Letting Go of Perfection

T his year I am resolving to let go of the things that don’t benefit me, to make room for more God in my life. Previously, I discussed letting go of comparison. Today: letting go of perfection. 

Perfection [noun]

  1. The condition, state or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.
  2. A person or thing perceived as the embodiment of such a condition, state, or quality.

Perfection is intoxicating. Like any good drug there is an initial rush of pleasure, followed by a growing dependency and entrapment. I was a perfection junkie. I never intended to become an addict — I don’t think anyone ever does — but it snuck up on me bit by bit, until I was hooked.

I was convinced there was something wrong with me that needed fixing. I was desperate to fix those weaknesses, or at the very least camoflage them successfully, so that people would no longer see how worthless I really was. I tried to be perfect so that I would be popular. I wanted to be flawless so that I would have friends.

It took me years to realize that my plan was doomed to failure. After all, there has been only one perfect Person who ever lived, and we killed Him. Why would I expect a different fate?

Instead of giving me the friendships I craved, my pursuit of perfection alienated people.

While I was all too aware of the consequences, it was really difficult to give up. The truth was: I liked being perfect, or more accurately, being perceived as being perfect.  I liked the sense of control and of value it brought me. If I have all my ducks in a row, I reasoned, if I have all areas of my life perfectly in order and balanced, then I am successful.

Perfection, as a definition for success, will always lead to failure.

It took me a long time to realize this. It was too easy to justify my perfectionism. The Bible had a lot to say about being holy that seemed to validate my quest. After all, didn’t Jesus tell us to “. . . be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”?[1]

I found out that God and I define perfection very differently.

When Jesus would say “. . . be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”, I always sort of stopped after the “be perfect” part, and kind of skipped over the second half. It served the purpose of rationalizing my view of perfection; I no longer had to consider the fuller ramifications of the verse.

I wanted to be perfect as defined by the cultural standards of success: perfect house, perfect job, perfect hair, perfect wardrobe, perfect habits, perfect person. But when I considered the verse in it’s entirety it became apparent that Jesus was less concerned with my perfect trappings and more concerned about the state of my heart.

The word “perfect” in the verse above is the Greek word teleios which means:

  1. brought to its end, finished
  2. wanting nothing necessary to completeness
  3. perfect
  4. that which is perfect

I realized that when God is speaking of wanting me to be perfect like He is perfect, what He meant was that He wants the end goal of my life—the metaphorical finish line I am running toward—to be to look like Him. He doesn’t care about my house being immaculately clean; he wants my Heart to be pure before him. He’s more concerned with the size of my compassion than the size of my waist.

I may have started my pursuit of perfection out of a feeling of worthlessness, but the end result was idolatry. God never intended for me to spend my time trying to glorify myself, but a life spent developing a heart like His can only glorify Him.

[1] Matthew 5:48

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2 Responses to Letting Go of Perfection

  1. Lyndsay says:

    I can identify with this so much. I too stopped at the “be perfect” part and often said “if Jesus said I should be perfect, then it must be possible.” What resulted was a lot of disappointment in myself . . . a lot of the time. I found I prided myself in being a perfectionist, but could never even live up to the standard I set for myself.

    I especially appreciate how you point out that this can become idolatry. For me, without knowing it, that’s exactly what it was. Thankfully, I am no longer a perfectionist, and have come to terms with the fact that my best is pleasing to God, and that’s all that matters.

  2. Lydia says:

    I grew up with an older sister who was excellent at everything she did, as well as being adventurous, courageous and bold! I was always content just to ‘do my best’ in everything but not feel I had to compare, for which I am very grateful! There’s a lovely balance there somewhere, but it’s so wonderful to feel completely loved just for ‘who you are’ instead of what you do! Thanks for sharing, Natalie! You are perfect to me!! 🙂

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