I describe myself as a recovering perfectionist. (Can anyone else relate?) Until recently, I had started describing myself as recovered, but as I have begun branching out beyond my comfort zone in the past year, I have discovered that my perfectionist tendencies can still be quite strong if left unattended. One recent example is when I asked a trusted friend for some honest feedback on a project that hadn’t turned out as I’d intended. His answer wasn’t anything I was expecting, and I’m afraid I reacted badly – no gentleness, no connective listening, no diplomatic language, just a defensive emotional reaction. I still have work to do when it comes to controlling my perfectionism.
After working with high-achieving professionals for the past ten years, I have encountered many perfectionists. In the intense environment of a short-term full-time professional development course, I often see the pitfalls of perfectionism. Occasionally, a highly driven student will focus so deeply on one assignment that he/she will fall behind in other assignments, losing the time needed to do those assignments well (forget about perfect) and dramatically increasing his/her stress. If we are still striving to perfect what we needed to complete last week, last month, or last year, we are missing the opportunities of today. As Brené Brown says in her book Daring Greatly, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.”
If we are going to pursue God’s purpose for our lives, we must let go of perfection.
Later in the book, Dr. Brown points out, “If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” In this case, vulnerability is the opposite of perfectionism. “To claim the truths about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and the very imperfect nature of our lives, we have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks or imperfections.” For recovering perfectionists, this is easier said than done, but the good news is that God is on our side in this venture.
Psalm 37:23 says, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives” (NLT). Every detail – the good, the bad, and the imperfect. One of the keys for me in this past year of breaking out of my comfort zone is understanding how deeply God loves and accepts me, imperfect though I am. Not only that, but He also wants to see us succeed, just as I want to see my students succeed. He provides the tools and guidance we need to fulfill the plan He has prepared for us. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God wants to see us walk in the good works, the purpose He has ordained for our lives, and has set us up to succeed.
God is always speaking; are we always listening? If you are having trouble understanding God’s direction for you, start with daily Bible study; as Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” However, don’t be afraid to step out and do the works that are right in front of you. Everyone starts somewhere, and every step you take will teach you valuable things about yourself and about God and His ways. As Pastor Jeff Abyad of Capital Life Church said, “Nobody finishes a race they don’t start.”
Ephesians 3:20 says that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think”; do we believe that is true? If so, do we live our lives in light of this belief? I can still hear the call of William Carey, the great missionary to India of the late 18th century, when he said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Do we dare?
What daring ventures do you have in your heart? Please share in the comments!
Links and Resources:
Verses taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
- NLT = New Living Translation
Brené Brown: Listening to Shame
CLC: Jeff Abyad – Start Strong, Finish Stronger
Reference to William Carey
76 Bible verses about guidance
A few more of my favorite verses on God’s guidance include:
- Isaiah 48:17 – “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.”
- Isaiah 30:21 – “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”
- Psalm 37:23-24 – “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.”
- Romans 8:14 – “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”