"If I Could Only be Perfect … "
It happened when I was 12, but I remember the moment like it happened this morning. My older brother had gotten himself into trouble—again. My mom and I were folding laundry, talking about the situation and how worried she was about my brother's actions. Then she said to me, "I know we'll never have to worry about you, honey."
Now my mom meant it as a compliment. Her intention was to tell me she knew I was well-behaved and smart enough to avoid some of the stuff that had gotten my brother in hot water. But in my mind, her words set a huge weight on my shoulders. When she said, "We'll never have to worry about you," I heard, "Make sure we never have to worry about you."
That simple conversation set me on a mission—to be the perfect daughter. My goal was to make sure my parents never had a doubt about where I was, what I was doing or who I was with. So I never missed a curfew, never drank a beer, never hung out with anyone who might lead me into trouble.
Those few times I did get into trouble with my parents, I felt horrible. And even though I got off with a few stern words, I still felt like I'd let them down.
My desire to be perfect carried over to my relationship with God. I honestly thought God would love me more if I went to youth group, if I said my prayers, if I went to Bible camp. I believed I could impress God if I did all the right Christian things. I didn't always do those things because I wanted to. I did them because I wanted God to think I was perfect.
And I know I'm not the only one who has felt like being a good person—being a perfect Christian—is the key to God's heart.
The Problem with Perfection
Striving for excellence isn't always a bad thing. Doing our best is part of the Christian life. Way back in the Old Testament, God's people were told to "present as the Lord's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you" (Numbers 18:29). Even though God was talking about tithes and offerings, we know our whole lives are offerings to God, and that we need to give God our best.
The New Testament is just as clear. Matthew 5:48 says, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." We are supposed to shoot for the highest standard of goodness—God's goodness. And Paul tells the Corinthians, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).
But perfectionism is "doing our best" for all the wrong reasons. Perfectionism is about us, not about God.
I was being good because I thought it would help me earn love and acceptance. If my behavior pleased my parents, they'd love me even more. If my behavior pleased God, I'd earn his favor. I came to believe my worth was based on how good I was—and on how good other people thought I was.
Inside, I was stressed out. The pressure to be perfect was almost too much to handle. But I didn't think I could tell anyone how I felt because that would mean admitting I wasn't perfect. And that was the last thing I wanted to do.