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freedom, Intentional growth

When Being Perfect Isn’t Perfect, A Guest Post by Barb Fox

I stared at the grocery store shelf, hearing the nagging voice of my inner critic. Pick the most economical. After studying the price tags, I started to grab the jar with the lowest price per ounce. You should choose one with lower calories. I examined the nutrition labels and hesitantly placed my hand on a lid. That bargain brand is bound to taste terrible; your family deserves better than that. I yanked back my hand. Tears formed in my eyes.

Jesus told us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NIV). But no matter how hard I try, I always come up short. Ever since childhood, I’ve been told, “Just do your best.” But what does that mean? Miss a work deadline to host the ultimate birthday party for my child? Miss a birthday party to meet ridiculous job expectations?

Satan tempts me to chase perfectionism. Anything which can still be improved is unacceptable.

Fortunately, God accepts me because of Christ, not my works. I am becoming Christ-like, but I’m not there yet. How can I strive to be like the godly and productive Proverbs 31 woman but avoid judgmental and unrealistic attitudes that harm my spiritual growth?

Commit to godly living that aims for excellence.

If we focus on doing the right thing for the right reasons, priorities become clearer. Humans can initiate tasks and nurture growth, but God takes ultimate responsibility for outcomes (I Corinthians 3:6-9, Isaiah 14:24, Proverbs 16:33). This frees us to rejoice in outstanding, not flawless, results.

If the following four characteristics apply to you or someone you know, consider moving away from impossible demands and embracing the joy of “good” and “very good.” 

quote pulled from post on teal and coral graphic

Motivated by Fear

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (2 Timothy 1:17 NIV).

I’ve often stayed up late into the night toiling on projects, driven by the fear of failure or embarrassment. I fought my body’s cries for sleep and grew more frantic each hour as I tried to remove errors or prepare for every possible eventuality. When I finally went to bed, my mind raced, with “what ifs.”

However, on other nights, love compelled me to work harder. As a teacher, my devotion to God and my students spurred me to find better ways to explain complex computer science topics. I stayed up past my normal bedtime, but when my sleepy stick hit, I allowed my body to rest. I went to sleep with a smile on my face.

Even when my outcomes don’t win top prizes, I can glorify God by my treatment of others. In a business meeting, God is honored when I answer “I don’t know” while treating my co-workers with respect. I dishonor God if I provide all the right answers with an attitude of pride and impatience. As my peers watch me deal with my own imperfections, I hope they will see His character on display.

The excellence that flows out of righteous living is motivated by love, not fear of failure.The excellence that flows out of righteous living is motivated by love, not fear of failure. Click To Tweet

Hyper-focused on Faults

While in college, I glanced at a 100-page term paper as my professor returned it to me. I noticed an “A” in the upper right corner and a typo at the bottom of the first page. Instead of celebrating the “A,” I felt sick to my stomach that I had misspelled a word.

Recognizing faults and failures is healthy, but they should not be our focus. Paul reminded us where to point our thoughts:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8 NIV).

Even secular society promotes productivity via gratitude journals, positive self-talk, and vision boards.

Our work does not have to be perfect to be praiseworthy.

Receives Feedback as Criticism

A perfectionist who receives suggestions for improvement often hears, “Your work is inferior, and you are inept.”

Consider a Little League player whose coach suggests he hold the bat a different way. A child focused too highly on performance feels ashamed. Afraid to try out the new grip publicly, he may spend hours practicing alone before attempting to use the new technique in front of his team. Another child receives the same comment from the coach but responds differently. Grateful for the coach’s attention, he immediately tries out the new grip.

Now take that thought into the spiritual realm. Bible readings, sermons, and comments from friends often help me recognize my deficiencies. When I receive feedback, do I cringe and feel inadequate? Or am I thankful and appreciative for information that helps me identify shortcomings so I can improve?

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 NIV).

Struggles with Contentment

Overachievers never believe their efforts are good enough. Their hard work eventually leads to burnout and frustration.

But godliness with contentment is great gain (I Timothy 6:6 NIV).

