More thoughts while cooking dinner, because I apparently think of many things OTHER than the food that is right in front of me (which may explain why I end up getting stabbed and hit a lot with sharp utensil and catapulting cut veggies): perfectionism is an absolutely crazy disease.
Perfectionism is the striving for perfection, for utter completion, a work completely lacking in mistake or error. Perfectionism is the call inside of your mind that you must look at every detail, compare it to an invisible standard, and then gauge whether it is, indeed, perfect. The perfect flaw in perfectionism is the fact that perfection does not even exist in this world. Perfection lies only within that which lies completely outside of time, outside of space, outside of humanity itself: only God is perfect. He was the one who designed the world, and He designed it perfectly. There was no need for change, no need for editing, no need for self doubt – He got it entirely, completely right, and it was good.
Sin entered into the world, and that all got terribly jumbled, but nonetheless, our souls long for perfection once again. We long for completion. We desire that one-ness, that unity that we will never be able to get this side of Heaven. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t get into the humanistic rut of trying, and trying, and trying, and trying.
So, when we are being perfectionistic, to what standard are we adhering to? If we are to truly desire to be perfect, then it would make sense that we would try to conform to the ideas of the one that created perfection and created creation perfectly. But I don’t believe that’s what we are trying to do. Our disease of sin makes us believe that our standard is something that we can see with our eyes and receive with our five senses – other people, what the world may tell us, how we feel, what “religion” tell us. It’s like the ache inside of us for that perfection, that “it shouldn’t be like this” pain that pokes and prods when it’s least expected (and sometimes not even wanted), reminds us that there is supposed to more than all of this. And there is. There is so much more than all of this. But we break ourselves trying to reconstruct that “more” here on earth with broken tools and collapsing mist rather than leaning into the Creator and His promises for restoration, for reconciliation, and for perfection in eternity.
And to throw this in here: I think we know on a deep level that God’s perfection was NEVER something we were going to reach. Which may be another reason why we try to create perfection using a worldly standard, because we know in our heart that we could never measure up to that weight. But that is why He sent Jesus. That is why He paid the cost for our salvation, because it was only ever going to be Him that was able to free us from the captivity that we ourselves took on.
With that being said, I truly believe that it is important to work and work hard. I believe there is joy in that, and that there should be joy in all the work that you, even if the joy is stemming from simple obedience to God rather than joy in the job itself (and I could argue that that joy could potentially contain more lasting value, because it is setting yourself up for an eternal perspective by working your faith muscles and carving out a thought pathway inside of your brain that will help you in all that you do). And I believe that God calls us to bring Heaven down to earth in our interactions with people, in the way that we conduct in our lives, in the way that we raise our children and have relationships with the younger generation, in the way that we forgive, and we need to strive for that. We are all striving for something; even those who are passive are striving to maintain their life of passivity. We are all heading towards something, especially considering life only goes one way, and I believe that God knows this and gives us the remedy is showing us HOW we are to strive.
So, here is my thing: I have a tendency to be a perfectionist. I believe part of this is because God gave me a strong work ethic and particular gifts that ALLOW me to be able to strive for quality work, while also ALLOWING me to be able to get close to my idea of what the end result of my work should look like. But this is also due to my sinful default of taking good gifts and making them all about me, how I view myself, and how I want others to view me. In order to combat against that, I need to “motive check” something fierce. When I am working hard, I need to mentally peak into where my head is and where it is going. If I don’t, I find myself looking back and wondering how I even got on this road (or wondering why I am on the floor crying, clutching my spatula).
If I find that I am working hard and getting upset because I can’t get it as perfect as I imagine I should be able to, and can’t get it as perfect as some other person probably could, I am just defaulting into my disease rather than leaning into my freedom. God never asked me to be perfect, and He is the one who needs to be my standard – so why I am trying so hard? And why, when He just wants me to rest in Him and give me the joy that comes from being with Him and knowing Him, am I doing practically everything I can to suck out that very joy? The devil is a schemer, and he knows exactly the tune to play to get me going in every direction but where I should be going – and perfectionism is my favorite song, and I play it on repeat way too often.
God already created perfection once in Eden, and when sin came crashing down upon us in a tidal wave of disaster, it’s like we started believing that we could recreate that perfection ourselves. And considering I am human, I still struggle with that. The more He perfects me in His image, the less it completely tosses me in the air, but still, I struggle. And yet, this disease of perfectionism with the perfect flaw comes with a remedy: submission. And this submission is of the sweetest kind, because of WHO I am submitting to. I am submitting in obedience to a Father who is whispering, “Come here, child. I just want you to be with me. Just be with me here.” He wraps me in His arms (spatula and all), and gives me sweet giggle kisses. That is where I am supposed to be. That is where my joy is. He is where my joy is, and as long as I keep my eyes focused on Him (as difficult as that is), I can stop looking all around me for confirmation of my value.
So, actually, perhaps the remedy to perfectionism is the very thing that we threw away so quickly when looking for a standard. For in the end, God’s perfect grace covers us perfectly, and when He looks at us, He sees Jesus – His true perfection. We may not be able to follow God’s law perfectly, but we can strive to follow in obedience His standards for a Christian life… and those standards rest in resting in Him, His grace, His forgiveness, and His never-ending love. And that’s what I want to do.