Monday, May 08, 2006

In Pursuit of Perfection

Are you a person who is always striving to be 'perfect'? Does your house always have to look sparkling clean? Do your shoes always have to have a certain shine? Is it necessary to put on makeup and coordinate your clothing before you leave the house? How about your kids - how bent out of shape do you become when they give in to their normal childish behavior? When their grades are less than stellar? What about your spouse - does his or her appearance/mannerisms/job have to be at a certain standard to meet your approval?

The sad truth about it is, if you are a perfectionist about any of the above things, you are probably even harder on yourself. Chances are, you reserve the worst criticism for yourself: How you are not where you want to be in life, don't look the way you want to look, don't like yourself, aren't smart enough, aren't good enough and (maybe) never will be.

And, if you are a Christian, there is one more thought probably echoing in your head: I'm not a very good Christian. This thought typically comes with its own depressing litany: I don't pray enough (or long enough), I can't control my hormones (or my mouth), I am a lousy role model, I don't fast enough, I don't study enough, I don't go to church, I don't go to church as often as I should. I don't know enough of the Word and,the worst thought of all - God can't possibly love me with all my flaws. It's almost like you don't want to be a Christian so much as you want to be able to model what you consider perfect Christian behavior. As if being a Christian on the outside can make up for what you feel you lack on the inside.

In pursuit of 'Perfection'.

A good friend once told me 'Perfection is a Long Road to Nowhere'. This is what you must think to yourself as you strive to reach an unreachable goal.

"But, Sonya", you will say, "Doesn't the Bible require that we be 'perfect'?" The short answer is - NO. The most often quoted scripture is found in Matthew 5:48, when Jesus says 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.' But, according to Strong's concordance, this reading of 'perfect' means complete (in growth and moral character), not perfect the way we traditionally mean it - without any flaws, imperfections or mistakes. God knew that we would all make mistakes. Jesus died on the cross to pardon us from all our sins - past, present and future.

This, of course, doesn't mean that we should sin indiscriminately (this is further addressed in Romans 6:1), just that God made provision for us, knowing we would sin.

So what should that say to you? That God knew you would sin and still loves you. Loved you so much that He made a way for you to reach Him no matter what. And, if He can accept you will all your imperfections, shouldn't you?

God does not expect 'perfection', but He does expect you to try really, really hard. To study His word (2 Tim 2:15) on a daily basis (Ps 1:2). To be unlike the world and to transform our minds away from its thinking (Rom 12:2). To love God with all that we have (Matthew 22:37) and to treat others as well as we treat ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

But none of those things require perfection. And what does God think of our efforts? In the well-known story of Cain and Abel, prior to Cain taking Abel's life, Cain brought an offering to God. God was more pleased with Abel's offering (which led to Cain's jealousy and his subsequent murder of Abel), which made Cain angry. But the Bible says, "Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?..."(Gen 4 NIV). God was perfectly willing to accept the best that Cain had to offer - if Cain had been willing to give it.

Our God is not so concerned with the obsessive pursuit of perfection, but with our obedience - a desire to do His will. And, even more importantly, with a willing heart. Our obedience and willingness to please Him count much more than our desire to look 'perfect' in another person's (or our own) eyes.

Perfection is a long road to nowhere.

Strive instead to be 'perfect' before the Lord - experiencing spiritual growth and maturity as you serve Him with the best that you have to give. And, if you do what is right, will you not be accepted?

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Anonymous said...

If only more people would take heed to your advice or least share these words so many of the "perfectionists" out there, that the struggle on the road to nowhere would be that less difficult...

T.H. said...

This is a good article. I'm no perfectionist, but I often feel I'm not loving my "brother" enough. I fear that for as much as I desire to be a blessing to others, I'm still far to self-serving.

As you said, all we can do is keep trying to grow in Christ and know that God loves us at every stage of development.

ms mimi the mocha soulchild said...

I have a problem with perfectionism about some things, and it usually winds up making me depressed and dejected, because I never reach the artificial standard I set for myself. I struggled with an eating disorder in the past in an effort to be perfect. It is times like those when I must remind myself that it is only with God that I can do all things-- through Christ-- not my works. bottom line is perfection stems from two seemingly incongruent things: pride, and insecurity. We try to be perfect to seek approval, believing that somehow approval makes us acceptable. But God when he forgives us already accepts us, and the only one we should seek approval from is Him.

So I have come to the conclusion that perfectionism is Satan's trap to keep us from trusting in the message of salvation, because it implies that we are saved by works, and our own efforts, not grace.

For a long time, until quite recently I felt that it was my responsibility as a Christian to save the world. I was involved with many causes. I felt deeply impacted by the collective human struggle (and still do). But something was missing. All your best efforts can be ruined over night, or worse yet, fail.

Now I know it isn't my job to save the world. That's why Jesus died. I should be contributing to spreading the word, being an ambassador for Christ, and letting God use me, but leave the results to God. I guess that is why lately I've been struggling with social justice, politics, and advocacy-- my work. I know that it makes a difference, but after many versions of figuring out how we change the world, I come back to a final, and simple solution: We have a spiritual problem. We can change presidents, change budgets, change social values and mores, change culture, and we SHOULD do all those things to the extent that we are led. But none of those things changes the fundamental problem: human nature.

In our recent evangelism training our guest teacher said that evangelism is "Sharing the news of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God."

After we have tried our best, it is our job to be still and rest, remembering that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous -
I wish I had taken my own advice several years ago, but we 'perfectionists' eventually learn to take the less difficult road.

T.H. -
I think we all feel that as Christians. Really, no matter how much we do, we always feel like we could be doing more. I believe that is a trick of the enemy to keep us from doing anything at all. But I believe that if we persevere, God will continue to bless our endeavors.

Ms. Mimi:
Thank you for your thoughtful remarks. I'm glad to know that you are coming out of your own struggle with perfectionism and allowing God to be in control. He is the Creator, Our Father and God Almighty - If He can't handle it, then no one can!

Rachel said...

Love The Article! Thank you for sharing...