Years ago, I was a new youth pastor’s wife and eager to begin hosting students and young adults in our home. I spent so much time vinegar mopping the hardwoods in the family room and tile floors in the kitchen during those years. I didn’t just love my clean floors, I was known for them.
Before entering my home, I required everyone to remove their shoes. My floors were so clean, they were slippery. A few students here and there had been known to skate across the shiny floors in their socks. While we hosted students, I spent so much time tidying up and busying with the tasks of keeping house, I failed to sit and visit with the young men and women visiting in my home. My desire to be a perfect and tidy hostess prevented me from vulnerable connections with our guests.
A Problem with Perfectionism
This heart issue of mine is not new. “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ’Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42).
I know this passage of scripture on a cognitive level, but I fail to live free from the distractions of perfecting the things around me. I desire to be like Mary; however, like Martha, I have a tendency to become worried and upset about many things.
This is because I have a problem with perfectionism.
The desire to perfect the world around me is the major area where I see my constant need for redemption. I desire perfection in all areas of my life: a perfectly clean and dust-free hardwood floor, perfectly conflict-free days with my husband and four children, perfect answers to hard questions when my friend calls for advice, and the perfect picture to post on social media for everyone to see I am living my best, most perfect life.
Perfectionism plagues me, and the need to be perfect all the time prevents me from vulnerable relationships with others. This is a gospel-centered problem where I find myself still under a yoke of slavery which whispers, God needs me to be perfect. I still live with the distorted belief that I need to add my personal perfect resumé to the gospel.
Perfectionism is sneaky, which is a part of its plague. On the outside, perfectionism looks good to a watching world—there could be worse problems than a problem with perfectionism. However, over time the sneaky plague of perfectionism leads one to wander away from true gospel-identity. Tangled up in perfectionism, one may begin to find their identity in a perfectly decorated house, perfectly obedient children, or perfectly spoken advice. Just like Martha, perfectionism causes us to become worried about many things, and to wander away from the few things God actually requires of us: to remain in Him, love Him, and love others.
Perfectionism has many woven layers. For me, my personal perfectionism is tangled up in fear and control— and far beneath fear and control is the tap root-thread of my unbelief.
Fear and control use perfectionism as a guard. I use the mask of perfectionism because deep down I fear being seen, known, and loved for the majorly messed up person I really am. In my distorted desire to appear perfect, I believe that if I can control what the world sees, then I can protect everyone from seeing who I am in my imperfections.
Unbelief is the tap root and the source of this plague. Tangled up in perfectionism, I am bound to the yoke of slavery of what others think about me. I fail to believe that God sees me in my imperfections, and in those imperfections, he loves me so much that he would die for me to rescue me from my unbelief. Jesus did not die for those who are perfect; he died for those who need rescuing. This is a truth I know, but a truth I fail to apply to my heart.
The Remedy of Redemption
There is a cure for the plague of perfectionism. I’m not a fully recovered perfectionist yet, but little by little, God is unraveling me. He is slowing releasing me from the perfectionism I wove during seasons tangled up in fear, control, and unbelief.
Perfectionism is habitual and old habits never unravel away without intentional perseverance and faith in a God who wants to transform us from the inside out. For those who struggle with perfectionism, there is a remedy, and that remedy is the redemptive power found in shredding old patterns through the gospel. “Assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24).
First, we need self-awareness. We need to recognize the plague of perfectionism in our life before we can go to battle against this sneaky sin. Does perfectionism prevent us from vulnerability with others because we find ourselves busy with many things? Do we overthink conversations after they happen? Do we fail to give ourselves and others grace in moments of imperfection? If the answer is yes to any of the above, perfectionism may have a grip on us.
Once we recognize the hold perfectionism has on us, we need to turn to God in repentance. We need to deliberately put off the old (Eph 4:21) and put on the new. We need to step out of the yoke of slavery and into the freedom of the gospel. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
We also need to be transformed in our inner self through God’s Word and prayer (Eph 4:23). There must be a replacement of the old pattern with the spiritual desire to weave a new pattern. This is what the Holy Spirit does as he works in our hearts to transform us into the likeness of Christ. It is not achieved by human effort or strength. It come from Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col 1:27).
God sees us as perfect because of the perfect work of Christ. In the now and the not-yet here on earth, we can freely rest in Christ’s finished work. God loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8); We don’t need to add perfectionism or resumés to his gospel.
As we unravel the layers of perfectionism in our heart, we can bask in our new-found freedom (Eph 4:24). In gospel-identity we are truly seen and deeply loved in our imperfections because of Christ. We are free to not give perfect advice, wrestle with imperfect children, and to quite possibly serve an overcooked meal. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Let us not submit to the yoke of slavery to perfectionism.
The remedy for the plague of perfectionism is the redemptive work of Christ. In him, there is freedom from the plague of perfectionism. God is slowly rescuing me from my desire to be worried about many things. He is changing me from the inside out through the Holy Spirit, to see my need to put away my mop and sit with the women he brings into my life. Redemption from perfection is a process, but God promises that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). By his grace, he is making me new (Rev 21:5).
About the Author:
Rachel Craddock is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University (05’ B.A. Education) and a first-grade teacher at heart. Rachel has been in the PCA since she became a Christian through the ministry of Campus Outreach during her time at Eastern Kentucky University. She has served in children’s, youth, and women’s ministries in the local churches she has attended over the years. Rachel currently serves as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator at North Cincinnati Community Church and is a writer and speaker. She writes on her blog and speaks at women’s events and retreats out of a desire to encourage women in a relatable way to practically apply the gospel to their daily lives.
When not busy serving in her community as a substitute teacher in the public schools or parenting her four fun children Ezra (9), Asher (8), Caleb (6), and Lydia Jane (4), Rachel enjoys reading, dark roast coffee, trail running, traveling, date nights, and blogging. She and her family are members of North Cincinnati Community Church in Mason, Ohio where her husband serves as lead pastor. You can connect with Rachel on Facebook, Twitter or on her blog, rachelcraddock.com.