When Perfectionism Becomes Poisonous

Some days something inside me seems to whisper “you’re not good enough, try harder, achieve more, be perfect.”

It’s annoying.

Sometimes it’s crushing.

Often I listen to the voice and let it drive me.

I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist. Age five, my self portrait on the yearly ‘class tea towel’ had eyebrows, eyelashes, teeth, and bows in my hair! And I always worked hard in school, simply for the satisfaction of achieving high grades.
But what I’ve often thought of as a healthy desire to do things well can have a destructive side too, for several reasons:

My standard is often arbitrary, and usually set higher than I can reach

And if i’m honest with myself I know that even on the rare occasion that I reach my arbitrary standard of achievement, the glow of success dissipates quickly, and I soon begin to strive again!

Being a ‘high achiever’ for its own sake cannot satisfy

Whatever I do and achieve, its not enough. Someone somewhere has achieved more, often much more. (Where did all these ridiculous child prodigies come from anyway?) And I can never feel satisfied for long, all I have to do is log into Facebook or Pinterest to see people achieving more, and looking better whilst doing it! It’s a never ending cycle.

Perfectionist can lead to forgetting or denying the gospel

Why is my standard for success and achievement set so highly? It’s like I’ve decided that the free gift of grace that Jesus offers is not the answer, and a life of endless striving is what I really want!

Somewhere along the line I have forgotten that in a fallen sinful world the things I do and achieve will never be perfect, and that even could they be, I was made for a different and greater purpose.

I am an ambassador for THE PERFECT ONE, the supreme achiever Jesus Christ!

To live my life focused on my own small achievements is idolatry, and profoundly short sighted and stupid. There will always be someone better looking, more popular, smarter, funnier, and godlier!

My purpose is to point people to Jesus, his beauty, his achievements on my behalf, and the awe-inspiring salvation he offers. In fact when I spend just a little while looking at the glory of Christ, I quickly feel sheepish for my own silly efforts to reach perfection! Like an ant thinking he can equal the majesty of a lion!

Perfectionism relies on individualism, everything becomes a competition against yourself and against those around you, and for the Christian, this too works against our real goal.

Our purpose is a collective one, which does not rely on my individual achievements, but on shared service as one of the members of the body of Christ. If I’m busy measuring my achievements against others – especially if they are my brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ve hugely missed the point!

What’s more, Jesus tells us that the nature of the kingdom of God, and service in this kingdom is the opposite of the way the world thinks. It’s a kingdom that looks small and insignificant to begin with. A kingdom sown in weakness and death, not fanfare and accolades. A kingdom of servants who follow the commands of a master who was despised, rejected and killed. A kingdom I can begin to reject with my perfectionistic and worldly way of measuring success.
Will I rewrite God’s kingdom plan in my drive to achieve perfection here and now?

My prayer is that when I hear these whispers I will assess them wisely.

Do I want to achieve highly for achievement’s sake? Is my focus on exalting myself, and achieving more highly than those around me? Am I willing to live a life that points to Christ and his perfection, even as he shows up my imperfections by his word? Will I learn to rejoice not only in the things I achieve for him, but also when (far more frequently) his strength is demonstrated in my weakness?

May God help us as we let him renew our minds!