Perfect life

December 8th, 2010

I am a natural-born perfectionist.

For a long time, I thought that was something to be proud of.  Didn’t it show my innate superiority that I had such high standards in every area of life?

My parents tried to teach me that there is a difference between the natural drive for outward perfection, and the desire from God to reflect His excellence.  But I didn’t really get it.  I really thought that people just sort of gave up trying as they got old and worn out.  <blush>

Somewhere along the line I realized that my perfectionism was more of a hindrance than a help.  I saw a character flaw to work on.  A weakness to recover from.

But now I am convinced to the core that in reality, perfectionism is sin against a perfect God.  It is an outward display of unbelief in the heart.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”

Perfectionism is a false god.

And like every other false god that ever has been worshiped, there is no such thing as man-made perfection.  It is not elusive, it is illusory.  An idol is nothing at all in the world.

Like every other god with a lowercase “g”, the god named “Perfection” is limited by the confines of my own desires and imaginations.  You stress nervously over your idea of perfect while I work my life to the bone for my idea of perfect and my neighbor whines impotently about his idea of perfect.

There can be a certain ersatz joy in the pursuit of my own idea of perfection.  But no sooner does it seem to be within my grasp than it begins to disintegrate.

Most frustrating of all, I can’t ever seem to get control over every detail of life to make it all perfect at the same time.  That pesky second law of thermodynamics puts perfection just outside my range of control.  (Here’s looking at you, Adam and Eve.)

Ultimately my attempts to construct and control the shaky edifice of perfection are pitiful, forced, transient, shallow, uptight, inconsequential. Because this perfection is not real and therefore not lasting, it is also not worth worshiping.  In other words, not worth sacrificing for, not worth living for, not worth dying for.

Am I taking this a little too seriously?  After all, any non-Christian can learn that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.

God has been generous enough with common sense that, like Abe Lincoln, we can use it to figure out that people are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.  Furthermore, it can be clearly seen that perfectionism is at constant odds with happiness.

If I will not be happy and satisfied until this (or that, or the other) is perfectly organized, perfectly arranged, perfectly perfect, then I will not ever be happy and satisfied.  I can choose to be happy.  Common sense.  Common grace.

But if I sin against God and others in my pursuit of perfect, then I can be sure that this goes deeper than a self-help manual.

Did I say “If?”

Sorry, I meant, “When.”

A self-help approach will drive out one idol, leaving my heart free to pursue another idol.  Self still wants to rule.  Self is the motivator and the intended beneficiary.

How does my Heavenly Father rescue me from wasting precious time pursuing this myth, this contrived imitation of life?

Does He stand at a condescending distance and tell me snarkily to get a life?

Not my Father.

He takes up the merciful tools of pain and failure and complication and loss and humiliation and limitation, and applies them to me with love and skill.  He exposes the perfectly arranged and polished life for the mirage it is.

He takes what has been my life, which is no life, and offers me real Life in its place.   He takes my idea of perfection, which is no perfection, and gives me real Perfection.  He does this over and over for me, as often as I need it, and never grows impatient.

He shows me that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be rich, joyful, robust, faithful, loving, holy.  This life is never shoddy, always excellent.  His people have found this life in the midst of all manner of suffering, even in the extremes of hostile mocking, torture, imprisonment, and martyrdom.

Because when He gives life, He gives us Himself.

“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Jesus is the Life.  Jesus is my perfect Life.

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6 Responses to “Perfect life”

  1. Ginger says:

    Ugh, I so know what you mean. I hate my struggle w/ perfectionism. The Lord Jesus, through my kids is slowly freeing me from it. But the worst is when it affects my kids. Oh man, that is the worst! That’s when the conviction really comes on strong. I’ve made my kids think they have to be perfect! OH NO!
    The best thing has been my Liberian daughter who isn’t perfectionistic at all. She loves cake decorating and she decorates the cakes in crooked lines of flowers. She doesn’t center Happy Birthday on the cake. She spells Birthday wrong. And it takes all that is in me to not correct her. But that would be the worst thing ever. She knows she can’t ice flowers in perfectly straight rows and she doesn’t care! She just loves doing it.
    Her total lack of perfectionism has been liberating for me. Painfully liberating, but liberating. To God’s glory!

  2. Kristin says:

    Beautifully put (as usual :) ).  What a struggle (for me) between perfectionism and laziness.  Between them somewhere is contentment and resting in Him…..and daily work to find that place.  Thank you for the reminder that perfectionism truly is an idol!

  3. greta says:

    …I think that my perfectionistic bent is why I am exactly where I am ..and needed to be :) God knows this is a big old struggle in my life and I believe He has been trying to discipline it in me!   And boy, am I stubborn!  (BTW…you must listen to today’s broadcast of Revive our Hearts- it addresses ‘idols’)

  4. Marilyn Osborn says:

    This is an excellent post.  I’m off to share it with my ladies group.  I KNOW it will bless them as well.
    Susanna, this is such a struggle for me.  Will you pray for me regarding this?  The Lord HAS been working, but I’ve not had a very pliable heart at times.
    As always, thank you for investing in my life.  LOVE YOU!  M

  5. Joy Horton says:

    Oh, I, too, know what you mean. I used to take pride in being a multitasker and perfectionist. And I’ve seen the damage this ugly “thing” can cause other people as it leaks out of my pores. He has been SO faithful to show me many places where this sin sits in my heart. I now WANT to be freed from it, instead of wanting to wear it as a badge. Ugh!!

  6. Shari~hotfudgecustard says:

    One of my biggest problems with perfectionism is that “just” when I think I’m almost there in an area of life, I find out that someone else does it better, more perfectly.  Maybe Perfectionism’s companion is Competition.  Both are evil!

    Thanks for these reminders!!

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