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Be Freed From Perfectionism

Sign with perfectionism crossed off.

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” 

G.K. Chesterton

Perfectionism Paralysis

Perfectionism paralyzes. For perfectionists, the perfect is the enemy of the good. According to productivity gurus, it’s also the enemy of the done

Because perfectionism is crippling. When the project looked great on Pinterest, but then the drive to make it match the pin made you freeze? Like when I a blog post and feel so overwhelmed by the thought of knocking it out of the park that I grab a bowl of popcorn and pour a cup of tea and dust those cobwebs in the corner and grab another snack and… well- the post never gets started, much less done.

We’ve all been there. In fact, I just left my last stop there about an hour ago. Now I’m soaking in the wisdom of just doing something. Namely, of imperfectly writing this.

Because when it comes right down to it, I agree with G.K. Chesterton that, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” And, honestly, as D.L. Moody once told a critic, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” 

Or as I often remark, “Something is better than nothing.”

Perfectionism Stifles Growth

But we’d best define terms. I’ll borrow Jon Bloom’s definitions of both perfectionism and excellence. They’re not the same.

What we call perfectionism is not the same as the pursuit of excellence, though sometimes the lines can blur. When we pursue excellence, we’re determined to do something as well as possible within a given set of talent, resource, and time limits. But perfectionism is a pride- or fear-based compulsion that either fuels our obsessive fixation on doing something perfectly or paralyzes us from acting at all — both of which often result in the harmful neglect of other necessary or good things.

His clarification is important. Children of the King are called to excellence, to working “wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23). The focus is God. But that is entirely different from a self-focused orientation that insists on flawless, likely motivated by fear or pride to win others’ approval.

In one area or another we all have an inner drive to excel. Whether running a faster mile, proofreading before sending, or becoming a better listener- we strive to do well.

Making good resolves is a healthy way to grow.

Perfectionism Or Healthy Striving? 

But perfectionism is not a healthy pursuit of excellence. Those who strive for excellence- and, dare I say for *perfection?– in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards.

I do this when I strive to make a batch of chewy chocolate chip cookies or teach a lesson that drives a point home or write in a compelling way that makes you want to read it. I enjoy this sort of striving. But perfectionism does not promote joy. Instead, it leads to discouragement, self-pity, and fear.

Though not overtly “Christian,” this article is insightful on the distinctions between paralyzing perfectionism and healthy striving. 

Perfectionism

  • Never being satisfied by anything less than perfection
  • Becoming depressed when faced with failure or disappointment
  • Being preoccupied with fears of failure and disapproval
  • Seeing mistakes as evidence of unworthiness
  • Becoming overly defensive when criticized

Healthy Striving

  • Enjoying process as well as outcome
  • Bouncing back quickly from failure or disappointment
  • Keeping normal anxiety and fear of failure within bounds
  • Seeing mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning
  • Reacting positively to helpful criticism

Do you see the difference? Are you more of a perfectionist or a healthy striver? Your focus probably determines your answer.

Focusing on Christ leads to freedom. Fixation on self enslaves. 

Be Freed From Perfectionism

I struggle to rest in God’s grace when I am so aware of my failure, a friend confided. I can relate. I suspect every Christian who struggles with perfectionism can.

Can you rest in the grace of God when you miss the mark? In other words, can you know God’s love when your life is an imperfect mess? 

The answer is a resounding YES!  But only if our focus is right. Jon Bloom again, 

God has something far better for us to strive toward than our idealized imaginations of perfection, which only end up enslaving us.

Perfectionism’s subtle, but great danger is its self-orientation. Since it is a fear- or pride-fueled effort to win approval for the self, its primary focus is de facto on self, not God or others. In other words, perfectionism, even in the battle against sin, is not motivated by love or faith. And “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom.14:23).

But God wants us to be free — free from the tyranny of pride and fear. He wants us to live in the freedom of knowing that he has our past, present, and future perfection issues completely covered.

Do you want to be freed from perfectionism?

Look For Growth

In our ongoing battles with failure and sin, we must know that God is not looking for perfect, externally performed behavior. He is looking for us to look to Him. He is looking for faith that works through love (Gal. 5:6) and for us to trust in his love (Psalm 147:11).

God is not concerned with our never falling, but at our getting up again (Prov. 24:16a). Our heavenly Father wants to see us grow (2 Peter 3:18, Ephesians 4:15, 1 Timothy 4:15).

Remember, growth implies we haven’t arrived. If we were already perfect, there wouldn’t be room for growth. But God’s call for us to grow also means we shouldn’t be not stagnant and stuck. Or paralyzed by perfectionism.

Because when God commands a thing, he also enables it. The God who calls us to grow, gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). And that God calls us to grow also means he knows that there’s room for growth. He knows. 

Can you rest there? 

There’s Grace For That

A friend and I tag that on a lot when we talk, and confess our sins to each other. “There’s grace for that,” we say. For my being late, again; for her overeating, again; for my hasty words that cut, again. 

That’s why He died. That is the gospel, my friends. If we were already perfect, Christ wouldn’t have died for us. He loved us and gave himself for us when we were dead in our sins. Perfectly dead.

That truth knocks the perfectionist breath right out of me. 

Because Scripture is clear: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:4-5).  This is true.

This truth has power to demolish the lie that you can only please God and know his love if you are perfect. It is both humbling and exalting.

Because, as Timothy Keller so poignantly put it, 

We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. 

Maybe we recovering perfectionists ought to write that out and tape it to our bathroom mirrors. Then maybe we should to take a tour through the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11.

Commended for Faith, not Perfection

I did that with my Sunday school class yesterday. And it was so refreshing to see the very imperfect saints on the walls in there.

There’s Rahab the prostitute and Samson the proud who loved a prostitute, Jephthah the reckless and Abraham the liar, there’s Noah the drunk, David the adulterer, and Moses the murderer– just to name a few.

And all these, though commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised (Hebrews 11:39). Do you see? These were not commended for being perfect. They were commended for their faith.

But perfection will come. In fact, the very next verse tells us when perfection will come. It will for the ancient saints when it comes for us (Heb. 11:40). We will be made perfect together in glory, when we see see Jesus face to face.

Until then, we press on in faith and love. But we do so with our gaze on the God who loves us so and has already made us his own.

And with Him in focus, and his grace, we can be freed from perfectionism.

Not that I’ve already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12

*P.S.- I know it. I didn’t deal with the command to “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). But stay tuned. I will.

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Resolved, Muddy and Tattered

We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. -C. S. Lewis, Letters, 1/20/42


Why We Don’t Resolve

A quick survey of seven friends found one of seven was. Some of the six shrugged. One grimaced.

Why don’t we start the New Year with a resolution or two? Reasons tend to fall in one of two groups. Either for sloth of soul or for fear of failure many of us resist resolving.

Some of us opt out of New Year’s Resolutions because they’re so much work. We like comfort and quick and saying no to snacks after six and reading the Word before checking Facebook and proofreading each email before we click send- these take much sweat and effort and self-control.

And we don’t want to fight those good fights. We’ve got work to do and kids to feed and ministry. Maybe next year. We’re not ready. Not yet.

But it seems most who don’t resist resolutions because they know they’ll fall. Whether two months, or two days, or two hours in we know we’ll fail. It’s just a matter of time. Maybe we fear stumbling along the right road more than we fear drifting along the wrong. We let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We’re afraid of falling in the mud.


Somehow we seem to forget that perfect will only happen in heaven and glory won’t come fully until we behold his face. Our work now is to get in the race and fight the good (but imperfect) fight of faith. But we’re afraid to fall. 

3 Reasons We Should 

1. RESOLVE: To know God’s power in the fight.

C.S. Lewis knew of whence we speak, of what we fear, at the start of the new year.

I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc. don’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of his presence. (Letters, January 20, 1942)

So up and at ’em. Get in the fray. Resolve today. Because though a righteous man falls seven times, he gets up again (Proverbs 24:16a). But a coward watches clean from the couch. And cuddled in, clean and dry, he doesn’t much notice God’s power.

