Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ. –Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)
John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States. In addition to serving his country as President, during his lifetime he served as an American diplomat, senator and congressman. He also served in the Massachusetts legislature. Yet, reflecting on his life at the age of 70, he wrote this:
“(My) life has been a succession of disappointments. I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success in anything I ever undertook.”
Amazing! Adams, successful by any objective human standard, appears to have been driven (and haunted) by a standard of perfection. And even now, some 150+ years later, our American culture has continued to foster the attitude that perfectionism is a desirable (and even–though incorrectly so–possible!) trait. In life, our culture implies that if we are not the best at what we do, someone else is just over our shoulder ready to take our place.
Our culture promotes the atmosphere that failure is unacceptable. There is little freedom for people to fail. Often, when someone is not up to accepted standards, as opposed to being offered help, one may be ridiculed for poor performance, replaced, demoted, or even fired. As a result, our culture teaches that in order to stay ahead of the game, one must “cut corners” in order to gain an advantage. From cheating in school to undermining peers or supervisors at work, the drive to succeed at all costs can become overwhelming. Unfortunately, this pressure often leads to the loss of personal integrity and is a scar on our reputation as a follower of Christ.
If you find yourself in pursuit of perfectionism, I encourage you to give yourself a break today. Be reminded that perfection in this life is simply unattainable. Believers should pursue excellence in all things. We are to do everything as though it is for the Lord. Excellence honors God. But, an unhealthy pursuit of perfection–one that either disregards any success along the way, or comes at the cost of integrity–will only lead to disappointment.
Above all, be encouraged by the knowledge that God doesn’t love us any more or any less when we are or aren’t perfect. His love is not based on performance, but on His own choice, simply for who we are.
1. What sources of pressure do you feel to pursue perfectionism? How have you dealt with those pressures?
2. What steps can you take to give yourself a break from these pressures?
1 John 4:10, 15-16; Romans 5:6-8, 12:3