Six things we miss when we’re too busy being perfect
I thought that I’d left Perfectionist Jill behind and that her ways didn’t affect me anymore, but I was wrong. Perfectionist Jill recently made an appearance during a visit to Board+Brush, a place where you make your own wooden decor.
My friends and I were to paint stencils on our signs, which sounds simple until you remember that I’m not crafty and simultaneously want to be amazing at everything (I live with a lot of tension). After 120 minutes of hard work, I lifted the stencil off to reveal a hot mess of paint outside the lines. Never mind that our class coach continuously told us that this was a stress-free-zone…I wanted to scream.
When I asked for a small brush to touch up areas that weren’t up to par, our coach told me, “You know it’s not going to be perfect. It’s not supposed to be.”
Blergh. But I want to be perfect.
As the coach handed me the small brush, I knew she spoke truth. DIY art projects—and life—will never turn out as we expect.
Kristin Neff writes in Self-Compassion, “Where is that written contract you signed before birth promising that you’d be perfect, that you’d never fail, and that your life would be absolutely the way you want it to be? Uh, excuse me. there must be some error. I signed up for the “everything will go swimmingly until the day I die” plan. Can I speak to the management please?”
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I thought that was the plan I signed up for, which is probably why I’m confused when my paint bleeds outside the lines or, in real life, when my goals, dreams, and expectations are sidetracked by trials and pain.
And while the perfection plan sounds, well…perfect, there are six pitfalls to perfection.
Timothy Keller outlines them in his book, The Prodigal God:
- I get angry. When my art project, my day, or my work doesn’t turn out how I expect, I get angry at myself and anyone in my blast zone.
- I feel superior. When things go like I want—the metrics are met, the cake looks amazing, all the to-do’s are checked—I puff up with pride.
- I miss out on joy. As I scraped paint and retraced lines, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was laser-focused on the end game, so I wasn’t enjoying the process.
- I get bored and frustrated. When I’m worked up about being perfect, I get irritated and feel confined.
- I’m insecure. I’m never sure that I’m doing enough, so I constantly seek outward approval and assurance that I’m loved. If I don’t get this, then I start to put down others.
- I kill relationships. As Holley Gerth writes, “Perfectionism kills love. The two simply can’t coexist. One is about performance and the other is about relationship.”
Not only do I suffer from the perfection pitfalls, but they cause me to ignore Jesus.
I avoid Him.
Brennan Manning writes in The Importance of Being Foolish, “The self-righteous…put their trust in what they had merited by their own efforts and closed their hearts to the message of salvation.” (Matthew 23:27–28)
I make Him my helper and become my own savior.
As Keller writes in Prodigal God, “When you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey Him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but He is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior.”
I desire perfection, but God has something better in mind.
God desires relationship with Him.
What if we strived to be faithful to grace and love rather than being right? God wants to spend time with us as we are, even when our paint is outside the lines. He wants us to ask Him about His thoughts and for His wisdom. He delights in our imperfection.
God desires that we love others.
While paint overran my project, what was I not doing? Asking how I could help my friends or seeing what they needed. My nose was inches from that board. I could see nothing else.
But God didn’t call us to this way of life. As Shaunti Feldhan wrote in The Kindness Challenge, “Serve your guts out. There is not a single person here who is an interruption to your day.”
How that sticks a dagger in my heart. While I’m busy obsessing about being perfect, I don’t see others. Perfectionism is the most self-serving way to live.
I want to be perfect, but I’ll stick with love instead.
Despite my perfectionist tendencies, I ended up enjoying my sign-making experience, and now I have a Christmas gift to give.
But what if I’d expended less mental energy on perfecting the piece and more on pouring love into it? There’s a reason that God doesn’t want us chasing perfectionism: there are too many pitfalls to experience, and it doesn’t serve us well. But love always will… even when the paint runs outside the lines.
If you’d like to let go of perfectionism and grab grace instead, click here to get a free download of resources that will help you do just that!