I’m my own worst critic. Part of the problem is that I’m there to witness every one of my mistakes! Sometimes I attempt something and fail to perform as well as I think I could have. Other times I berate myself because I think I should have done something but didn’t even try. Either way, I am well-acquainted with that voice in my head that loves to remind me that I’ve fallen short.
That pesky internal companion has pressured me to perform “perfectly” since I was very young. As a child, I was driven to get straight A’s. My parents never overtly demanded honor roll achievement. Yet looking back, I recognize that they were perfectionists in their own right, whether it was striving for flawless Christian behavior, plowing the straightest corn rows, or keeping an immaculate house. I definitely inherited the perfectionist gene.
My drive for excellence continued in college, where homesickness and fear of failure my freshman year almost destroyed me. My desperate quest for perfection fueled a 4.0 g.p.a. my first term, but came at a high price mentally and emotionally. Yet reaching the brink only made me try harder, and I continued to pedal as fast as I could to keep from losing my status as a high achiever.
Unfortunately, as we all know, everyone eventually misses the mark, even straight-A students. None of us can maintain perfection in every area of our life, no matter how hard we try. But for us perfectionists, it can be a terrifying moment when we blow it. Our inner critic begins to shout viciously, replaying our failure over and over. Because we tend to link our performance with our worth, we begin to wonder, “Am I of less value now? Or even worse, “Will I be rejected?”
Over the years, I have learned that a supportive family, true friends and faithful colleagues will stand by my side, forgive me, and help me get back up when I’ve messed up. But what about God? A common perception is that He can’t wait to “zap” us when we’ve failed. Another view is that we must achieve as close to perfection as we can (or at a minimum be “good enough”) in order to earn His favor and get into heaven. This perspective only heightens the stakes to perform . . . and provides no assurance of knowing whether or not we’ve reached the illusive threshold of doing enough things right.
Thankfully, God’s Word tells a different story. When I reflect on the Old Testament, I don’t find a sanitized collection of holier-than-thou characters. Scripture is rife with imperfect people (Noah, David, Moses, Abraham, and Rahab, to name a few). Even though they made bad choices, including drunkenness, adultery, pride, lying, prostitution, and even murder, God used them to preserve the human race, lead nations, and produce a Godly lineage. They were loved by God—heroes of the faith who pleased Him. And they were as flawed as it comes.
The key always came down to their choices after their failures. When they acknowledged their sins, humbled their hearts and sought forgiveness, their relationships with God were restored and they were free to fulfill their divine destinies. King David described this transformation in Psalm 32: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. . . When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me . . . then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity . . . and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” David, though arguably one of the most well-known sinners in the Bible, was also called “a man after God’s own heart!”
The New Testament brings tidings of even greater news as it reveals the completion of God’s plan to redeem us. Colossians 1:21-22 (NIV) states “Once you were alienated from God . . .but now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” That sounds an awful lot like perfect! And better yet, there’s no mention about our behavior entering into the equation. Yes, we will all stand before a righteous judge to give an account of our acts upon the earth (Romans 14:12). . . but our acts will not be what determines our final destiny.
The beauty and grace of the gospel is that my salvation is not about what I do. It’s all about what Christ has already done on the cross. Because He died for my imperfections, I am made clean and my relationship with God is restored. At the end of my sophomore year in college, I made the choice to place my faith in Jesus Christ. At the moment I gave the reigns of my life over to God, my self-worth and entrance into heaven became based on Jesus. His death and resurrection covers my past, current and future shortcomings, and paves the way to ultimate perfection.
My personality hasn’t changed—I will always strive to do my best, but now I am free to make imperfect attempts at living a life that honors Christ. As a believer, I am motivated to do the “good works” God has prepared for me, not out of a desperate attempt to earn favor, but by my love for Him and others. I am guaranteed to fail along the way, but I know in those moments I can silence my inner critic by looking to the cross. It assures me that I am forgiven, loved, and promised eternal life free from condemnation. It provides the ultimate cure for perfectionism.
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22 (NIV)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 (NIV)
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 (NIV)
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” Jude 1:24-25 (NIV)
Lots of familiarity here. Thank you, Jane, for painting a clear picture of the truth. âJust as I amâ¦.â is how beautifully God sees us, not as we see and criticize ourselves.
Thanks, Mary! I love that song “Just As I Am.” A true picture of God’s grace!
Thank you for sharing! I so appreciate the list of Bible heroes, who obviously were flawed, and yet had a heart for God. I think as a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, at a base level, I don’t like making mistakes–it is humiliating–my pride gets damaged. But, it always helps me to know that God loves and accepts me the way I am–He doesn’t flinch or turn His back when I do blow it–He keeps loving me through my mistakes. 🙂
Yes, isn’t it wonderful that God loves us on our “worst day.”
Well said, as are all your essays! And here i thought welding was sure cure for perfectionism. Though I tend to the chronic underachiever side, the perfectionist streak is still there. I may not have the 4.0 or a decent 5K time, but the same striving is still there. It’s also hard to compliment a perfectionist, I’ve found, which is a wierd situation. I imagine God has the same trouble with encouraging perfectionists;
Keep writing Jane, it’s quite awesome! 🙂
Tambri, Thank you for your comments! I would definitely not describe you as an “underachiever!” You’re right, most of us have a streak of perfectionism in us. I think it’s hard for perfectionists to accept compliments because we often can pinpoint things we could have done even better. For me, I’m trying to learn to graciously accept compliments. In that vein, I truly appreciate your encouragement to keep writing!