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.”
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.
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