Why We Struggle With Perfectionists

 

When Meredith and I were first married, Meredith was hard to be around.

Meredith was good at a lot of things which I was not. She had higher standards for herself than I had for myself. There were ways in which she appeared perfect. And it appeared she liked to live out of that perfection.

But the problem was not her, or her perfections. The problem was me.

Perfectionists get a bad rap in our culture. And I’m one of the reasons why. Because to me, and especially when I w640px-Wine_grapes03as first married, perfection seemed stupid. Perfection, it seemed, was just an impossible standard to strive for. So why bother?

But what has become clear to me in the subsequent years is that perfection is not stupid. It just makes me feel stupid.  In the case of Meredith, seeing her perfections just made me more aware of my own imperfections.

Now of course in reality Meredith has her faults just as I have mine. But if you’re a Christian then you’re in a relationship with someone who really doesn’t have any imperfections. You’re in a relationship with someone who actually is perfect.

Jesus, we are told, was/is without sin[1]. His earthly life, recorded in the four Gospels, shows this. He has no faults. He does everything right. And he holds himself and others to the highest of standards[2]. Jesus is, in every way, a perfectionist[3].

Yet we are called to abide in him[4]. That is, we are told to be close to him, to rest in him, to dwell with him, to enjoy him.

And if we’re honest, we’d have to admit that abiding with Jesus can sometimes be really tough. Sometimes we just don’t want to. And I wonder if the reason we don’t want to is because sometimes we just don’t want to be around someone who is perfect. Because the longer we’re with him, and the closer we get to him, the more we’re aware of  the depths and fullness of our depravity. And we don’t like it.

Of course, the awareness of our sin isn’t the result of Jesus pointing his finger at us. It is simply the result of being in the presence of perfection. Being with Jesus is like looking into a perfect mirror and seeing the full truth of our reflection. It’s hard to look at.

No one can be around Jesus for long and not see their wretchedness. All who follow Jesus come to a point where they, like Peter, tell Jesus to “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”[5] Those of us who struggle with the reality of ourselves are always tempted to run or push others away.

But Jesus would prefer another option. His desire for us is that in our wretchedness we lean in. He wants us to abide in him more.

He can desire such intimacy because he has already seen us as we are. Our weakness, our sin, our insecurities, our frailties, our dirt, our past, our thoughts, our selfishness, our lack of perfection from top to bottom is nothing new to him. He saw it all and still called us to “Come, follow me.”[6]

But of course Jesus, because he is Jesus, didn’t call us to stay as we were. He called us to repent[7], turn from our sin[8], and follow him so that he could wash us[9], renew us[10], and ultimately transform us[11]. He called us in order that he might make us perfect like him[12].

When we understand this, we’re no longer tempted to run from the Perfect One. But instead we will, like Charles Spurgeon, believe that Communion with Christ is a certain cure for every ill.”[13]

No one likes to see themselves for who they really are. To face the reality of our dirt and grime will always be uncomfortable. But such a revelation should not trigger us to run away. Rather, such a revelation should always be seen as an invitation for us to come and be made clean.

 

Oh that we would abide in you, Jesus, more and more every day. That we might see ourselves more clearly in your reflection. And may we, as dirty vessels, allow you to continue to wash us with your blood that we might become more and more like you, our Perfect Lord and Savior. Amen.

 

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[1] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[2] Matthew 5-7

[3] Matthew 19:21

[4] John 15:4-9

[5] Luke 5:8

[6] Mark 1:17

[7] Matthew 4:17

[8] John 8:11

[9] John 13:5; 1 Corinthians 16:11

[10] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[11] 2 Corinthians 3:18

[12] Romans 8:29

[13]  Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening…