Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The Poison of Perfectionism
In our home, things had to be done perfectly. If I cleaned a bathroom and every inch did not sparkle, I often had to redo the job. When I learned to iron my father's work shirts, they were thoroughly inspected for any signs of wrinkles. If one was found, I had to iron that area again until it looked as good as a dress shirt. Even dusting furniture had to be done to perfection. Believe me, it is not easy pleasing someone whose goal in life is to be perfect.
Little did I realize that my mother's emphasis on perfection had also infected my outlook on life. This became clear to me in my young married days. I had a dear friend who had been married longer than I and had a couple of children. She was an excellent cook, could sew up a storm (including suits and coats for her husband and children), was a master at ceramics, could crochet and do many other crafts with outstanding ability. She attempted to teach me some of the things she had learned. I managed to learn how to crochet, I even sewed a suit for myself (after heavy labor on my part) and my cooking improved. However, I always felt inferior around her. She always seemed to have everything together and under control. She was a "Betty Crocker" and "Martha Stewart" rolled into one person. Why couldn't I be like that?
If truth be told, I enjoyed crocheting and working on some things such as embroidery, but I never enjoyed sewing. It did not come naturally for me. I didn't care for ceramics either. Somehow, I thought I must not be a very good homemaker. My friend looked perfect, and I wanted to look that way too with a model house, well scrubbed floors, and happy children. The old sin of envy and unhappiness crept into my life because I felt I did not measure up to my own standards of perfection.
Several years later, my friend confided in me that she had been having marital problems. Her husband worked long hours, the children did not always appreciate her and her efforts on their behalf, and she nearly got into serious trouble on several jobs. She went for counseling which helped to some extent, but her perfect world did not look so perfect any longer. Tragically, she died in an auto accident a number of years ago.
As I reflected on her life, I realized that I had built up a wrong perception of her which led me to dissatisfaction with my own life. I was measuring myself by another rather than seeing how God had made me. 2 Corinthians 10:12 reads: "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise." Paul has it right here. We are not to measure ourselves by ourselves. We are to look at our lives in light of God's Word. We are not nor can we be perfect. There was only one who was perfect and that was our Savior Jesus Christ. He is the one who not only saved us but is daily perfecting us according to His will for our lives.
What I discovered about my friend is that her life was not as perfect as I thought it was. I had fooled myself and this led to unhappiness and envy on my part. Now, in the later part of my life, I have come to understand that God has made each one of us for His glory. He did not mean for us to be carbon copies. My friend had talents I did not possess. I had talents which she did not possess. Indeed Isaiah said it well in 49:9: "What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, 'Stop you are doing it wrong!' Does the pot exclaim, 'How clumsy can you be?'" This is a picture of a perfectionist. We, who are made by an Almighty Creator, dare to challenge Him in how He made us and the place where He has planted us.
Reality, as found in the Word, tells us that the measure of a man or woman is not found in a sparkling bathroom, a perfect home, scrubbed, polite children, or the ability cook like Gordon Ramsey. Our worth, our purpose and our significance are found in Jesus Christ. When we begin to comprehend this, we will break off the shackles of perfectionism that have kept us in envy, insecurity and inferiority. We are made whole in Christ. We lack nothing in Him. He gives us all we need for life and godliness.
When we are tempted towards perfectionism, we must step back and pray for His grace so that we may walk by the Spirit and not in our flesh. Our good works, we must remember, are as filthy rags before our holy God. However, in Him, we are more than conquerors in Christ. Lets focus on Him and less on others or circumstances around us. Selah!