There are many things that cause us to be insecure. I am not sure there is one quite as powerful as perfectionism. I’ve struggled in the past with perfectionism and have traded it in for seeking excellence. It still rears it’s ugly head at times, but I recognize it’s not healthy.
Perfectionism is this driving force that causes people to strive for what may not be possible. It is a way to boost self esteem. It says, “If I do everything perfectly then I am good. If I make no mistakes or have no flaws, then I am valuable.”
Perfectionism fuels the ego and pride. It is a way to be in control, bypass outside criticism, or gain praise (even if it’s self praise).
Perfectionism says, “Your worth and identity is wrapped up in appearance, performance, or the ability to be in control.”
Magazines tell us what the perfect body is supposed to look like, and advertisers tell us what we need to buy or do to have a perfect life. We are praised and rewarded in school for getting the highest marks. Our society applauds this “man made” version of perfection.
The church isn’t always immune from perfectionism. There are standards of what a “perfect” Christian does. There are things God tells us to do, and we should obey Him. There are other things that are traditions of men. God doesn’t love us more if we spend all day serving Him. Our doing for Him does not win us more love. We do what God says out of our love for Him. We cannot do enough good works to earn our own righteousness. If we could, there would have been no reason for Jesus to come. We are fully dependent on His perfection and righteousness, not striving to obtain our own apart from Him.
Perfectionism is self abuse because our value and worth is tied up in something that is unstable, ourselves. When we make a mistake or fail at something, along comes condemnation, guilt, shame, fear, and for some self loathing.
You and I are not perfect. God alone is perfect. Without Him we can do nothing. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing,” John 15:5. We can’t breathe without God. Even people who don’t believe in God are alive because He allows them to be. God is perfect and because He exists, we exist.
So what’s the cure?
Finding value and acceptance in Jesus. He was perfect for us. We invite Him into our lives and rest in what He’s done.
We accept, though it is not easy, that we have flaws. We will make mistakes in life, and we rely on God’s grace. We don’t make mistakes on purpose nor are we passive or lazy. We seek to be excellent for God’s glory, not perfect for our own glory or self esteem.
When our identity is in what Jesus has done, we are free to be who we are and we follow His lead. We allow the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and to empower us to refrain from sinning.
The key is to not have our worth or value rooted in our appearance, ability, talent, knowledge, skill, or meeting some standard of perfection. It’s not easy in our world to bypass this trap of striving for some standard of perfection. However, it is much easier to abide in the True Vine. His yoke is easy and His burden light!