In today’s society, there seems to be this ever-increasing need for perfection. Look at the models that fill the magazines at your local grocery store or the “reality” shows on television. Our culture sets this impossible standard and whats worse, the cultural messages feed into our deepest insecurities so much so that we end up getting so caught up in it that we lose focus of the one who is our standard.
The truth is, perfection is not just a ridiculously high standard; it’s an impossible standard. This truth can be stated no more plainly than in Romans 3:10, which says,
None is righteous, no, not one.
However, I think its important to dig deeper into what the possible meanings of various Bible verses are that mention the word ‘perfect’ to get a better understand of what God is trying to teach us.
For example, Job 1:1 (KJV) says,
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
Most people would agree that in this context the word ‘perfect’ would be translated to mean a man who was sinless. However, the Greek and Hebrew words translated from the word ‘perfect’ do not always mean sinless.
In a study outlined in the book, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Harris, Archer, and Waltke specifically addressed the word ‘perfect’ used in Job 1:1. They summarize how the Hebrew word tōm, translated in Job 1:1 as perfect, has a number of different usages. The word, or one of its derivatives, is used in Genesis 17:1 where God told Abraham to “be perfect.” And all Israel was instructed to “be perfect” in verses such as Deuteronomy 18:13, 2 Samuel 22:33, and Psalm 101:2,6.
The authors then quote the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible as saying, “the words which are rendered in English by ‘perfect’ and ‘perfection’ denoted originally something other and less than ideal perfection” (1980, p. 974).
According to Kyle Butt from the Apologetics Press, “another authoritative Hebrew word study Gesenius observed that the word translated as “perfect” can mean “integrity of mind” or “innocence.”
So basically, the word ‘perfect’ can also be interpreted more correctly as a person who was attempting to follow God’s commandments to the best of his or her ability.
For many, the struggle is not just an occasional feeling of disappointment. It’s a lifestyle, a crippling mindset that can keep you from living your life to the fullest. It can affect everything about you, from the way you dress to your entire sense of self-esteem. Let’s look at the small-scale effects first.
You may not realize it, but nearly every little thing you do is impacted by the perception of others. Maybe, subconsciously, you are aware that you can’t be perfect, but you still feel obligated to live up to the definition of ‘perfect’ that your peers hold you to. And so you change the way you dress, the way you talk, and even the way you carry yourself simply to please them.
The extreme case involves not just the details of our lives, but our very beliefs and core values. Everyone has this mental picture of the perfect, ideal human character that is largely shaped by the values of society. Whether you desire to embody your own ideal or someone else’s, changing who you are to become something else that you feel is better can only lead to anguish later on down the road.
Why do you feel this way?
So why, exactly, do we have such a strong focus toward flawlessness? Mel Schwartz, L.C.S.W, offers this explanation:
In our culture we move relentlessly toward greater emphasis on achievement and goal orientation. When we do so we seem to lose the capacity for wonder and awe.
When we expect too much of fallible human beings, we fail to recognize the best parts of them- the virtues that are worth far more than their flaws. How ironic is it that the more ready we are to praise someone’s achievements, the more ready we are to point out their flaws? The worship of the ideal has somehow taken away our ability to appreciate the messy, yet beautiful.
How can you break free?
It is clear that the pursuit of perfection can be dangerous in a number of ways. In fact, Schwartz puts it like this: “The pursuit of perfection limits our ability to be present and literally robs us of the vitality of life.” So if we are caught up in such a futile struggle, it makes to let go. Here are some steps that can help you to do just that:
Step 1. Accept who you are.
Whenever we pursue perfection, our tendency is to overlook our deepest and darkest imperfections. We don’t like to think about the glaring ways in which we fail each and every day, let alone the ways in which we fail to live up to our potential. You need to get rid of any ‘wishful thinking’ and misconceptions you may have about yourself that keep you from making any real progress. If you want to break free from your obsession with perfection, the first thing you need to do is come to terms with your own humanity.
