Perfectionism is a curse. There’s just no way around it. I don’t know of anything else that holds people captive so quietly and subtly the way perfectionism does. I’m not talking about perfectionism for wanting things to look nice or be a certain way (which is quite frankly a different curse altogether). I’m talking about that fearful, captivating need to be right or correct. Say the right things, do the right things, be the right things, and otherwise hold ourselves to a standard of behavior and action that we haven’t seen anywhere else but are sure we can be the first to achieve.
And the more we chase it the more worthless we feel. Because the curse of perfectionism lies less in trying to attain it, and more in how quickly we’re completely abandoned by it when something goes wrong. We feel pretty good about ourselves when we’re ticking off the boxes of our “rightness” to-do list, but the second we come to a box that leaves us falling short, it all falls apart. Gone are the feelings that we might be making it and getting it right, and in swoop the feelings that we are absolutely worthless. That’s how cruel perfection is. It keeps people in its grasp slamming back and forth between two extremes. You must be perfect or worthless. There is no in-between.
Perfection is only possible in brief, passing glimmers. They’re here one day and gone the next.
So if you want to be perfect, truly perfect, then you have to grab one of those brief moments of perfection and freeze it. Freeze it, and freeze along with it. Try to stretch out that moment of perfection for all it’s worth and don’t move a muscle in any direction or the moment will pass and the glimmer will be gone and you will be imperfect once again. In doing this, you will become perfect, but nothing more. For to freeze at that moment is to make yourself into a statue. You will not be a person anymore, with all the little ticks and tricks that make a human interesting and lovable. You’ll be a monument to perfection that offers nothing more than a glimpse into the impossible. You will have no joy or jokes. No love or caring. No kindness or thoughtfulness. You will just have a marble monument to a solitary moment of your existence where people can come along and say “Wow! They are perfect. Good for them!” but then move in the way people do when they’ve seen a nice idea and nothing more. People want to love other people, not statues. They love the idea of never being hurt, of course, but I truly believe the vast majority of people would rather be hurt by a human than left with the unfeeling solitude of perfection.
So what are we meant to do instead? How can we ever break the vicious cycle of being perfect or being worthless?
Perhaps the best answer comes from Paul and his words in Philippians. “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
That’s it. That’s what it boils down to. Not freezing moments, not chasing some unattainable sense of rightness, and certainly not trying as hard as you possibly can. It just comes down to knowing what Christ has done for you and doing your best because of that. Perfection doesn’t even enter the equation. We are not operating from a place of achieving perfection, we’re operating from a calling to do and be our best.
Perfection is not our job. It’s God’s.
Our time is so much better served by chasing after what we actually can control and letting God take care of the rest. Effort is something we can control. Attitude is something we can control. And both of those are huge contributors to the art of doing your best. And I’m telling you honestly, doing your best over being perfect yields so much greater results. For starters, it takes the impossibility of the task out of the equation. Perfection wants us to control outcomes. Effort wants us to control our reactions to those outcomes. It’s no mystery which one is the actually attainable one. And of course, it bears mentioning that perfection and doing your best are not simultaneous efforts.
You can try to be your best, or you can try to be perfect. You can’t do both.
You just can’t. So put down perfection and walk away. It’s not a good friend to you and it never has been. Its promises are empty and its judgment is harsh. It wants something from you that you can never quite achieve and when you don’t make it, it leaves you high and dry. You simply don’t need that. Life is hard enough as it is without adding that mess to it.
Put down perfection, and pick up trying your best. It’s a kinder friend. It will certainly tell you where you’re going wrong when you need to know it, but it won’t leave you there. It will tell you to try again. It will remind you of what Christ sees in you. It will give you goals you can actually reach and new goals to chase after. Life will be difficult, but the rewards of doing your best will not be lost or worthless through the upheaval. We’re not perfect, but we are redeemed. That seems like a far more manageable starting point.
Let’s find some joy,