Do you struggle with perfectionism? For years, I probably would have told you I didn’t. I might have confidently responded that I merely “pursued excellence”. Or that I had a strong desire for things to be done correctly…which is true. But what I didn’t realize, is rooted deep inside me, was a belief that if things weren’t done perfectly, I didn’t want to do them at all. My mode of thinking was very black and white: either things were done completely correct, or not at all. This led to restless procrastination in college, estranged friendships, and an overall dissatisfaction with myself. I realized many tasks I simply wouldn’t begin, because I knew I didn’t have the time, energy, or effort to complete them in the way I decided was good enough.
Pursing perfectionism is destructive. It robs you of opportunity (and even achievement) when your entire purpose is settled around flawlessness, rather than completion. This Psychology Today article describes the toxicity of perfectionism:
“What makes extreme perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, resulting in a negative orientation. They don’t believe in unconditional love, expecting others’ affection and approval to be dependent on a flawless performance.”
What the cross did to perfection
The voice of perfection, at it’s very real core, tells us that if we are not perfect, we aren’t lovable. The gospel (Good News) of Jesus is the forgiveness of sins. What Jesus accomplished we could never do for ourselves. We could never make ourselves clean, so God sent Jesus as His son to do it for us. When we understand that our own works could never cleanse us, make us new, or deliver us from death, we take the pressure off. Even more, we look to the one righteous King who could.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Identifying the voice of perfection in our own lives
The enemy loves to accuse us. He plants lies about our inadequacies which fuel our need to be “perfect”. But we know that Jesus never asked us to be perfect, He doesn’t insist we clean ourselves before coming before Him. Because, despite our shortcomings, He’s already washed us white as snow:
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
Often, the drive for perfection comes from wounds of the past. Maybe a parent who only applauded you when you did things completely right. Or maybe from a coach who was only happy with your team when things went well and you won. When we grow up only be praised for the highest achievements, we have the potential to unconsciously believe that it’s the achievement themselves which earn us attention and praise. The bible tells us that we are wonderfully made by God. As His children, we possess intrinsic worth and value. As the psalmist writes below, great intention and effort was put into creating our souls, which was with God before we were ever born into this earth.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:13-15)
Not only are we valued, but we are loved so greatly, that God himself died on our behalf, taking on our sins to bear for us.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
The voice of perfection steals
It steals your time with God. It places a rut between what you can do and your access to God’s limitless love. The good news is that there is hope for you, if you’re realizing perfection may have been the loudest voice in your life. Even better, God is the redeemer of all things, and can transform missed time and opportunities. I want to encourage you: if you feel that the voice of perfection may have been a driving force behind your life, repent to God. Ask Him to renew your mind to view yourself, your life, and the love of God through His eyes. Let the love of God teach you His presence with you through trial and endurance.
Inviting God Into Your Authenticity (and sometimes your mess!)
Whether the last year, 5 years, or for as long as you can remember your life has felt like a giant mess: God delights in you! Now is the time to choose connection and vulnerability to Jesus. His hands never stopped reaching for your heart, voice, and daily communion with Him. If (like me) perfection feels like a comfortable familiarity for you, consider the 6 steps below to practice inviting God in. This is what living free from perfection looks like. Not holding yourself back, but giving permission to your heart to miss the mark. God is with you regardless!
- Learn to acknowledge moments where you are guided by the voice of perfection
- Don’t partner with shame about wanting perfection, instead stay curious about where the need to get this perfect is coming from
- Instead of taking on pressure and striving to get it right, ask Holy Spirit to help you give yourself permission to be messy and imperfect
- Ask God for HIS truth for your present situation, project, or task and write it down
- As you work through this circumstance, remind yourself of what God spoke to you
- Journal and work through what it means to “fail” in this scenario, remembering that even if nothing works, God remains connected and delighted to you
Imperfect figures of the bible
Moses struggled to speak with confidence. So much that He asked God to send someone else in His place, knowing his speech was “slow”:
“Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Genesis 4:10-13)
But God didn’t care that Moses wasn’t the perfect speaker. He choose Moses to speak to Pharaoh, regardless of his capabilities. Even after Moses requested someone else, God still sent him, with the help of Aaron, to accomplish what he set out through them. I love the humanity of this story. Moses is talking to the living God, who just showed him that he can turn rod’s into snakes, and heal hands with leprosy, yet still doubts God’s ability to work through his imperfections. I know I can relate to this. I’ve seen God do the miraculous, but sometimes trusting that He can work mightily through me seems…impossible. And it is impossible, if I believe I must do it all on my own.
Humility before the Lord
When we come before God sincerely, letting Him into our weakness and messiness, we will be met with love. It is from this place that the voice of perfection dies. As I’ve learned to live with God like this, the pressure to constantly do things “right” and “perfect” has lifted. Instead, I have found myself on the delightful journey of becoming with God, allowing myself to get things wrong, and not holding onto all of my tasks and circumstances with such rigid hands. This, I believe, is what true freedom in Christ looks like. I’m praying you open yourself to the same journey.
“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:22-23)
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. ” (Titus 3:3-7)