The Prison of Perfectionism
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has liberated me from the law of sin and of death."1
A Daily Encounter reader writes, "As a Christian I try to flee from sin because I don't want to displease God and I don't want to suffer the consequences. However, I am repeatedly reminded that I am not perfect and that I cannot live up to God's standards. So I am constantly frustrated because on one hand, I'm told that I should resist sin, and on the other hand, I'm told that I will always sin . . . Ahhhhh! Then it is inevitable that I will suffer consequences for my sins no matter how I try to resist them, right?
"I am afraid to live, because the more I read the Bible, the more I realize how flawed I am. Out of fear of 'falling short' I avoid situations. For example, I would love to be married one day, but I am afraid to meet a young lady because of the temptations that come along with falling in love. That isn't living."
"Dear Don," (not his real name), "Thank you for your honesty which is very honorable. However, if I may say so, it sounds to me like you might be a perfectionist or have very strong perfectionistic tendencies. And that's why you're 'beating yourself up.' If this is true, it probably goes back to your childhood where you felt you were never quite good enough to please either one or both of your parents, and now you have projected these same feelings onto God your heavenly parent (Father).
"Yes, God wants us to grow and overcome sin, but he doesn't beat us up in the process. We beat ourselves up. God understands our sinful nature and we don't change that by being a legalist . . . that is by trying to live by the law and not by God's grace. Legalistic living leads to utter frustration and a deep sense of failure. Because of this, sad to say, many abandon their Christian faith because they can't live up to the unrealistic expectations they have of themselves while all the while thinking it is God's expectations.
"Basically, we need to grow and become more whole. For only to the degree that we are made whole will our lifestyle, attitudes and actions become wholesome. If you are a perfectionist, you need to keep reminding yourself that it is you and not God who has unrealistic expectations of you, and get into a good counseling and recovery program, otherwise you will be beating yourself up for the rest of your life—and that will keep you in awful bondage.
"Also, ask God to confront you with the truth about yourself so you can see and understand why you have all these unrealistic expectations, and to lead you to the help you need to overcome."
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to have a realistic view of myself and not think either too highly or too poorly of myself. Help me to see myself as You see me and accept myself the way You accept me. And where I have weaknesses, please help me to see and admit that I have these, and to find the help I need to overcome them. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus's name, amen."
1. Romans 8:1-2 (ASV).