Have you ever noticed that trying to please all people at all times is impossible? Why then do we feel pressure to perform up to the “standards” of others? We try without success to perform all that is expected of us, yet it is never enough. Reaching perfection in this world is unattainable, especially if you are trying to be perfect in the eyes of others. If anything it is exhausting, impossible work.
Though achieving perfection in the eyes of others is impossible, there is one who lovingly looks at us and always sees perfection. He doesn’t see our mistakes. The best part of it is that we don’t have to strive for perfection. Nothing we do will change his love for us. God lovingly looks at us and sees the perfect work of Christ. (The “us” here is referring to those who have believed in Christ through faith.) He has made us his own. God has bestowed his grace upon us; we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness. We no longer are compelled to obey sin and all its lusts. We are given the desire and ability to do what is righteous.
Since perfection in the eyes of man is impossible, why do we strive for it? One reason is because of pride. Pride makes us strive because we want to look good in front of others. We can’t ever make a mistake because we want to be considered perfect by everyone. Another aspect, which is a close relative to pride, is fear of rejection. Fear of rejection is s a strong motivator. If a person has a strong fear of rejection every action must be perfect. If they fail in their action they are ridden with guilt. They want to try and fix the mistake as soon as possible. When striving like this, the perfectionist becomes worn out. They just want to give up, which can be manifested in multiple ways.
How can perfectionism be dealt with? What can be done with the fear of rejection? First and foremost a change of perspective is needed. We must see the difference between perfectionism (trying to live up to an often unattainable standard) and being perfect (by who we are in Christ). God’s acceptance is really all that we need, and if we are “in Christ” we have already attained it. He will not reject us; He cannot. He is the one who has begun the work in our life and He is faithful to complete it. He is the author and finisher of our faith. When we fear man’s rejection we have put their opinion above God’s. That only leads to misery. “But”, you may say, ”What is wrong with wanting to please the people around you? Shouldn’t we try and do a good job?” Doing our best at the task at hand is important. We don’t want to be lazy. Yet, when our self-worth is based upon what man thinks, when we get obsessed with needing to do things perfectly or else we are a failure, we know that something is out of balance.
Perhaps another way that perfectionism can be dealt with is forgiving oneself when we do make a mistake. Of course, it is not only forgiving ourselves, but also moving on. I love the verses in Philippians 3.
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (Phi 3:12-16)
The goal here is Christlikeness, yet we know that we haven’t achieved that, at least not in full. Living in the past and being continually aware of our failures won’t help us to do any better. If we can just lay aside the sins that so easily beset us and run with patience, ever looking to Jesus (Heb. 12) we will experience joy. Keeping our eyes on the goal (being like Christ in Heaven) will motivate us to do what is right for the right reasons. We don’t have to try and perform to gain the good opinions of others. We don’t have to try and be perfect so as to not let “the world” down. We can rest in the promise that God is able to perform that which he has promised and he has promised, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phi 1:6)
In the end I am reminded of the words to a familiar song, Trust and Obey. The Christian life really can be summed up in those two words.
When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey –
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey.