Many people struggle with perfectionism – even if it’s not an issue in your life, you almost certainly know someone for whom it is. It has definitely been something I’ve needed to face in my walk with the Lord – after a lifetime of meticulously striving to get it all right and avoid making mistakes at all costs, trying, oh so hard, to make everything perfect and harshly beating myself up whenever I fell short.
We know it can’t be God’s way for us: even our best efforts never feel good enough and regularly result in disappointment and further anxiety, perhaps for some, even depression – the polar opposite of what we’re trying to achieve. And then there’s the damaging effect perfectionism has on our relationships: we set the bar as impossibly high for others as we do for ourselves, frequently refusing their help because ‘they won’t do it right’ and, in the process, diminishing their sense of worth and value as well as our own. It’s a cruel treadmill – a hard taskmaster - that always demands more.
Yet in the Bible we find these words Jesus spoke: ‘ be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ Surely our Lord Jesus can’t be advocating this restrictive lifestyle of striving that robs us of the freedom He won for us at such a price?
As I pondered this, the Lord reminded me of Hebrews 12:1, which talks of laying aside every weight and running the race set before us with endurance, and I realised there’s a difference between perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence that we are called to. Perfectionism often comes out of desperation to shut down inner anxiety, rooted in a sense of being unworthy of love and acceptance. We strive to earn personal worth and value by our own efforts and achievement, and thereby a sense of peace. That’s why failure is so devastating - it reinforces worthlessness and reconnects us to inner anxiety.
But the pursuit of excellence comes from the opposite – it comes from knowing we are loved and accepted by the Lord Jesus, not because we are worthy or have earned it, but because of the lengths He went to and His achievement on our behalf. Embracing the truth of the tremendous sacrifice He made and wondering at the prize He won for us – forgiveness, acceptance, a welcome into the open arms of our unconditionally loving heavenly Father – stirs a heart response of thankfulness and love for Him, that has its outworking in a passion for the pursuit of excellence in all that He has called us to. And, yes, we may be disappointed when we fail, but, when we know His love in our hearts, failure can’t alter the way we feel about ourselves. We’re forgiven! We’re loved anyway! We’re accepted! Nothing’s changed and our inner peace remains intact because it comes – not from us and what we’ve done - but from Him and what He’s done (John 14:27).
The enemy delights to keep us locked in perfectionism – inward looking at how we can be our own saviours, and holding us back from the destiny and fruitfulness our heavenly Father has called us to. Let’s turn our eyes upwards to Him today to receive His love and acceptance, and allow that passion to rise up in us – not to serve ourselves but to serve Him in the pursuit of excellence in all He has called us to.
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I’m sorry that I have tried to be my own Saviour, trying to earn a sense of personal worth and value through my own efforts. Thank You for the sacrifice You made for me on the cross. Thank You that my personal worth and value is in You. Thank You that the arms of the Father are wide open for me to run into. Please help me to stop in my tracks when I slip back into trying to earn my worth my own way, and please help me to open up to receiving Your forgiveness and Your love, and to respond with integrity and a passionate determination to run the race You have set before me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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