When I choose to do something, I aim to do it well.
I always worked hard to get good marks. The first time I decorated a cake using fondant, it was perfect. Every morning I wash, dry and straighten my hair so it is perfect. If I knit something and make a mistake, I will undo and redo all of my hours (upon hours) of knitting until it is perfect. When I cut paper for art projects or bulletin boards at work, I measure and cut things exactly. I would never serve a baked good unless it was perfect. I will straighten pictures on the wall if they are crooked. I redo the paint on my nails as soon as one is chipped. Before I post this, I will have read it over multiple times because I want it to be perfect.
I do things well because I desire to do well, to serve well, to be at my best for others and to achieve good things. I don’t think there is anything inherently bad in wanting to strive for excellence. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is a good thing.
But it becomes problematic when I give myself no other option besides perfection.
When I choose to do something, I aim to do it well. But if I don’t do it well? I crumble. I panic when my gluten free cupcakes don’t turn out right. I’m grumpy when it rains purely because my hair will curl a little bit. If I say the wrong thing to a student, I carry it around for days. If someone brings up an issue in a relationship, I beat myself up because I should have known better. I feel guilty when I don’t pray or read my Bible every day. I turn into an obsessive insecure monster when things that had every reason to go well, don’t go well. I get mad, I avoid things, I am stubborn because I don’t like admitting that what I did wasn’t perfect.
I forget that there are other options besides perfection.
I forget that I am still loved when I am broken. I forget that I will not lose friends if my hair is a little frizzy. I forget that I can still serve and be a blessing in my imperfections. I forget that I need God. I forget about grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 4:8)
I forget that I’ve done nothing to deserve what I’ve been given. I forget that even if I mess up over and over, that I am still His. I forget that in my weakness He is strong. I forget that showing grace to others means I need to do the same for myself.
Perfection is a good thing because God is perfect, and lacking in nothing. I am called to emulate the One who saved me; I strive to be like him in my every day. So yes, I do indeed strive for perfection, but it’s different. Perfection isn’t a single moment or achievement like I often make it out to be. It’s sanctification. It’s a process, but not one that I get to orchestrate. I am not responsible for earning my own grace. I am called to become more and more like Jesus, to let him work on my heart, and to be steadfast throughout this process.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4)
Desiring perfection is not wrong, because it means we are striving to be like Jesus. Being consumed with perfection is an entirely different story. When I realize that my obsessive perfectionism is my own concoction to earn some invisible prize, I see through my ridiculousness, and I let myself be less than perfect. I turn lumpy cupcakes into trifle. I wear my hair curly every so often. I apologize. I move forward. I show grace to myself. I strive for excellence, but I know that He is the only one who can make me more and more like Jesus.
And THAT…is perfect.