As we travel purposefully, it is helpful to understand the distinction between perfection and perfectionism.
I tend to be a perfectionist. I like things done right…no, perfect. Yet I have learned over time that perfectionism is not beneficial. It seems reasonable to think that it is good to be – or at least aim to be – perfect. After all, Jesus expresses to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (John 4:8) So would it not follow that striving for perfection is good?
The answer is yes…and no. Jesus spoke of perfection in context to our moral actions. Yes, we should strive to lead lives without sin and to lead lives abounding with good works. Yes, we should aim to manifest God’s glory in every moment. Yes, we should strive to do well in all that we do – as workers, as parents, as friends, as Christians. This type of divine perfection flows not from our own strength but from the indwelling of the Spirit. This perfection is from God-power rather than will-power.
Sometimes, however, the desire to be perfect stems from our own self-will. In such a case our desire to be perfect in our work or in our appearance prevents or delays us from moving forward with God’s work. We thereby contribute less to others and reveal less of God’s glory. A singer, for example, may strive to be perfect before she performs in choir; she waits years to obtain this “perfection.” In doing so, she loses years of blessing others and glorifying God with what she perceived to be a less-than-perfect voice. A writer may seek to perfect her art before sharing her work; she withholds all she knows in order to achieve her definition of perfection. A child of God may wait for her own perfection before sharing God’s Message; in doing so, she greatly disservices both God and the world. This type of perfection is perfectionism, and it is fueled not by God’s power but by self-power.
Perfectionism, that which comes from self-power and self-will, can also hinder movement upon a pathway of purpose. When God places upon our hearts beautiful visions, we may be unclear about the specific steps to achieve the vision. We could analyze and strategize to ensure our maps are perfect before embarking on our purposeful journey. Yet how long will that take? And will opportunities be lost?
If God prompts us to move, we should take the next inspired step – even if this is the only step we can see. God often leads us step by step, action by action, moment by moment. In faithfully following Him, we find that our visions change and grow clear. I have discovered that my own visions evolved not in analysis but in action. Getting lost in perfectionism and planning has not served me.
Yes, we should give thought to our steps and seek God’s guidance. Yet we need not know each step we will go; we need simply heed as our God takes lead. Doing so is to relinquish our own will in order to live according to the Spirit. God’s Hand in our lives is then plain for all to see, for it is clear that He is at work and not our own perfectionism.
Is there any area of your life in which you have been stuck in analysis paralysis? How has this hindered your message and your work for God? How has this impeded the movement along your path?
As you move forward today upon your purposeful pathway, I encourage you to abide in the perfection of God’s Spirit. I encourage you to also release the chains of perfectionism, to detach yourself from the cords of self-will and self-imposed standards. Seek instead God’s Kingdom with bold and unwavering faith.
Take the next step as God reveals it to you and trust that He will reveal each step thereafter. Doing so will deepen your relationship with God…and enrich the experience of your purposeful journey.
© 2011 Caroline Gavin
How will you live with perfection – without perfectionism – today?