By Joseph Lau
Excelling in something that you enjoy doing is one of the best feelings in the world. To me, excelling in many things is even better, but I’ve come to realize that many times my desire to excel in various aspects of life stems from a subtle but also very strong form of perfectionism. In high school, I remember I used to beat myself up if I made a very minor mistake executing a play during basketball practice even though it didn’t really cost our team anything. In college, I remember having an intense pressure to feel like I needed to know everything from every course section that my classes were going over. And even now, I feel the pressure to do well and to be as perfect as possible in my ministerial responsibilities with our church despite me (1) simply being the college intern, and (2) I’m a sinful human being who just messes up. My desire to be perfect has without a doubt aided me in challenging myself to grow as a person, and without this desire to be perfect I would not have been able to excel in the things that I do. Additionally, I believe if you reflect deeply on your own motivators, you will come to a similar conclusion as me which is that perfectionism is imbedded in some way or another in your thoughts, actions, and goals in everyday life. You may be thinking in your head right now, “So are you saying perfectionism is bad or good? If it helps us become better at what we do, how is it bad?”. I’m hoping from my short sharing today that I can elaborate and show how the perfectionist side in us expresses itself in both harmful and good ways, but that ultimately God is trying to teach us something incredibly valuable through this tension of perfectionism.
The Beauty of Perfectionism
Our actions ultimately derive from our thoughts and values. Therefore, our everyday drive for perfectionism comes from the fact that we, as human beings, are wired to have an intrinsic standard of how perfection is defined combined with the fact that we have a strong appeal to obtain those things that we find perfect. There is a reason why antiques in perfect condition are worth millions of dollars, but when there is one scratch present its value depreciates greatly. On a more serious level, we all long for perfect friends who will always be there for us, romantic others that will always love us, perfect families that we can enjoy good times with, and, especially in light of recent events, a perfect world that knows perfect peace. To bluntly put it, I believe that our strong desire for perfection comes from the fact that we are all longing for something that we were made to have which is a perfect God. C.S. Lewis says this, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world” (and I would like to add) with a perfect God.
The Ugly of Perfectionism
So, what happens when we do not obtain the perfect performance, friends, spouse, family, life, and world that we so long for? Often, we get angry, frustrated, depressed, become passive, crumble into our inner self-centeredness, and start to hate. When a parent wants their kid to come out the precise way that fits their expectation and those expectations are not met, the parent gets frustrated and lashes out on their kid. Even worse, if their kid does come out the way they wanted them to be they are suffocated by all the hopes and dreams placed on to them by that parent. We must know and be reminded that God never promised this life to be perfect. This world operates in the period in time where sin and brokenness are running rampant. Where suffering, hate, war, and sin is intertwined with all aspects of life. Often, we want our lives and this world to be perfect now, and as result, attempt to demand God to give us something that is not meant to be. We put our own timing above God’s timing and try to force his hand to give us something that only he can freely give.
What is God Teaching Us?
So how do we manage this tiresome tension of perfection? We don’t stop longing for perfection (for perfection is praiseworthy and it reflects God), but we also should not expect it to come to us in this life on earth. In Ephesians 2:18, Paul prays for the church of Ephesus to know the greater hope found in Christ. God promises an invisible but certain future that the Bible describes as our hope. Where those who are in Christ will have an eternal, incorruptible, glorified, and perfect life with God. Where heaven and earth will become a new creation and the people of God will be His inheritance. As it says in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” I cannot wait for the day when we will have all our desires of perfection fully met in our fellowship with Christ and as he redeems all aspects of life into perfection. So why doesn’t God give this life to us now? To be honest, I don’t completely know. But going back to Paul in Ephesians 2:18, I do know that God doesn’t enact this perfect life now so that we may know the hope that can only be found in Christ more. There is no patience without the presence of frustration, there is no forgiveness without the presence of transgression, and there is no appreciation of the perfection of Christ without the imperfections of this life now. Therefore, I urge you to know that God wants us to trust in Him and for all of us to know the hope found in Christ alone. He is the perfection that we could ever want and need.