Step 2. Change your standards.
The next step is to completely eliminate the aforementioned idea of a ‘perfect’ human that exists in your mind. There is simply no possible way to become that person, as we are all equally flawed, and we all fall short of the glory of God. The only perfect human to walk the earth was Christ Himself. Therefore, make it your personal goal not to be Christ, but to try your best to be like Him, acknowledging your mistakes but never failing to learn from them.
Step 3. Be confident in your identity in Christ.
The good news is that God doesn’t see you for all your faults and failures; when you believe in Jesus, He sees you for the righteousness of His Son. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
We don’t deserve God’s salvation and grace; as sinners, we naturally deserve death. But because Jesus has taken the penalty for us, we can know the blessing that He alone deserves. Pray that God would help you to accept your flaws and simply receive the priceless gift of life. We no longer have to dwell on our imperfection. Instead, we can rejoice, knowing that we are made blameless in Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Step 4: Change the way you view Perfection.
Like I mentioned above when we went into detail about the usage of the word ‘perfect’ in the Bible, its important you understand what that really means. When you see perfection not as something unattainable and pointless but as an opportunity to strive for excellence in the same way Christ embodied that in his life.
Another Perspective on Perfection
My Personal Experience
I’ve always struggled with my identity. The experience of adoption was the most significant event in my life hands down. There is something very primitive about the pain I experienced from feeling the loss of losing my mother, the one who I thought would always be there for me, to care for me when I needed her the most.
Its hard to explain it to people who have never experienced adoption but I can only describe it as if there is this hole deep in your heart that could never be fixed or healed. I do think that God has the power to truly heal me of this but I will admit, its an ongoing struggle.
My experience with perfection began at a very early age. In the same way that our culture sends us the wrong messages, my adoption also sent the same toxic, untruthful messages.
You were never good enough.
Your not worthy of love because if you were, your family wouldn’t abandon you.
Something is wrong with me.
Obviously, when you have messages like these deeply embedded in you at an early age it’s easy to see now why I strived to be perfect, why I tried to please everyone and why I was absolutely terrified of failure or making a mistake.
My fear of abandonment drove me to be someone I wasn’t. I molded myself into whatever people wanted me to be because I was so terrified to be rejected again, to feel that pain once more.
I literally tried to be the perfect child and I was really good at convincing people I was. Interestingly, according to Joni Mantell from adoptive families, international adoptees (as opposed to domestic) are more likely to display inward behaviors than outward behaviors. Meaning, a person who is adopted overseas will have more self injurious behaviors focusing more on ‘keeping it in’ and punishing themselves internally then domestic adoptees.
Domestic adoptees are much more likely to channel that pain by acting out making it much more noticeable to friends and family and therefore more likely to receive some form of intervention in some capacity (with varied positive or negative outcomes).
This was much like my sister who was adopted.
I think both my sister and I struggled with the same pain of feeling unwanted but the way we handled it was just different.
Overall, what I have learned about myself through my experiences is that its so important to not only understand God’s idea of love and perfection through our minds but also our hearts. I realized that the more I began to open my heart up to God about my insecurities about feeling the need to be perfect, about feeling unloved and abandoned, the more I felt secure in who I was.
I didn’t realize at the time but when I look back now I see that by opening up my heart to God about the deepest insecurities within me, I was in effect, allowing God to embrace them and put me on the right path towards that healing.
In closing, I think if God had a message for us about trying to be perfect it would look something kind of like this.
My child, I don’t expect you to be perfect. You will make mistakes, you will sin, and you will make choices in your life that will hurt you, others, and me. But I love you so much that through my grace and sacrifice I’m giving you a new opportunity, a new hope. I just ask that you try your very best to follow me, to learn and grow from the mistakes you do make, and to lead a freeing and empowering life through me.
How do you struggle with trying to be perfect? Let me know your thoughts below!