Godliness defines our character and our relationship with God, not the results of our efforts. When our definition of success depends on external results, sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. But when we allow God to direct our thoughts and actions, He will work all things together for good (Romans 8:28) and offer us peace (John 16:33, John 14:27).

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:33-34 NIV).

Performance or Love?

I’m thankful that God’s love for us is not dependent on our performance. His acceptance frees us from demanding flawless results. At the same time, I’m also thankful that godliness drives us toward excellence. Since Christ has already taken care of the eternal negative consequences for our shortcomings, we can devote more energy to character transformation and less energy to self-recrimination.

Like many people, I’m trying to shed a few extra pounds, be more consistent in my Christian witness, and develop better skills in numerous areas. I experience both victories and setbacks. As my motivation moves more toward loving God and less toward the false promises of perfectionism, I’ve noticed two significant differences. I celebrate accomplishments with greater humility and face disappointments with deeper resiliency.As my motivation moves more toward loving God and less toward the false promises of perfectionism, I’ve noticed I celebrate accomplishments with greater humility and face disappointments with deeper resiliency. Click To Tweet

What is a time you condemned yourself for not being perfect?

What Bible verses could support the celebration of excellence in that situation?


Get to Know Barb!

After decades of chasing the abundant life, Barb has recently realized there’s enough joy in the simple things of today. A teacher at heart, she loves digging into the Word and then sharing insights with other women.

Click to find Barb on  Facebook!

And make sure to connect with us on social media! If you’re looking for additional support in your journey to increased freedom, we invite you to join one of our private online support groups, the Faith Over Fear group or our Wholly Loved Community Group. Make sure to check out our smaller online groups as well.

We also hope you’ll save the date for our upcoming June gala. It’s going to be a fun, celebratory time filled with laughter, great music, great food, and inspiring stories that reveal God’s heart.

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Find out more HERE. 

10 thoughts on “When Being Perfect Isn’t Perfect, A Guest Post by Barb Fox”

  1. I’ve condemned myself for not being perfect entirely too many times even though I know I’ll always be a work in progress. I love your thought that we should “Commit to godly living that aims for excellence.” As long as our hearts are in the right place, everything else will fall into place. Thanks for the reminders.

    1. Leigh,
      So glad you’ve grabbed hold of the truth “Therefore, no condemnation exists for those in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 HCSB) Love that you aim for excellence – and now get to do it with joy!

  2. Barb, I think we all suffer from the performance mentality in some way. The more we learn about God’s grace, the more we are free to enjoy the abundant life. We are to pursue excellence but with the knowledge of Christ so that we know whatever we do is for His glory and not ours. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Barbara,
      Amen to all that! Our choir is preparing a wonderful song with a line “I’ll never be more loved than I am right now.” So glad our worth isn’t wrapped up in our performance, but that we are still encouraged to strive to become more Christ-like every day.

    1. Sarah,
      I hope you can start to experience joy in the fact that you care and that you desire to offer your best to God. That part is wonderful! But that perfectionism beast…I’m praying right now that it releases its hold on you. God knows your heart and He won’t love you less if some of your results don’t quite meet your high standards.

  3. In the past, I was truly a Type A personality and very goal oriented (still am on that part.) Imagine me starting to learn one of the world’s most difficult languages at age 47 and starting the semester 3 weeks late! Ugh. Uncharacteristically I decided to give myself much grace…imagine that! I decided since I hadn’t learned a new language in 30 years, I didn’t have exceedingly high expectations of myself. A language coach shared his wisdom with me…you’re probably not going to get this perfectly the first time around, or even the second, but try for the 3rd or 4th time! Oh my, free from perfectionism and crazy high expectations! The advice was sound. I worked my tail off and aimed for the 3rd and 4th time around….with success! If I had aimed for the 1st time for perfection, it truly would not have been pretty. Let’s continue to celebrate our accomplishments together as we become more like Jesus every day! Love you my friend. Thanks for your vulnerability in writing. Keep going!

    1. Pat,
      Your life and your work are always an inspiration to me. This story nails it. Thanks for sharing your experiences and wisdom (always based on God’s Word) to so many.

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