At first glance, perfectionism doesn't seem like such a bad thing. I mean, who doesn't want to do things perfectly? Ace every exam? Always arrive on time? Never let anyone down? It's kind of a fantasy isn't it? These kinds of goals have driven me throughout my life from one accomplishment to another, always seeking to do a little better, be a little better than I was the day before.
But where does it end? That kind of pressure is EXHAUSTING. Setting such high expectations for yourself and trying to live up to them is an impossible burden to carry in the long-term.
And though as Christians we can sometimes convince ourselves that this type of "excellence" is what God expects from us, we are mistaken. God did not design us to be perfect or to make ourselves perfect. If we were perfect—or even capable of being perfect—there would have been no need for Jesus to come and save us. It is because of our imperfection that we receive everything God has to offer.
As I wrote about in my previous post, How to Stop Being a Perfectionist, there is a difference between simply having high standards and being a perfectionist. Setting high standards is healthy, and indeed, necessary for success in many areas of life. But perfection is an unattainable standard, an idol that our hearts fixate on, telling us that if only we were a little better, then we would feel worthy. Then we would be happy or satisfied or fulfilled. It just doesn't work that way.
It's a lie from the enemy that keeps us from focusing on the truth. The One who gives us our worth, our satisfaction, our joy, our fulfillment.
Bible Verses for the Recovering Perfectionist
The Bible is pretty clear on this fact: we are not perfect, far, far, from it. Indeed there are many verses that reiterate this in countless ways.
But I think we can take comfort in that. We can be thankful that not only are we not perfect, we don't need to be. God loves us in our imperfection, and is even glorified because of it. When we come to Him, as we are, with exactly what we can currently offer, He uses that for the good of His kingdom.
Here are seven verses to help you lay down the idol of perfectionism and embrace your own weaknesses.
1. Romans 5:7-8
Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
If we are honest with ourselves, a major driving force of perfectionism is the underlying desire for people to see us as 'good.' We know that we're good, or at least, that we have good intentions. But we're not so sure about other people see us. Do they know how hard we are trying? Do they know how much we care? How much we are willing to give up to succeed at whatever it is we feel called to do?
Isn't it a relief to know that God didn't measure us on these standards? He knew that we were sinners and yet He still chose to make the ultimate sacrifice for us. Whose standards will you strive to live up to?
2. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Each time he said, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
There is so much freedom in this verse. His power works best in our weakness. If we want Christ to work through us, we need to acknowledge and embrace our weaknesses. We depend on Him for our sufficiency; without Him, we cannot do that which we are created to do.
When we are under the illusion that we can achieve perfection, pride will take root in our hearts. But when we acknowledge up front how far away from perfection we are, He can grow in us a spirit of humility, making us more like Christ.
3. James 3:2
Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
"If we could...we would be perfect..." How many times I've used this phrasing! "If only...it would be perfect!" But we see clearly from this verse that we are not perfect. We ALL make mistakes.
Not only should this help us forgive ourselves our mistakes more freely, but also those of others. So much of perfectionism is rooted in the (intentional or unintentional) comments of others. "It's wonderful...but here's how it could be better." "I expected more from you." "You let me down."
Words like these, even when meant to instruct or help, can have painful and long-lasting consequences. Even though we ourselves have been hurt by these types of comments, we seem to think that it's perfectly appropriate to repeat them to others, especially our children.
If we can remember that we all make mistakes, we can extend to others the same grace that we ourselves would love to receive, the grace that says, "It's okay to make mistakes, we all do it. Let's work together to improve things."
In this way, we put love and grace ahead of perfection.
4. Matthew 19:21
Jesus told him, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
I love that this is how Jesus defined perfect. While I sit here lamenting the messy chaos that is my home, or the unfinished tasks on my to-do list, or the sofa with the broken leg that we haven't gotten around to fixing, or the unhealthy meal I served for dinner last night, Jesus reminds me that none of these things have anything to do with perfection.
In fact, the things that make me feel imperfect are, in fact, the impedance to what Jesus called perfection. But certainly not in the way that I think they are.
Jesus says, None of those things matter. What matters is that you follow me. If your possessions are getting in the way of your ability to follow me, cast them aside. My treasure is better than what you could possible have here on earth.
5. Galatians 1:10
Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant.
Oh, if only we could all say the same. Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. Obviously.
It's amazing to think of how caught up we get in our doing as Christians. There really is so much to do, isn't there? Bible study groups, hospitality efforts, Sunday school, fundraising, outreach, anything else that the church or our neighbours call on us to do. We want to do it all and we try. We really do. Most of us burn ourselves out trying to do it all.
But why are we doing it? Whose approval are we seeking? Whose calling are we listening for? Are we so busy that we've tuned out the small voice of God? Are we seeking the approval of people, desperate for them to see how hard we're trying? To recognize and acknowledge us?
I'm not saying that we shouldn't do these things, that we should stop trying to be the hands and feet and just kick back and relax. Certainly this pouring out of love is part of our calling. But we may need to re-examine what He's asking of us and make sure that it's His approval we're racing toward, not that of the people around us.
6. 1 Thessalonians 2:4
For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.
Similar to Galatians 1:10, this verse also addresses our people-pleasing nature. It reminds us that God alone knows the motives of our hearts. He examines it and He knows it in a way that other people never can. We are intimately known by our Creator. He sees right into the depths of our hearts and knows why we do what we do. He knows our intentions, even when the outcome isn't as perfect as we'd hoped.
There is so much relief in that knowledge. We don't have to prove ourselves to God. We are known and loved, even for our motives, not just for our results. True satisfaction can then be taken in knowing that our motives are in the right place and that we're pursuing God's pleasure alone.
7. Romans 8:15
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery that returns you to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"
Perfectionism can be a mean slave-driver. It can keep us up all night 'putting the finishing touches' on things. It is the nasty voice screaming in our ears that we haven't done enough, that we're going to disappoint people, that we are insufficient.
But Jesus has broken the bonds of fear. We no longer need to be afraid of that voice or the pain it threatens to sow in us. We have been redeemed. We have been adopted to sonship. We are children of God. Therefore, we serve no other master: not fear, not perfectionism, not the people around us whose real or perceived judgments have driven us to aim for perfection in the first place.
We are accountable to our God, the one who loves us completely and wants to use us for good things, weaknesses, imperfections, flaws and all. He wants all of it.
No matter how long you've struggled with perfectionism or how insufficient you feel, know that you can give all of those feelings over to Him and in His great mercy, He will relieve you from those bonds and give you a heart of peace.