By Jasmine Baucham
I recently came to grips with a tremendously difficult truth: not everyone is going to be pleased with me.
I’ll give you a minute to revive yourself from that faint before I continue.
It doesn’t matter what I do or say or think, when it comes to some people, I will never, ever be good enough.
Now, if you can face that truth with a simple shrug of your shoulders, more power to you. I want to be just like you when I grow up. But if that truth descends upon you while you’re sitting in your closet, rocking back and forth, stuffing marshmallows into your mouth as the darkness envelopes your crushed soul–I’m here for you.
At the end of the day, I want to do everything right. And not only that, but I want everyone to acknowledge that I did everything right.
I call it perfectionism. Perfectionism, we’re told, isn’t about pleasing others. It’s about our high personal standard, our own goals.
I learned to cry, “Hogwash!” when I heard that explanation. Perfectionism is not about me so much as it’s about you and how you perceive me. It’s all about my ability to perform in a way that garners, not just self-respect, but respect from others. As a believer, perfectionism even colors how I view myself before a holy God. I try to gain his favor the same way I try to gain favor from the other people in my life: by my performance.
Once upon a time, I was a carefree toddler of irresistible cuteness and charm.
And then I became a grown woman who sticks her foot in her mouth, runs roughshod over important relationships, and writes blog posts with typos in them.
I used to have it made, guys. Everything I did was cute and applause-worthy.
And then I was potty-trained and life got hard.
Over the course of twenty-three years of existence, I have learned that it is impossible to be perfect. I am fatally flawed. And, lest you feel like giving yourself a pat on the back, so are you if you are a descendant of Adam (Romans 5:14).
Granted, this fact has rarely stopped me from trying to become the perfect daughter, or the perfect sister, the perfect friend, the perfect marriage prospect, or the perfect significant other. It’s one thing to acknowledge that “You just can’t be perfect” and quite another to live in light of the fact that “Trying will land you in a mental institution.”
I have found myself buckling under the weight of this self-generated performance anxiety time and again throughout my life. I say “self-generated” because even if others have had overly high expectations on me, it’s always my choice to try to achieve them. It’s only been in recent months that I’ve allowed myself to come up for air, to put on the breaks, and to make a conscious effort not to try to win the favor of the world.
The Origin of the Performancism
I believe we strive to be perfect because we were created in the image of a perfectly holy God who does, indeed, demand perfect holiness (Leviticus 20:26). It’s a holiness that we cannot achieve in our fallen state, a holiness that we cannot even understand in the flesh (Romans 3:23).
I believe our desire for perfection is one of the things that the Lord uses to draw us to himself, the only answer for our imperfections, the only one who can lift the weight of the Law’s (and our own extra set of) demands (Galatians 3:24).
In the words of Tullian Tchividjian in Jesus + Nothing = Everything:
“In this ‘performancism,’ we eventually figure out that being the star of our own show actually makes life a tragedy. When life is all about us–what we can do, how we perform–our world becomes small and smothering; we shrink. To have everything riding on ourselves leads to despair not deliverance.”
The only deliverance we have from performance and perfectionism is to rest on the remedy for our showing off.
The Remedy for Stage Fright
Understanding that the desire for perfection crouches at our door is step one. Realizing that this desire is marred by our flesh, that’s step two. Acknowledging that we can’t possibly ever be perfect is step three.
And step four is realizing that we don’t have to be perfect.
It is one thing to understand that we live our lives for an audience of One. That in and of itself is goal-shifting, life-changing, all-consuming Good News! Want to hear even better news?
Christ was perfect in our stead.
Our audience of One has already seen all of the perfection that he requires in his Son (1 John 2:2).
Christ died on the Cross becoming a ransom for daughters who are not only desperately imperfect, but erect little idols of perfect holiness that pale in comparison to the risen King. Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to the law of God so that the Father, when he looks upon desperately sinful little children who vie for the respect of equally desperate sinners, he sees the performance of his only begotten son.
Fellow perfectionist, I see you sitting there, rocking back and forth and patting yourself in that straight jacket. Take it off. Burn the thing. And run to the Father. Because you are matchlessly treasured by him, you don’t have to try to gain standing in the eyes of others. He could love you no less than he already does.
I’ll give you a minute to revive yourself from that good news.
Jasmine is the oldest of Voddie and Bridget Baucham’s eight children. She is a homeschool graduate, holds a BA in English Literature, and is currently pursuing an Master of Arts in Religion. Jasmine currently serves as a sixth grade teacher at a classical/university model school in Houston. She is the author of Joyfully at Home, and loves living at home where she continues to learn from her mother, enjoy her siblings, assist her father and others in research, and will begin studying at Reformed Theological Seminary this summer.
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