When Perfectionism Is a Good Thing

Perfectionism. Now there’s a fun word.

Most of us are quick to bemoan the affect the desire for it has on our lives. Yet we remain addicted to its pursuit.

The definition of the word perfectionism means to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.

We could argue that perfection can never be achieved by imperfect people—which we surely are. But maybe the better question is why do we even try?

Why is perfection so important to us that we are willing to sacrifice health, relationships, sanity, time, and money in its pursuit?

In the original Hebrew language, some meanings of the word perfection include complete, unscathed, blameless, without fault, impeccable, honest, and devout.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but there isn’t a single one of those words that would describe me. If my wisdom and understanding is incomplete, if my motives aren’t always impeccable, my words not always honest, and my worship of God not always devout, why do I deceive myself into attempting perfection in anything I do?

But life was perfect once—when Adam and Eve first walked in the garden of Eden. Life was complete. They had everything they needed. They lived in contentment without fault and unscathed by sin. They were honest and devout. They were made in the image of God and He walked with them in the garden (see Genesis 1:27, 3:8).

The perfection of life in Eden, when man walked blamelessly and shamelessly with God, is imprinted in our DNA. Ever since man was removed from the garden, we have been like salmon frantically trying to swim upriver to return to the place from which we originated—the place of perfection. We don't know why we do it, but it is a compulsion we can't seem to stop.

Since Satan didn’t want us there to start with, he certainly doesn’t want us going back. His tactic to prevent this, though, is quite crafty. He convinces us that perfection is humanly possible. We can be perfect parents raising perfect children is we try hard enough. We can plan the perfect trip—as if we controlled the weather and a thousand other things—or perfect dinner. We can bake the perfect cake and find the perfect gift. We can prepare the perfect Sunday school lesson and write the perfect book…if we just try hard enough.

But all we get for our efforts is perfectly frustrated, perfectly exhausted, and perfectly discouraged.

Even more devious and clever is how the Enemy has also caused us to be hypercritical of ourselves. No wonder we feel a bit crazy all the time. We have bought into the idea that we are capable of achieving perfection on our own and as soon as we come even remotely close, the first thing he whispers in our ear is: "Check for the flaws and imperfections. After all, you're only human."

The good news is we aren’t wrong to believe that we can achieve perfection. The bad news is that we’re not right about what that looks like.

In Revelation 21, we read that God is making all things new. There will be a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more sorrow and suffering (see verses 1-5). And in Luke 23:43, Jesus tells the thief on the cross next to Him he will be with Him in Paradise that very day. The Greek word used here for paradise means a place of future happiness. It means Eden. We get to go home. We get to experience life as we were meant to experience it— complete, unscathed, blameless, without fault, impeccable, honest, and devout.

It almost sounds too good to be true…and that brings us to the place where our desire for perfection is actually a good thing.

There is something we need to do first before we can live in anticipation of a life in Paradise.

We must have faith.

Who has the power to bring us into the perfection we long for? Jesus. And He does it through our faith, not our talents, skills, or efforts.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2).

He died on the cross to restore us to our original state of perfection. He rose again so we could walk in it through our faith in what we have been promised.

This doesn’t mean we are going to do everything perfectly here on earth. Our lives won’t look perfect. We won’t be perfect parents, cake bakers, or lesson planners. But that doesn’t mean that perfection isn’t ours. Through the blood He shed on the cross, we have been given the gift of being seen as holy and righteous by God. And we know from His word that “…God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29).

We are right to long for perfection. And our search is not in vain when we look to Jesus for it.

If perfectionism causes us to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable, then it can only lead us in one direction— the foot of the cross.

So go ahead and embrace your desire for perfection. You'll know it when you see because it looks like a Savior on a cross.

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