Your life doesn’t have to be perfect
How the chase for perfect grades, bodies, and lives can ruin our relationship with God.
Written by Jessica, a Public Relations student at Biola University.
Last summer I took a personality test that suggested I’m a perfectionist.
This came as no surprise to me, since I generally like things to be the best they can be. I tend to notice flaws wherever I go, and I love being able to improve things!
In most areas of life, I’m quick to notice imperfections. I even notice them in my own self: flaws in my character, intelligence, behavior, physical appearance, and health. Although my desire to improve things can be beneficial in many areas of life, I’ve discovered that it can be unhealthy or harmful when I direct my efforts too strongly toward my self.
Why perfectionism is bad for your relationship with God
When I identify something about myself that I think could be better, I naturally try to “fix” it without anyone’s help. But I’ve recognized now that this tendency ends up taking my eyes off God and keeps the focus on me instead.
Hebrews 12:2 advises us to keep our eyes on Jesus, who is “the author and perfecter of our faith.” Without acknowledging my need for him to refine me, I have sometimes become less like Jesus, who is the perfect role model of goodness and righteousness.
Are you a perfectionist?
Here's some ways I’ve tried to improve myself without God’s help and direction. Maybe you recognize yourself in some of these habits:
- Sometimes when I get the thought or feeling that I’m “not good enough”, I search for a self-improvement method that will soothe my insecurity.
- At times, I have chosen to put most of my mental energy into how I can “eat perfectly” and exercise more frequently and strictly.
- Other times, I've pushed myself extremely hard in order to get straight 'A's in school.
While striving to be healthy and get good grades are not bad things, I’ve realized that these efforts can really distract me from my relationship with God. The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I get from “improving myself” don't lead me to God's peace — they just lead me to focus even more on eating, exercising, and good grades.
The hidden dangers of perfectionism
Unfortunately, when I’m putting all my efforts in being 'perfect', my priorities fall out of line, and my character becomes less like Jesus.
- In the past I have pushed myself so hard to follow my own strict rules for studying and treating my body, that I depleted myself of physical energy.
- I used to focus on my body and food so much that I became less emotionally present with people and less able to be a good friend.
- My mind has previously been so full of thoughts about how to make things better, that I've had no space left for the things that really matter.
What Jesus says to perfectionists
In John 14 and 15, Jesus tells his disciples they must depend on him like branches depend on a vine. He says that no branch (us) can produce any fruit without being connected to the vine (him). Further, he says the Father is the one who will “prune” away, or remove, anything that is unrighteous. It isn’t our job!
Jesus is telling his followers that we can’t truly live a flourishing Christian life or produce anything that is purely Christlike without God. That’s why Jesus says, “apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5). We can only become righteous and produce things that are truly good by mirroring the actions of Jesus (14:12), keeping his words in our hearts and minds (15:7), receiving his love and joy (15:9,11), and keeping his commands (15:10).
When I look only within myself for strength to become a “better” person, I become exhausted by trying to do God’s job. I end up distracted by things like my body and grades, rather than my spirit, character, and how to serve others. When I ignore the refining work and sustainment of God, I always find emptiness and a messy list of priorities.
Since realizing that I can’t really become a better version of myself or feel a sense of lasting wholeness without Jesus, I have been asking God to help me keep my eyes on him and to conform me more to the image of Jesus. Knowing and loving Jesus better and keeping his words in my mind has led to a deeper sense of wholeness, goodness, peace, and satisfaction. God has relieved so much of the pressure that I had put on myself, and he has brought healthy improvement to my life!
Jessica is a transfer junior Public Relations major at Biola University. You’ll find Jessica listening to old style jazz, you know, like the music from those old black and white films.