Perfectionism is a fear-motivated response from a person not comfortable with who she is. She realizes something is wrong with her. She senses an “internal awkwardness.” She is not comfortable in her skin. Rather than fleeing to God to fix what is wrong, her solution is a “do it yourself” attitude.
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Her path to wholeness is through a performance-driven, perfectionistic mindset. Trying to be perfect is spiritual madness. It’s a mind gone mad. Perfectionism is untenable and illogical because it denies the transformative power of the gospel. The gospel says,
You are fallen. Brokenness is your identity. You are imperfect. Though change is what you need, you are not able to change yourself. Trying to fix what is wrong with you is futile. Transformation begins by distrusting yourself. Only Christ can repair you.
Rather than trusting God’s perfect plan, through a perfect person to transform imperfect people, the perfectionist is an “anti-believer.” She has bought Satan’s lie to Adam in the garden of Eden,
For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. – Genesis 3:5
The perfectionist practices self-atonement by attempting to do what only God can do. Her pseudo atonement comes through pseudo-perfection, which is manufactured by pseudo performance. This lifestyle is self-deceptive, exhausting, and relationally debilitating.
The perfectionist charts an anti-gospel plan to restore her broken soul. She is following the path of David, who attempted works righteousness to hide his brokenness.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. – Psalm 32:1-2
God gives spiritual and physical rest to His people. Christ is that rest. The person caught in a performance-based lifestyle never reaches the utopian goal of perfection. The harder she tries, the further her life will sink into the obsession.
David found rest after he acknowledged his imperfection. Initially, he sought to cover his brokenness. His futility led to spiritual suffering, physical debilitation, and relational dysfunction. Performance-driven people struggle in these three ways.
Finding freedom through admitting imperfection is why the message of the gospel is counter-intuitive to our Adamic worldview. To own imperfection is the worst possible scenario for the self-righteous performer.
Let the cross expose you
But when I stand at the foot of the cross and am seen by others under the light of that cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. – Milton Vincent, The Gospel Primer
If you are a performer, I plead with you to admit what the gospel declares about you. You were born depraved. You cannot be more broken, and there is nothing outside of the gospel you can do to fix this problem. Find help. Ask someone to teach you the practical gospel. Learning how to bring the gospel to bear on your soul is your biggest need.
Call to Action
The perfectionist has a deeply rooted theological problem that frustrates relationships. The cure begins in her theology, not in her relationships. The first questions to work through are theological.
- What is it about God that you struggle with, to the point you are unwilling to trust Him?
- Why is your problem with God so inhibiting that you rely on your good performance to fix what is wrong with you?
- What are the reasons you will not trust the Lord in this area of your life?
- Who (or what) were the shaping influences that created your self-reliant worldview and practice?
Practical and relational questions
- Do you know how to take your thoughts captive–to keep them from running down the perfectionist path?
- How is your pursuit of perfection affecting your relationships?
- Does your “perfection mentality” make it hard for your friends to correct you?
- What temptations motivate you to maintain your “perfect persona”?
- Do you lie, blame, criticize, justify, or rationalize your imperfections away to deceive your conscience into thinking you’re better than you are?