The Drive for Perfection

It's a dead-end street.
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Company's coming! Our house must resemble House Beautiful, or heads will roll. I could feel my anger rising. How many times had I shown her how to put the towels in that closet? Yet, there they were, uneven again.

Have you ever seen the reactions of those who live with perfectionists? They look like a deer caught in the headlights.

Perfectionism creates distance between us and those around us. Some people feel intimidated by those who effortlessly do things perfectly. It squelches their desire to even try.

Perfectionism is an indicator that I am more concerned about me than I am about anyone else. While I can rationalize that striving for perfection is merely wanting things to be nice for those around me, that's a smokescreen. It's all about me.

Just a side note—a person can be demanding without sounding demanding. You can sugar coat anything. Not sure if you're demanding? Here's a quick test. If someone doesn't live up to your expectations, how do you respond outwardly? How about inwardly?

Why perfectionism?

I am a recovering perfectionist who sometimes falls off the wagon. And though I know perfection is unattainable, still I strive for it. Like the proverbial hamster, I get on a treadmill and run my heart out.

I may struggle with perfectionism because (surprise!) life wasn't perfect as I was growing up. Desperately wanting acceptance, I tried to please everyone around me. When I was in the second grade, my dad announced that if any of us got all As on our report card, he would give us five dollars. Finally the day came when Mrs. Aaken handed out our report cards. I could scarcely believe it when I saw the nice row of As. In my giddiness I turned to the boy behind me and started writing on his report card with my pencil, "John is bad."

The next thing I knew, I was summoned to the teacher's desk. She asked for my report card, and after making some mark on it, she returned it to me. I could scarcely believe it. She had changed one of my As to a B.

Later, when I tried explaining to my dad that I really had all As, he dismissed my explanation. Watching my sister proudly display her A-filled report card made the whole experience even worse.

How can we get off the perfectionist ride?

In 1 Corinthians 4:4-5, Paul reminds us of who our judge is: "It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. So don't make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due."

Not only is God the one who does the judging, but he will be the one to give us praise. In Galatians 1:10, Paul asks, "Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant." I had been trying to do both—please God and please people. In fact, I thought I was pleasing God by pleasing those around me. And I ended up feeling unaccepted by everyone.

Jesus, who was perfect, did not think perfection was something to grasp. Philippians 2:5-6 says, "You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to." Yet sometimes we grasp our perceived perfection and hold on with all our might. We do not believe God accepts us just as we are, but are trying to prove we are worthy.

If God had wanted to, he could have instantly transferred us to heaven the moment we accepted Christ as our Savior. Instead, his plan is to let us remain here on earth where he can transform us into Christ's image day by day, hour by hour, as we struggle with imperfection.

We live in an imperfect world. But that's okay, because God accepts us in all our imperfection. One day he will take us home, which will be much better than House Beautiful, and where everything, including us, will be perfect.

Anne Peterson is a poet, speaker, and author of over 42 published Bible studies. You can learn more about her at

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