Question: I’m a perfectionist. This causes problems with my wife and children who say I am “controlling.” As a Christian I want things to be better, but the harder I try, the worse things get.
Answer: Here’s a cautionary tale by a recovering perfectionist.
The pursuit of absolute perfection is a false noble cause. The Greek myth of “Sisyphus and the Rock” springs to mind—the eternal punishment of working to complete an impossible task. The internalized pain the unhealthy perfectionist acts upon is often transferred to those they love most. When we are self-righteous, we are also judgmental. This is the trap, the endless cycle of trying to replace God with self.
Heaven and its inhabitants are sin-free; earth and her inhabitants are not. God’s plan is to redeem us back to perfection entirely, but not here, not yet. True enough, we are called to excellence in our service to others, and in our efforts to honor God. Unhealthy perfectionism is the enemy of excellence, though. It is what legalism looks like in action, and we all know how Jesus reacts to that.
You must be in a lot of pain. The pain driving your perfectionism is where your healing must begin. People around you have seen your good heart. Sadly, you may be blind to your God-given goodness, because to you, good is never quite good enough. The humility you need (to connect with to heal) has been displaced by self-imposed tighter limits and an increased effort to avoid losing control.
Reliance upon God’s perfection is the opposite of this. Trusting that God is enough to provide for us requires the submission of self, the letting go of reins, and a continual revisiting of how we became Christians in the first place. Richard Winter’s excellent book, “Perfecting Ourselves to Death,” will be helpful reading, as will counseling with a qualified Christian counselor.
By the way, your counselor won’t be perfect either; remember the goal is to connect with God’s perfection, not the expectation of perfection from ourselves or any other human being.
Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services.