It’s been too long since I have written about being tired—I think I have just been too tired to write. I have had the idea for this blog for several months, but I wasn’t sure that I would be able to put my thoughts into words. It is the curse of wanting to do things perfectly, and it is exhausting.
If you will remember, we have been chatting about the idea that tiredness is the symptom, not the problem. Maybe we need to stop and see what the tiredness is telling us about ourselves, the way we see God, and the way we see creation.
Today, the topic is perfection in an imperfect world. Perfectionism is an easy sin to hide. We may say that we “pursue excellence” or simply “want to do things right” and those are admirable goals. The opposite of perfectionism is not what I am calling for in this article. This is not a celebration of slothfulness or slovenliness; it is simply facing what is true about ourselves and the world around us. Perfectionism seems to be born from two faulty beliefs, first, that perfection is possible on this side of heaven, and secondly that you are responsible and capable of making perfection happen.
Embracing the reality of a fallen world can be troubling. I want to arrange my life so that if Christ returned I wouldn’t be disappointed—I want everything in order, my kids growing in wisdom and love, ministry going well, and a fully funded 401K. God never intended for the odd chasm between Eden and heaven to be so comfortable and perfect that our hearts would be fully content. He allows us to long for Him. As Larry Crabb states, “there is something wrong with everything on this side of heaven”.
Armed with our false belief that perfection is possible, the perfectionist then believes it is up to him to put it all in place. This can show up in many different ways in a person’s life—it can look frantic, desperate, overly organized, or it can look as if he is procrastinating. Yet no matter how it looks on the outside it is exhaustion on the inside. This belief will also destroy interpersonal relationships.
There are two types of perfectionists—internal and external.
External perfectionists compare themselves and their behaviors against others, exhausting themselves in comparison and analysis. At the seminary, I see students not just comparing themselves to Steve Brown or Tim Keller, but attempting to copy and emulate them to the point of exhaustion. This type of perfectionist is easy to spot. These students are rarely enjoyable to spend time with; however, they are often very effective in ministry due to their drivenness.
The more troubling type of perfectionist is the internal perfectionist. They are comparing themselves to an idealized version of self that does not exist. They spend hours in internal dialogue chastising themselves for mistakes and flaws. They may be quite gregarious on the outside, but on the inside they are exhausted. What is the solution for our false beliefs and our perfectionist comparisons? One must begin with the image that one carries of himself and of God. It is not what we say we believe that determines how we behave, it is what we really do believe. If the core image of yourself is that “I am a failure, I can never amount to anything”, or “I must prove myself” these are all images that lead to perfectionist thinking.
The fig leaf of perfectionism doesn’t cover up a flawed view of oneself. It also doesn’t cover the flawed view of God. Most of us in ministry are secretly working out some cosmic deal we have made with God. If we are good enough, if we serve enough, if we are “perfect” enough, then He will be pleased with us and is “obligated” to bless us. How surprised we will be in heaven, when we realize that it really was not about us. He bestowed his blessing by making us his children. He was calling us his beloved from the very beginning.
So from one internal perfectionist, who is repenting from taking so long to write this blog,
I hope this day finds you resting in the arms of a loving perfect God, in an imperfect world.