I get it. I get you. I don’t know your story, but I do know about that shard in your heart and why it strikes, why achievements feel like bombs in your hands and how it feels to have your whole body crack if it’s been some time since a word of praise or the right kind of grade.
I know the angry anxiety of being a perfectionist who isn’t ‘perfect’. I know the rage in the pit of the stomach. I know the insecurity of not living unless you live up to. And though the old adage, “There’s no such thing as perfect” is right, I’m not asking you to deal with it that way.
I’ve got something better for you.
Believe it or not, perfectionism is not about worldly standards. Yeah, I know, this world has Firsts and As that feel like apples in our mouths and grade boundaries that chasm our lives with their fall and rise, but perfectionism is not about the world. It is about us.
My friend, you know your work. You know the hours you spend sifting rhymes and weighing words like coins in your hands, you know the dark, backwards reach of root, etymology, and you also know that none of these things really relate to those neat, dry marks we crave on sheets, yet still we strive because perfectionism is not our work but our fear, our hatred, our hunger, our horror, the emptiness of self-esteem stripped like marrow from bone and hung up to dry at imaginary heights, our low, cold, sick thoughts, “I’m not good enough”.
But what if I said that we’re not good enough? What if I said that none of us, no matter what, could ever be good enough? And what if I told you that this was a glorious thing? Stay with me friend, you’re about to find out why.
People have said to me in the past, “What if Christianity’s just another thing to fail at?” or “I don’t think I’m good enough to be a Christian”. But I want to make something clear. A Christian is a person who follows Christ, and Christ is the cure for the need to be ‘good enough’. Jesus pulls that need from us, gazes at us exactly as we are (exactly as we do, think, feel) and says, “Son/ Daughter, you are dearly beloved”.
Christianity is not about failing, but about receiving. And I know it’s hard for productiveness-addicts to get our heads round this, but: you don’t have to do anything to receive God, and you can’t do anything to receive God. Through Jesus, you have received him. That’s why Scripture says, “not by works, but by Him who calls” (Romans 9:12). And, dear one, he’s calling you by name.
You don’t need that number on a page, that jolt from the high of a grade (or the low from the lack of it). God’s got something better for you.
He’s got Love. And I’m not talking about the ebb and the flow of human love, the kiss, the touch and the anxious self-reflection, the constant thought, what do I get, what do I get, but the love of Christ.
What does that mean?
It means you don’t ever have to worry about being ‘good enough’. Jesus died for you when you weren’t. The Lord of all the universe loves you infinitesimally, and it has nothing to do with what you do or don’t do, and everything to do with God’s interest in you. On Easter Sunday, a good friend of mine wrote that
‘Jesus’ final words on the cross before He died were “it is finished”, not “I have got you as close to the finish line as I can, now you do the rest”.
Her point was, we have nothing more to pay. Jesus’ death for us puts us in a place of victory now, without us ever being able to earn it. Being a Christian is not about gaining success and avoiding failure. It is about accepting, celebrating and enjoying the enormous, extravagant and overflowing love of God, a God who looks past our actions, regardless of what they are and are not, and straight at us (John Piper puts it beautifully). Instead of looking down on us, our God came down to earth and became like us. He’s not afraid of your mess, He doesn’t look at how ‘good’ you are as a measure of your worth, He values you and has valued you since the beginning of time, knowing your every thought and action, knowing that He would go to the cross for you, that is how much you are loved. Dear friend, celebrate!
I was in the car last week, and I was angry at myself because my heart felt cold and dark and I wasn’t acting ‘like I was supposed to’ , I was getting it ‘wrong’. And then, I had an image of Jesus. I was there, small and uncertain, leading myself down a shadowy path, completely oblivious of my Lord beside me. I ignored his comforting arm, his brightness at my side. But, in this image, I noticed something. Although my eyes were turned away from him, His gaze did not waver from my face. He knew I was not focusing on him and that I was hardly aware of him, yet He focused lovingly and entirely on me. He protected me as we walked.
Our God, while we are even not aware of it, walks us through the darkness. You have a God who loves you so much that he (as Emma Scrivener puts it in her book “A New Day”), ‘willingly endured hell to bring [you, insert your name here] peace’.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
I think I was wrong before, when I said “There’s no such thing as perfect”. Jesus is perfect, and His perfection is not one which cripples us but one which shelters us, restores us, gathers us and delivers us into His light. So, dear friend, let go of perfect and take hold of His hand. You are free.