The Perfection Problem

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48

 My relationship with perfectionism is a lifelong one.  I don’t think either of my parents would say that they tried to instill it in me, but somewhere along the way, I certainly picked it up!  Way back when I was getting ready to graduate from college and start life in the “real world” I dressed up my perfectionist tendencies in the form of a well-crafted interview answer:

 Interviewer: What is your greatest weakness?

Me: I think it is my tendency toward perfectionism.  I want things to be done well and I strive to be the best I can possibly be.  If I am going to do something, I want it to be done right.  If I am going to be something, I want to be the best.

Pretty good answer, eh?  I mean who wouldn’t hire someone whose GREATEST WEAKNESS is perfectionism?!  Ugh.  Me… I would not want to hire someone whose greatest weakness is perfectionism.  I honestly do not want to BE someone whose greatest weakness is perfectionism.  So, why in the WORLD would I want to work with someone who had the same neurosis?  Perfectionism makes me question EVERYTHING.  It makes me feel like NOTHING is ever good enough.  It cripples me and keeps me from trying new things.  It makes me slow to start for fear that the finish will not be well.  Gracious.  Wonder how many jobs I lost because of that “well-crafted” interview answer?  Anyway…

 Just in case you haven’t picked up on it already, I have long since realized that my “greatest weakness” – my tendency toward perfectionism – is not REALLY a strength… no matter how I tried to spin it for my potential employers.  In reality, I knew even way back then that wanting everything to be “perfect” was not really a good thing, but I figured I had to say SOMETHING in an interview and I SURE wasn’t going to say that REALLY my greatest weakness is my perpetual tardiness or my inclination to overreact or propensity for procrastination!  I knew THAT wouldn’t get me the job!  And those things only touch the TIP of the iceberg!  But I digress (another trait I have!).  That’s another blog for another day. 

The point here is: perfectionism and I go way back.  And whenever it comes up, especially in Bible study, I get a little antsy.  I start thinking of my self-imposed checklists and all the blanks I have left unfilled in 25+ years of Bible studies, the dates left unchronicled in my journal, the Sundays I skipped, the prayers that went unprayed and on and on and on.  Not to even mention all the harsh words spoken, angry thoughts, inconsiderate ways and unkind actions I’ve taken over the years – all as a professing Christian.  I am in no way, shape or form perfect, but in Matthew 5:48, Jesus said to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Yikes.  Just YIKES!  I know intellectually that I can never REALLY BE “perfect”.  As my children say, “Only Jesus was perfect, Mom.” 

So, what do I do with a verse like Matthew 5:48?  Well, the first thing I do is praise God that I am under the blood and grace of Jesus Christ; that EVERY sin, when confessed, will be forgiven (1 John 1:9).  Then I remember that, in Christ, I have been chosen and adopted and am now a child of God.  As such, I am blessed, redeemed, forgiven and DEARLY loved.  (See Eph. 1:3-8, Eph 5:1 and 1 John 3:1)  God doesn’t do things half-way, He LAVISHES His love on me as His child and completely transformed me when He saved me (2 Cor. 5:17).  I figure, if I can love my Kiddos so much that it literally makes my chest hurt even when they make mistakes, don’t use proper table manners, forget their backpacks, lose their jackets, talk ugly, act crazy etc. etc. etc. then SURELY the God of the universe will do what He has promised and love me unfailingly even when I mess up.  He SAID to come to Him and repent.  He SAID that He would never leave me of forsake me (Deut. 31:6).  He SAID that He would catch me when I stumble (Psalm 37:24).  He SAID to fight the good fight and press on (1 Tim. 6:12 & Phil 3:12).  Obviously, He KNOWS that this life will be, on many days, an uphill climb.  He KNOWS that we need grace and mercy for every day (Lam. 3:22-23).  He KNOWS that we NEED Him to remember that we are but dust (Psalm 103:13-14). 

So, when He says to “be perfect as I am perfect” I know He means to keep choosing Him – every day, in every encounter, with every thought, in word and deed.  I know He knows me better than I know myself and was well aware of what He was getting and who He was saving when He went to the cross on my behalf.  My part is to keep my gaze fixed on Him; to keep letting my heart be changed by His Word and His Holy Spirit.  And little by little, my freshly washed heart will overflow with more Christ-like behavior, more loving thoughts, more gentle words and a more radiant face that reflects His glory – rather than my own worry, distress or frustration.  I praise Him that my “wholeness [my “perfection”] is firmly rooted in [Him].  To live a life of perfection is not to make all A’s or to never miss a Sunday at church; rather it is to live a life true to [my] identity as [a child] of an utterly untemptable God who never changes, shows no partiality, and has no darkness in Him at all (Melissa Moore Fitzpatrick, “Perfection: Part Two” in James: Mercy Triumphs, 149).”  Thank God that IN CHRIST, “perfectionism” can actually be a good thing!  In Christ, striving toward perfection is RIGHT because it means drawing to the Only One who is truly Perfect.