21 September 2017

Letting Go of Perfect

There is a chip on the glass, a snagged thread on a sweater, a smudge on a favourite pair of shoes and once loved objects suddenly find themselves in danger of a trip to the wastebasket. When everything has to be perfect, there is no room for cracks, tears, or smudges. But, while we may want our lives to look like we stepped out of a high fashion catalogue, the truth is as long as we are on this earth, things will be far from perfect, and that is ok.

The desire to be perfect comes with hidden dangers attached. Perfectionists often have trouble finishing projects because what they are working on is never quite right. Unreal expectations can lead to disappointment, and a desire for the elusive perfect weight can sometimes result in an eating disorder.

The good news is, it is time to let go. God cares about our relationship with Him, not the constant bustle to have every dish in its place. “Martha, Martha,” were Jesus’ words to the busy sister trying to have everything perfect for her visitors. “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary (the not so perfect sister who sat at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching instead of fussing about the kitchen) has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Society tells us that every hair needs to be in place, children should always be on their best behaviour, and makeup must be used to hide imperfections. But often, God uses what we see as imperfections for His glory. My dad was merely ten when the dentist suggested he have a procedure done to close the gap between his two front teeth. After all, who doesn’t want a perfect smile, but the procedure did not do the trick. The dentist then suggested braces, but due to the cost involved the gap stayed. Fourteen years later my dad spent six months doing mission work in Sudan. He was surprised at all the complements he received for his stunning smile. The Sudanese he worked with explained that a gap between someone’s front teeth was a sign of good looks. Some of the Sudanese would even file their teeth to achieve the coveted gap.

There are times in our quest for perfection that we miss what God is doing in our lives. We miss how His strength shines through our weakness. We miss opportunities to strengthen each other as the body of Christ. When Christians only present a flawless face and a neatly composed life, it can lead people to think that we have no problems. The plastic façade acts like a cage carefully hiding any inner turmoil. “How are you doing?” a friend will ask. “Fine, everything is fine,” becomes the automatic response. On the inside many perfectionists are desperately trying to hold all the pieces together, hoping that no one gets close enough to see what is really going on, praying they can please all the right people. Working, working, working to have it all done right all the while missing the fact that God simply wants you to sit at His feet, like Mary did, not focused on anything else but Him.

Perfectionists are known for a lot of things, and most of those things are not good things to be known for – critical, stressed, procrastinator, controlling and insecure all make the list. But how do you let go? How do you break free from the pressure to be perfect when there is so much demand and so many daily expectations? As a bit of a perfectionist myself, I think it is good to have high standards and to want to do your best, but too much of a good thing usually ends up hurting you. When striving for excellence becomes an obsession, it is time to let go. When always having to be in control becomes too important, it is time to take a step back. God knows we can never be perfect. He gave us the Ten Commandments knowing we could never keep them perfectly. The point of the Ten Commandments was to show us how short we fall from His standards and how great our need is for a Saviour.

Perfectionists typically have high stress levels because they expect so much from themselves. Breaking free from this highstress- cycle involves learning to let go, and learning to be content. God is in control, not us. Our identity is in Him not in pleasing other people.

Freedom from being controlled by the need to be perfect comes in part from learning to fail. Romans 3:23 says we all fall short. Failing is part of life, not a fun part but a very real part. Failure helps us learn how to do something better the next time around. Instead of seeing anything less than perfect as a failure, see it as a learning experience. There is often beauty in imperfections. Those “imperfections” are what makes the world unique.

Freedom also comes in learning to let go. As perfectionists we are usually our own biggest critics, but while we are obsessing over a chipped glass chances are most people do not even notice the chip because they are focused on the bigger picture and not obsessing over details.

Another step to not being controlled by perfectionism is to stop setting unreachable standards, and enjoy the journey. Stop looking at life as not ever being good enough. Stop focusing on all the mistakes. Learn to set reasonable goals, and do not put off starting a project because you are afraid to fail. Once you get the courage to start, finish it in spite of the imperfections you may find when you near the end.

Life is not about being perfect. God knows we are flawed human beings, and yet while we were still sinners Romans 5:8 says He sent His son to die for us. He loves us in our brokenness. He forgives us in our weakness even when that involves falling very, very short of all our unrealistic expectations.

By Ruth Uehle