If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you have probably realized that I am an extreme perfectionist. It is something I have struggled with as long as I can remember. But no matter how many times people tell me that I don’t have to be perfect to be loved; I am the same. I hold myself to that standard. I try to live up to it— to perfection. I do it for myself, and secretly I have always thought that of all the major flaws that a person could have, perfectionism would be least destructive of all of them. After all, it’s seeking after perfection! Doesn’t the Bible tell us to be Perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect?
But I am still in bondage. I am a slave to my perfectionism; if I don’t behave the way that it expects me to, there are consequences. I feel guilty, I spiral down emotionally, and I dwell in self-hatred. Then the people around me try to figure out what is going on inside me (because, of course my spiral downwards affects them too), and then I become even more upset and self-loathing because I realize that in the process of punishing myself I am punishing them too. At some point I calm down and I go to sleep, still upset at myself, but contented with the thought that I will “do better next time”.
Brennan Manning says in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel: “Honesty is such a precious commodity that it is seldom found in the world or the church. Honesty requires the truthfulness to admit the attachment and addictions that control our attention, dominate our consciousness, and function as false gods. I can be addicted to vodka or to being nice, to marijuana or being loved, to cocaine or being right, to gambling or relationships, to golf or gossiping. Perhaps my addiction is food, performance, money, popularity, power, revenge, reading, television, tobacco, weight, or winning. When we give anything more priority than we give to God, we commit idolatry. Thus we all commit idolatry countless times every day.” (85- Emphasis is mine)
If you had asked me a day or so ago if I had ever committed Idolatry, I would have told you that it was one of the few commandments left unbroken by me; but even that is not true. My perfectionism is my idol. I don’t love it, I am in bondage to it, but I definitely give it more attention than I give to my God. In fact, I give it more attention than almost anything else in my life! I spend so much time trying to be perfect, to do all the things that I “need” to do that I haven’t had consistent quiet times for the last two weeks! I have had them here and there spastically when I have “time”. But I rarely have time because my perfectionism values things like grades, household work, and being a “good friend” or a “good wife” above resting in the love of the God who created the universe.
If I even really acknowledged His true, deep and passionate love for me, then I wouldn’t feel the need to be perfect at all. The fact that I am living for my perfectionism, and even for my perfectionistic perceptions of what a Christian “should be”, is a sign that I am an idol worshiper. Not that the things I want to do aren’t good… I should want to be a good wife, friend, student etc. But I should do it for the pleasure of my King, and not as a slave to unrealistic perfection!
What a liberating realization! What freedom! Now, whether I finished my homework this week or not is irrelevant, because Jesus is helping me to overthrow my idol so that He can again return to the throne in my heart. His love is perfect, and there is no fear in love because His perfect love drives out all fear. (ref. 1 John 4:18) He died on the cross for my imperfection, He loves me just the way that I am, and there is freedom in living for Christ in place of the bondage that comes from living for Perfection.
Ladies and Gentlemen- I am not there. This is going to be a process for me. It is going to take time; but I know that Jesus is good, and that He loves me, and that He has been waiting patiently all these years for me to realize that I AM NOT PERFECT AND NEVER WILL BE! But also… that He Loves Me. If you are struggling as I am, be encouraged by His love today. Know that there is nothing in the entire universe than can separate you from the love of Jesus Christ; and that He died that you might be FREE.