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Over the summer of sixth grade, something within my charismatic soul began to shift. As the tides of hormonal changes and adolescence stole my naiveté, I was thirteen when my life got turned upside down.
In school, I was no academic scholar, but I tried my best. However, when I met my best friend, a pure and golden brainiac, I decided to achieve the same educational excellence. Things that would take her no time to receive an A, for example, would take me hours. And while there is nothing wrong with hard work and striving for a 4.0 GPA, I began to associate my worth and value with grades on report cards more than Christ’s identity within me, and that was just the beginning.
By the time I was fourteen, striving for straight A’s matched my longing to achieve holy perfection. When I looked in the mirror, my heart wanted to be perfect as my Father in Heaven is perfect.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, NIV).
When my Dad was diagnosed with a long-term mental and physically crippling disability, and my siblings’ affairs with abuse and drugs began to tailspin, I developed a coping mechanism for control rooted in perfectionism. While that unwillingness to settle for anything less than superiority seemed harmless, it created numerous mental and physical battles I would fight for nearly a decade.
By definition, perfectionism is the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. As philosophy or a standard of living, however, Oxford languages writes: “Perfectionism as a philosophy is a doctrine holding that religious, moral, social, or political perfection is attainable, especially the theory that human moral or spiritual perfection should be or has been attained.”
At fourteen years old, I did not realize that I was worshipping unrealistic and unattainable ideals that would never come to fruition. I would not admit that I was suffering from such heinous beliefs because I did not realize the error of their ways or the presence of their existence in my life. I truly believed I was doing right by living for perfection because I knew that Christ calls each of us to perfection.
“Since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Peter 1:16, ESV; 1 Thessalonians 1:7, ESV).
After seven years, I was twenty-one years old when I finally realized the falsity of these beliefs. Walking through fiery trials and pain, God removed my sin as far as the east is from the west and set me free from those bonds. However, the damage of that period is something I will mentally have to recover from for the rest of my life.
At twenty-five years old, I will honestly declare that I have been in Christian counseling for a little over two years. Besides God’s grace, mercy, help, and forgiveness, His push to attend weekly meetings with a Therapist has transformed my life. As we work through deep-rooted issues and struggles, lies I’ve believed as truths and defined this perfectionism I often place on myself, I’ve learned that perfection isn’t pretty; it’s purposeless passion. And in that expression, I will tell you that it feels so freeing to see that light through Christ, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is helping me to grow stronger week after week.
Because overcoming perfectionism means letting go of an unattainable idea you hold for yourself and taking hold of the fact that Christ didn’t ask you to be perfect. He asked you to be His.
If we were perfect, there would be no need for Jesus to die. After all, that would’ve meant that we could’ve paid the price for our sins, and we needed no retribution for sin. But such a statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Hebrews 9 tells us that until Jesus Christ and His perfect, holy, and spotless blood washed away our sins, we were bound to a contractual weight of attempting to obtain perfection (the Law) that could never set us free.
“For this old pattern of worship was a matter of external rules and rituals concerning food and drink and ceremonial washings which was imposed upon us until the appointed time of heart-restoration had arrived” (Hebrews 9:10, TPT).
All my life, I’ve been fighting perfection, but this year I’ve been letting go of who Amber thinks she is in order for God to fill her and use her for His Kingdom. I’ve realized that when I quote, “He must become greater and greater and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT), that means I selflessly lay down my constant striving in exchange for the rest that He’s already set me free from that unattainable weight.
While striving to be perfect in the sense of being like God is good, it is not correct when we value that over our relationship with Him or believe that if and when we are good enough, He will finally accept us.
Because the truth of the fact is this: We will never be good enough in our striving. That’s why Jesus had to die. But because He died for our sins, when Christ sees those who belong to Him, all He sees is Jesus’ perfection covering every one of our sins.
As Kristen Wetherell, featured author of The Gospel Coalition, writes, “God commands holiness, and so He gave us Jesus. You are holy. You are being made holy. You will be made holy”.
For too long, I’ve lived with the negative core beliefs that I’m not good enough or worthy or that I have to work my way to being good enough for God. But Romans 3:23 reminds me that while I’m never good enough and never will be, the perfection God demands is why Jesus had to die for my sins. Instead of our pitiful striving, He sees Jesus’ righteousness (a perfect, holy, and spotless lamb led to be sacrificed. Because of His free gift, death, and sacrifice, we can strive for holiness without being bound by the weighty perfection that underlies it. We are works in progress, and while that isn’t always how it was supposed to be, God is restoring us until we can someday rest in the eternity of perfection with Him.
“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:11-14, NIV).
Pray with me:
Lord, as I work through this perfectionism and the lies it tells me about myself, I know it’s going to be hard work. I acknowledge that you are God, and I am not. I pray and believe in the freedom this recovery process will lead to, and I want to let go of my perfectionism to increase you in my life. You are perfect, God, so I don’t have to be. As we work through this together, you and I, hand in hand, and with my counselor, friends, family, and Church, let it lead to lasting fruition, growth, and joy. Let it lead to eternal progress and healing. We praise, thank, and love you, Jesus. You are good, and you are here. Amen.
Praying Women by Sheila Walsh