“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6
She was a truly lovely young woman. Long light brown hair and shining blue eyes. Easy smile and quick giggle that invited friendship. Attractive figured resulting from disciplined eating and regular exercise.
Her family adored her and peers chose her as a confidant and hang-out pal. Leadership oozed from her in an engaging way. Academics came easily for her and she accumulated awards for community service and work achievement over her young adult years. She mastered another language and loved other cultures, even lived overseas for a year as a Fulbright Scholar.
“I have overwhelming anxiety every day. I have a very hard time relaxing. Sometimes I can hardly breathe,” she told me when we began counseling and coaching. “I always feel I need to do more, be more, try harder. I hate it when I can’t be that person. That perfect person.”
After years of counseling wonderful Christian women of all ages, I often wished for a magic wand. I wanted to wave it over bent heads and weepy faces of precious God-fearing handmaidens that felt they were failing or not enough to please, well, anyone.
Doomed From the Start
When we sense constant scrutiny over our shoulder at work or whenever we walk through the front door of our home, we get nervous, confused, distracted, and jittery and sabotage our best efforts.
However, for most paralyzed perfectionists, the criticism comes from within their own thinking. Often the voice sounds like someone pronouncing the judgment: How could YOU do that? What a mess YOU made! What a failure/goof-up/waste-of-space/no-good…You are! What made YOU think YOU could do that? Why would anyone listen to YOU anyway?
When we take apart every detail of every thought and every action to assess our performance, we lose much and gain little. This behavior leads inevitably to procrastination, low productivity, missed deadlines, lateness and forgetfulness. We end up fulfilling the failure prophecy we spoke over ourselves.
Exhausting. Destructive. Not God’s plan.
Maybe OK In the Short Term
Cleaning the refrigerator or sorting the closet may be done to perfection (for as long as it lasts), or getting 100% on a test or exercising a full hour three times a week. For a singular project or set period of time, striving for perfection will perhaps bring out our best efforts and bring satisfaction. Maybe.
But as a lifestyle, we were not made for such an impossible destiny. We will simply wear out. Our expectation for perfectionism will spread to others and relationships will suffer and possibly end. The beauty of the moment, the overall joy of living gets trampled in the preoccupation with analyzing our thoughts, our day’s failures, and disappointments.
As students, we press to gain admission to a prestigious college, the perfect GPA, the impressive portfolio and resume, only to obtain a job that falls short of any dream we envisioned. As workers, professional perfection becomes a moving, unattainable target.
As parents, we might create the perfect nursery, but as soon as that precious bundle arrives, chaos comes too. We move beyond whatever control of our lives we thought we possessed. Small-to-large bodies fill our world with their own internal driving forces. Perfect parenting is written about in books that we try to emulate but cannot sustain for long.
Get the Paralysis Cure
What are we doing wrong? We love God and believe He deserves our best. Sadly, this mindset can dangerously lead us to pursue perfection. Let’s go back to the beginning. How did we start this journey with God?
Galatians 3:2-4 (MSG) says:
Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!
We must remember we belong to God. We are called to serve Christ and He is the One who is perfect, not us.
Hebrews 10:12-14 (MSG) says:
As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in. It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process.
This good news tells us we can be cured of perfection paralysis if we want the freedom to enjoy the life we have been given:
- We must allow ourselves to be imperfect. We should work hard, but debilitating anxiety is a sign of imbalance and unrealistic expectations.
- We can change our minds and make adjustments when we see a better way. But questioning everything before taking a step or speaking a word is paralyzing.
- We do not have to make every moment magical and memorable. Sometimes we need the margins of good enough rather than perfect to appreciate the simple rhythm and beauty right before us.
- We can permit ourselves to ask for help or allow others to assist our goals and then celebrate together.
- We need to think of ourselves the way God does, as lovable and worthy enough to send His Only Son to save us from our enslavement to sin and from the burden of earning righteousness through our own efforts.
Allow Christ to be the perfecter of our lives. As we learn to trust Him, He will change us from the inside out and we will become the best version of ourselves. We will never be perfect humans, but will be free to enjoy the journey of life, not aiming for perfection as the destination.
♡ Gail Goolsby is a life coach and serves as a Titus Woman for Proverbs 31 Woman.
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