Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist
Updated: Feb 19
Last week, our whole family headed to the beautiful Colorado Rockies – Louis and I, our son and daughter and their spouses, five granddaughters seven-year-old and under (including twin two-year-olds), and JoJo the dog. It was crazy, fun, hard, spectacular, exhausting, energizing…and not perfect.
Will we do it again?
The social media posts from our vacation featured beautiful moments, amazing sunsets, and smiling children and adults. Viewing them, you might wish you were us, enjoying idyllic moments in the mountains. But behind the scenes, we experienced messy moments of tears (mine), tantrums, and tired children, mamas, daddies, and grandparents. Even JoJo seemed a bit tense.
The happy and not-so-happy chaos challenged me. You see, I am a recovering perfectionist.
Lessons from Bill, the Horse
When I was in middle school, my dear Dad purchased a couple of horses because I was one horse-crazy tween. Growing up on Westerns, like Bonanza and Big Valley, I dreamed of galloping across sunny meadows, fording streams on horseback, the wind blowing in my hair, and Little Joe as my big brother. I later learned the horses represented my father’s desperate attempt to keep me from noticing boys. And it worked…for a few years.
Raising horses was eye-opening for this idealistic girl.
I realized what seems idyllic is not usually so. Horses are beautiful and majestic, but they need to eat, poop, and rest, just like all of God’s creatures. They sweated running across those sunny meadows, and so did I. They balked and occasionally bucked me over a fence. Bill, my beautiful brown and white paint quarter horse, rode rough. His trot jarred your teeth and his gallop shook you like a torturous wooden roller coaster ride.
But I loved him. I still love horses, but my expectations are tempered and adjusted.
Life does that to us.
Are We Chasing Perfectionism?
I’ve spent too much of my life chasing the idyllic. I choose fiction over non-fiction, fantasy over real life. A fair-weather outdoor girl to the core, I walk the dog and exercise outside only when the temperatures register mild and perfect. Non-confrontational relationships are my preference. Phlegmatic by nature, it has taken some powerful discomfort to shake me up and recognize my relentless perfectionistic pursuit of peace was actually keeping me from it.
We must be willing to fight – for our faith, our family, our values, our country, our way of life, our birthright in the Kingdom of God.
I’m tired of going along to get along. I want God’s best, not the fantasy version of life.
Just like our family vacation, life won’t be perfect. And that’s okay. But it can be good, even great. God wants the best for us. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” John 10:10 NKJ. The Amplified version says it this way, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows.)”
Abundant life is full and overflowing – marked by large amounts, great plenty, ample supply. Lots of life – the good, the beautiful, and even the unpleasant. Perfect, overflowing, abundant LIFE contains a full range of emotions. Good grief, in the Psalms of David the “man after God’s own heart” expresses tremendous emotional highs and lows.
Splendid moments. Tender moments. Times of angst, despair and misunderstanding. Communicating truthful feelings. Remorse, discipline and correction. Mundane moments. Exciting, poignant episodes. All these are part of the evolving landscape of our lives.
Pursuing Perfectionism is a Slippery Slope
While the Bible tells us in Matthew 5:48, “So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” this pursuit is more about pursuing Him and allowing Him to work it out in us through the sanctification process. Philippians 1:6 says, “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
We submit. God does the work.
A state of perfection is not something we can achieve on our own. Our efforts are futile and will only lead to feelings of condemnation and unworthiness when we fail to achieve perfect results. We must trust in the blood of Jesus and God’s kindness.
Pursuing perfection in Christ and perfectionism for its own sake are two very different things. In fact, I believe “being a perfectionist” is unholy and unhealthy.
Perfectionism causes us to strive and relentlessly work toward an unattainable goal in our own strength and often for our own glory. I’ve been there and done that. It made me super critical of myself and others when “perfect” wasn’t achieved. Also, we will continue to live in discontentment when we don’t reach that highest standard, which we won’t without God’s help. Pride also is involved when we think we can and should attain perfection on our own.
Perfectionism can be sin. Ask God to show you if the need to attain perfection has become a tyrant in your life.
Should we work toward excellence? Yes, of course. But there is a difference between doing your best and never being satisfied with less than perfect.
The recourse to perfectionism, the one I’ve taken myself, is to repent. I had to stop striving, stop expecting myself and others to be perfect, and stop comparing myself to what appears perfect in those around me. I have asked God to forgive me for perfectionism, ungodly striving, pride, envy/jealousy, and a critical spirit (toward myself and others).
The result: peace, contentment, and acceptance of God’s grace.
Pursuing perfectionism will beat us down with disappointments and frustrations. Only God can achieve perfection – in us and in creation. One day, the groaning of all creation will cease and He who is Perfect will reign – Jesus Christ.
In the meantime, I will adjust my expectations, not to expect less, but to embrace life with all its flaws and imperfections and to fight the good fight of faith.
Will you join me in the fray for freedom from perfectionism?
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