If you had asked me if I am a perfectionist, I would say “no.” Some of my friends would argue that I am not a perfectionist, but those who know me well would disagree. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a mentor and he said, “You can’t be perfect overnight” that I realized that I am a perfectionist, though an imperfect one.
I never believed I was a perfectionist because I never did anything perfectly. I always did well at school, but I never tested well. On papers, I never got 100%. If you have, then I need some tips! Also, I have an identical twin who I would often compare myself to. He was better than me at school and athletics. So, how can I be a perfectionist if I don’t know what it’s like to be perfect?
It was in the striving that I sought to be perfect. Theologically, I know that Jesus is the only one who is perfect, but I was always trying to grasp the ideal in every situation. However, this hurt me, others, and my relationship with God.
I hurt myself because I never thought I was good enough unless I was perfect. I needed to be perfect to feel like my life was worth something. Any success I had was overshadowed by the thoughts of how I could do better or be better. I wanted to be the ideal person: the ideal son, student, athlete, musician (even though I am not musical at all), worker, and Christian. I looked to those around me and those in history who seemed to give all they had to accomplish amazing things. However, I always fell short. I hated myself.
I hurt others too. Although I never had the expectation that others had to be perfect, I would continually catch myself judging them, expecting them to be better than me. I would think: “you can do better than that,” if I perceived that they did worse than me. This hindered my friendships and relationships.
My relationship with God has suffered the most from my perfectionism. In always thinking, “I want to be like Christ” I ended up acting as if I wanted to be Jesus. I assumed that my idea of perfection is the same as his, even though that is so far from the truth. However, I also ended up denying the grace that Jesus offers due to my own pride, thinking that “I am so imperfect that I do not deserve grace”. My faith often became about what I can achieve, instead of about what Jesus has already achieved on the cross.
Admittedly, I am not free from this striving for perfection, although Jesus readily offers freedom. I am learning to let go of the illusion of perfection. A friend once told me that it is alright to get a B if I am busy and burdened. At the time, I thought that was preposterous because others have had heavier burdens and still accomplished so much. Yet Jesus has only called me to be myself and to follow him as myself. He loves me because I am his. He gave his own life for all creation. He works in me and therefore, I want my life to be a response to his love. I have noticed that when I feel closest to Jesus is when I am just being me––not when I am striving to reach a certain standard.
In the midst of the brokenness in our world, I am reminded of how imperfect I am and the lengths to which Jesus would go to restore each one of us. I am even learning to embrace failure. Failing is now okay, because I know who has the final victory. I am done trying to be perfect. From now on, I will just focus on following the only one who is perfect.
Will you join me on this journey?