"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."1
A Daily Encounter reader writes, "I am a Christian, but here is my dilemma. I see Christians who have such a joy in the Lord, but I find that Christianity is a very difficult walk, knowing that it is impossible for me to achieve perfection. Thus, I constantly fail, which makes for a depressing life (yes, I'm quite the perfectionist). And yet logic tells me that if I were a Christian, I would have the joy of the Lord, and that life wouldn't be such a battle."
How sad! Just because we are God's children doesn't in any way take away our human weaknesses and doesn't heal us of our emotional wounds. Perfectionism is an emotional issue and, while it will affect us spiritually, it isn't a spiritual problem any more than a bad cold is, which can also make us feel depressed.
The word "perfect" in the Bible, can equally be translated complete, whole or mature. Knowing this can help us avoid the perfectionism trap. True, we need to strive for excellence, but perfectionism is an emotional sickness. It is also a curse, as it keeps the perfectionist forever in a state of bondage.
Perfectionism usually goes back to one's developmental years where a child has to "be perfect" in order to feel loved—but this isn't love. It's conditional "love" and control and is based on one's performance rather than on one's being. Therefore, a perfectionist cannot be happy in this state of mind because nothing he ever does is perfect and therefore not good enough—and he can never feel loved for who he is. And he can be nigh to impossible to live with because those around him cannot reach perfectionism either.
So what can the perfectionist do to overcome his/her problem?
First, he needs to see and admit that he is a perfectionist. Admission is the first step in resolving any problem. Denial keeps one forever stuck.
Second, he needs to see that perfectionism is an emotional sickness, and that he needs healing.
Third, he needs to ask God to help him see the root cause/s of his perfectionism and to lead him to the help he needs to overcome it. Remember, too, that "God is merciful—when we have unresolved problems, he gives us symptoms." Perfectionism is the symptom—or the fruit—of a deeper root and one needs to resolve that deeper issue to overcome the symptom.
Fourth, I would encourage him to see a competent Christian (professional) counselor to help him work through and resolve his problem; otherwise he will struggle with it for the rest of his life.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to realize that I don't have to be perfect for you to love me, but also that you want me to keep growing in both spiritual and emotional maturity so I can know and experience your peace in my everyday life. Help me to admit every area in my life where I need healing and lead me to the help I need to fully recover. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."
1. Matthew 5:48 (NIV).