticulizing, and harsh inner critic in the name of “doing things for others.” Now, don’t get me wrong– perfectionists certainly have others in mind: we want others to like us, praise us, look up to us, tell other people how inspiring we are. The heart of perfectionism tends to be nothing but facade elevation– working hard to maintain and elevate the image of our body, family, work ethic, house, or reputation.
We think that we hold the reins when it comes to perfecting our lives. In reality, that small inner critic, that voice demanding perfection is actually in control of us. Perfection is a slave driver, a hard master, and an unappeasable boss and it won’t stop asking, demanding or nit picking until we’re driven mad.
And perfection has no mercy–because mercy is forgiveness for not meeting ideals and standards. Instead, perfection punishes us with shame when ideals are not met.
Perfection barks demands at a breakneck pace, requiring that we do, do, do until we feel that sense of completion in our hearts. But that’s the trap. Perfection promises a sense of fulfillment that it cannot, will not, and has never delivered.
Because when it comes down to it, perfection is just a pretty word for idolatry.
Idolatry is misplaced adoration. When we adore or desire anything before Christ, we will inevitably worship it–live for it. If we are tirelessly trying to create a seamless life, family, work ethic, house, or ministry, we will daily sacrifice ourselves on the altar of perfection. Like any idol, perfection asks and asks and we continue to give and give when there is a sure-fire guarantee that we won’t receive anything back. We will never receive the satisfaction we are looking for because idols are nothing more than empty mirages– a moving target. Like the psalmist says in Psalm 115: 5-7,
“They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see…Ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell… Hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats.”
The sad reality is if we continue to aim for perfect lives, we will become just like the idol we serve: empty, heartless, and unable to receive anything because nothing will ever be enough.
What Kingdom Are You Living For?
Over the last few months, my life has felt characterized by constant pressure, looming fear, facade fixation, and success-obsession. And when I think about what Jesus says our lives should be characterized by, unhealthy fear, pressure, and chronic discontentment are nowhere to be found among his red letters.
Instead, Jesus characterizes those living for his kingdom as having an easy yoke and a light burden (Matt. 11:28), being content in any situation (Phil. 4:11), divine boldness (Acts 4:31), and fixating on running one’s own race (Phil. 3:12-14.) If my life isn’t characterized by the things of God, can I really say that I’m living for His kingdom? If a perfect life is more of my goal than a Christ-like life, can I really say I’m living for His purposes?
An appetite geared towards perfectionism can be squelched by realizing it is merely a misplaced hunger that cannot be satisfied by earthly things.
Instead, we must hunger and thirst after the things of God and His promises. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:6, a hunger and thirst for righteousness is the only kind of appetite guaranteed to be satisfied.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Peace Out Perfection
If perfectionism has been driving your life, you can find peace in knowing that you carry the authority to remove it’s yoke from your shoulders and it’s bit from your mouth. Instead of feeling constant pressure, fear, and anxiety, we will experience true peace. We won’t fear how it’ll all get done because we recognize that it is HIS power within us, HIS resources available to us, HIS breath in our lungs, HIS guidance for what’s next, and HIS love that is ultimately enough to sustain us and satisfy us.
So let’s take the reins out of perfection’s unruly hand, and give them back over to the One who doesn’t demand our perfection, but simply asks for our full attention.