Perfect Standards for an Imperfect Soul
There are two different kinds of perfection I’m going explore in this. The first being perfectionism as the world sees it, particularly focussing on high standards. The second being perfection as God sees it. I personally believe the two are polar opposites of each other.The first is self-seeking and often defined by a fear of never being good enough. The second is a radical call to self-sacrificeentirely motivated by love.
When 'perfect' isn’t good enough…
I have dedicated as much time as possible of the last 21 years of my life to becoming ‘perfect.’ I have always loved being the best and frankly being ‘Miss Average’ terrifies me. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve, but when perfectionism crept in, I lost all perspective. I became disillusioned and focused on myself. It has been an idol I have worshipped and placed before Jesus so many times.
For me, it took shape in academia and my relationship with God. I worked out of fear through my time at school to get the grades I deemed as ‘perfect.’ The fear of not reaching my high standards became uncontrollable to a point where I had constant panic attacks. In terms of my relationship with God, I was constantly striving, always trying to make it better. I wanted to be the perfect Christian and have my life sorted. I slowly but surely lost all perspective.
This left me feeling far from perfect. In fact, I felt worthless and disappointed in myself. In this place, I would project these feelings onto my relationship with God, constantly asking Him to enable me to reach the bar I had set for myself. Then my eyes were opened. As I was praying about all of this God gave me a picture of me doing high jump, but I was constantly missing the bar. I then saw Jesus walk over and instead of him lifting the bar as I had expected, He took the bar away and said, ‘Sarah, I never placed these expectations on you.’
I don’t know if you have ever felt that this - if you’ve ever been deeply disappointed with not being able to attain the high standards placed on you by society, by friends, family or even yourself? What is it in your life that you so desperately try to improve? Is it your exam results, relationships, your looks…? For each of us there will most probably be an area in our lives we try to make ‘perfect.’ Now I’m not saying setting goals or wanting to be good at something is necessarily a bad thing. However, we can’t allow this to define us, to steal or compromise our identity as children of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)
The mask of perfectionism…
If I truly allowed the word of God to define me, would I strive for this kind of perfectionism? The painful, but honest, answer is ‘no’. We live in a fallen world which parades around in a mask of this so called ‘perfectionism’.
A mask, that’s all it is.
The mask can take many different forms, which we each customise with our own fears and anxieties. Pride is a common feature of this mask, as perfectionism holds a fierce independence to do things in our own strength. But this is far from the words of Jesus, who knew he could do literally nothing in his own strength – ‘I can do nothing on my own.’ (John 5:30) This is the Son of God, the perfect and blameless one, the one who defeated death - yet his identity was not fashioned from his own achievement, but from his relationship to the Father.
In wearing this mask we don’t allow ourselves or others to see who we truly are. We hope that one day we will reach this standard of achievement, but deep down we know that actually this stuff will never fully satisfy us.
Lovely one, I urge you to take off your mask and to invite Jesus into that area of your life, let His perfect love drive out all fear and allow His word to realign your perspective. If like me, you know that striving for high standards and perfectionism is a weakness for you, then allow God into that place. We have the incredible promise that in our place of weakness the perfection of His power is made known (2 Corinthians 12:9). I’m not saying this will be an overnight change, but I believe as we submit to the process of being transformed into His likeness there is grace for every stage of the journey.
A different kind of perfection…
‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48).
As I said earlier when the Bible speaks of perfection it is on a whole different level to perfectionism we see in our day to day lives. Matthew 5 is all about the radical, counter-cultural nature of the Kingdom of God; to live in humility (v3), being a light in the world (v 14) and to love our enemies (v44). It is in this context that Jesus calls us to a life of perfection. As John Wesley wrote: ‘He well knew how ready our unbelief would be to cry out, this is impossible! And therefore stakes upon it all the power, truth, and faithfulness of him to whom all things are possible.’
Jesus is perfection itself.
On the cross He stood in our place, laid on Him all our imperfections that He would become our perfection. Lovely one, there is a higher call on your life, not that you have to attain perfection by your own efforts, but Jesus, the perfect one has won for us a life of overflowing with love, not dictated by the law and a set of impossible standards to attain. You are not defined by your outward appearance, your grades, your relationships, but rather you are defined solely by love. Your life has value and purpose because of who He is, not because of what you achieve. My prayer for you is that you would know heaven’s perspective and grace in abundance as you choose to live by a different standard of perfection.
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Hi, I’m Sarah and I’ve just finished my second year as a Social Work Student. I have the privilege of living in the beautiful city of Oxford and it’s fair to say I have totally fallen in love with it. When I’m not studying I love spending as much time as I can with the many wonderful people in my life. I am passionate about seeing God’s justice outworked for the oppressed and voiceless and love seeing His word radically transforming the hearts of the broken.