Kate Short reflects on a Biblical Counselling UK seminar she attended (with Anna Daniel and Sarah Cleave) in September...
What characteristics come to mind when you think of a perfectionist? Someone who has an immaculate home, perfectly trimmed lawn and well-behaved children? Someone who can juggle their 50 hour job with the stresses and strains of family life whilst remaining seemingly calm and without a hair out of place? Someone with a precisely colour-coded and well organised calendar, who is highly competent at everything they turn their hand to?
Well, I am a perfectionist and I’m not proud of it. And not just because I am a failing perfectionist with an unemptied dishwasher and dusty skirting boards! I have come to realise that regardless of what society tells me about the merits of being a perfectionist, it doesn’t seem possible to have it all. Being a perfectionist leaves me tired, burnt out, frustrated, annoyed and anxious. It makes me proud and quick to see others’ shortcomings. I can become controlling and critical, but also a passive people-pleaser. I am often deaf to encouragement and praise and agonise over decisions for fear of making “the wrong one”. Perhaps this feels familiar.
Perfectionism is all about striving to achieve the high standards that we individually set for ourselves. Our perfectionist tendencies might manifest themselves in different ways but they’re easy to identify if we look at how we react when we hit or miss our own standards. Sometimes they’re reactions about trivial things (depressed and despondent when the pudding collapses and tastes terrible when there are guests over) and sometimes they’re more serious (contemplating giving up significant responsibilities for fear of not being good enough) but our reactions demonstrate how much our worth, energy and emotions are wrapped up in achieving the standards we set for ourselves. Perfectionism can have a knock-on effect for those around us too; when we snap at our spouse for leaving the dishes on top of the dishwasher or when we grumble about the friend who has cancelled plans to meet up for the fourth time in a row. In short, striving for perfection now always seems to leave a bitter taste; expectations never quite seem to match up to reality.
Wonderfully, the Bible has an answer for the constant striving for perfection, and it’s not try harder and be better. Perfectionism is a sign of misplaced security; our sense of worth is based on whether we are winning or failing, fitting in or cut off. It doesn’t consider what God has to say to us about who we are. The lie of perfectionism is that by achieving our standards we’ll be happier and more fulfilled. That the answer is found in us. But, our freedom has been achieved by Jesus’ performance, not our own. I can never achieve my standards, let alone God’s, but Jesus has. There is nothing boast-worthy or perfect to be found in us. Perfection can only be found in Him. Jesus has accomplished it all. One day we will be in a perfect world; our sin, our striving, our sorrow at failure won’t be there. Chaos will be gone and order restored - everything will be as it should. But that day isn’t now. Rest in Christ’s performance and not your own. Embrace your weakness and let it lead you to depend on the only One who is perfect.
'Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need' (Hebrews 4 v 14-16)
The next Biblical Counselling UK seminar will be on 'Introverts and Extroverts' on Monday 4th November (see the Calender for more detatils). Kate, Anna and Sarah would love you to join them. Please talk to them if you'd like to go.