You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down, Lewis also said. We don’t know the strength of the evil until we try to fight it. Likewise, we don’t know the power of our God for us who believe until we face off, do battle, resolve.

2. RESOLVE: To avoid greater cost later. 

Waiting may be costly. Strike while the iron’s hot and all that. Resolve now. We know the agony that comes when we wait too long. The sale’s over and we pay more.

Rory Vaden is a motivational speaker. It’s hard to argue his premise that success of any sort requires self-discipline. He quips,

Procrastination and indulgence are nothing more than creditors that charge you interest.  

He’s right. We eat too much and we feel sick and gain weight. That’s costly. We spew angry words and lose friends. Very costly. We don’t proof our memos and take triple the time undoing the confusion. Big interest. We push snooze again and rush off to the tune of a $200 speeding ticket. Procrastination and indulgence are costly. 

Ultimately, left unchecked, they cost us our souls. Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion (Hebrews 3:15). Or, as Sam Gamgee said, It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.

3. RESOLVE: To see Christ exalted. 

The Apostle Paul was a resolver. He resolved, he made it his ambition, to preach where Christ had not been named (Romans 15:10), to know nothing but Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), to minister in Rome (Acts 19:21), to name a few.

And Paul encouraged good, faith-filled, resolves among believers. Without faith it’s impossible to please God and whatever does not come from faith is sin. Resolves made, and-even worse-kept, without faith cannot be good and only tend to pride.

The proof text in support of  making of good resolves is 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12,

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 Tracking Paul’s train of thought here is vital for us to make good resolutions. We must:
1. Go after that good resolve by faith; relying on God to help us will and act.
2. Know God’s power is at work to pick us up and fulfill the good resolve.
3. Strive so that Jesus Christ gets the glory; get up and go on when muddied.

How then should we resolve? 

By God’s grace, through faith in His power, and for His glory, John Piper answers. That, I think, is what Paul means in 2 Thessalonians 1:11, that God may make you worthy of his calling. That’s what Christian resolves are: we work out while Christ works what is pleasing to him in us (Philippians 2:12).

They’re not about worthy as in deserve or merit or earn, but worthy as in preferring His worth over other things. When we don’t settle for short-term pleasures in overeating and gossiping and grumbling we value God’s worth. That is what makes us worthy of his calling.

We see that meaning of worthy Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22,

And he sent his servant to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’…But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business…Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready but those invited were not worthy.’

That’s what this and other New Testament references* to our being worthy mean. We can never merit or deserve or earn Christ or his welcome to the kingdom. But God graciously allows gives us eyes to see him and his kingdom as infinitely valuable- as worthy.

So we resolve and walk worthy. We treasure knowing Him. We trust the mud en route to the feast is worth the effort. That is, I think, what Paul means by praying that God makes us “worthy of his calling.”


The Opposite of Resolved

The opposite of resolved is not a happy-go-lucky drift to holiness. We only drift one direction and it’s not toward heaven. Not to resolve is to be undecided and irresolute. It’s limping between two opinions. It’s thinking, I really should stop ____ (eating, talking, scrolling), but not yet. 

Whenever we see something we should be doing that we’re not doing we should resolve to do it and whenever we see something we’re doing that we shouldn’t be doing, we should resolve not to. To walk worthy, to see God’s power, to exalt Jesus. We should resolve. So help us God.

How long will you go on limping between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow him, if Baal is God follow him,  Elijah challenged the Israelites. It’s the same this January 1st. Don’t be afraid to commit. Don’t be irresolute. Don’t go on limping. Don’t waffle. Resolve. Act.

Why don’t we resolve today? Oh, sure, we will fall and get a little muddy. But we will rise. 

And the towels will be out and our clean clothes airing.  

Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
Jude 24-25

*The worth of the guests is their embrace of the worth of the feast. You can see it in walk worthy (Ephesians 4:1), and worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27), and worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10), and worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:12), and worthy of the kingdom (2 Thessalonians 1:5). In every case, this is what it means to be “worthy of the Lord.”  John Piper explains, we find that our worthiness is not our deserving or meriting or earning, but rather our seeing and savoring something of infinite worth. Our worthiness is our preferring that worth above all things.