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.