Escaping the Burden of Perfectionism
“How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?”
Galatians 3:3 NLT
The weight of Paul’s words to the church of Galatia landed swiftly, cutting through the thick heaviness of my heart. The impact happened so fast I needed a moment to gather myself. I re-read the passage and felt relief wash over me as I meditated on Galatians 3:3. For years, I have struggled with perfectionism. It has been a heavy yoke that is full of irrational demands, impossible standards, and relentless condemnation.
The seeds of perfectionism were first planted in my youth as a way to cope with the abandonment of my father. His departure was never discussed and I was left to process the pain on my own. The only way my childish mind could make sense of being discarded was to believe that I was the cause. I began to believe the lie that if only I were different then maybe my father wouldn’t have left me. The seeds of this lie grew deep. I developed toxic habits that taught me to strive for perfection and mask my pain. I believed this would lead to acceptance and shield me from rejection but I was wrong.
Instead of acceptance, I became isolated and disconnected. Afraid to be my true self, I morphed into whoever I thought others wanted me to be. When I failed, condemnation reigned, shaming me for not having it all together. Understanding the gospel at the age of 16 was the first time I felt relief from perfectionism. Learning that salvation was not contingent on my performance and actions but simply through the free gift given by Jesus' death on the cross was foreign to me (John 3:16). This truth seemed too easy.
God began to cut off the toxic roots of perfectionism in my life by teaching me about His love and grace (Ephesians 2:4-9). I started to live free in who He created me to be and learned to renew my mind. Romans 8:1 became a powerful reminder to me that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Despite my growth, at times I forget, just like the Galatians, that my salvation began by the work of the Holy Spirit. I fall back into habits of striving and perfecting. I forget that apart from Christ I can do nothing (John 15:5).
God used Galatians 3:3 to invite me to release the burden of perfectionism and reurn to His presence.
God used Galatians 3:3 to invite me to release the burden of perfectionism and return to His presence. If you struggle with perfectionism, God is extending this same invitation to you today. We too must continually be reminded that our efforts don’t perfect us. Christ does.
There are some who are unaware of their struggle with perfectionism. Dr. Raychelle Cassada Lohnmann article, Perfectly Imperfect, provides a list of characteristics of a perfectionist. I have included a few of these characteristics in the following list.
You might be a perfectionist if you:
- Place unrealistic demands on yourself and others.
- Procrastinate or avoid tasks because you fear failure.
- Believe you must earn God’s love and acceptance.
- Struggle with self-condemnation and feeling like you are not good enough.
- Criticize yourself and others with “you should have/could have” statements.
- Tend to overwork and neglect rest in your pursuit of “excellence”.
- Seek approval for doing something well.
If you find that you identify with these characteristics, there is hope and freedom in Christ.
4 Ways You Can Release the Burden of Perfectionism
1. Understand the “WHY” Behind Your Striving.
It is important to identify what is motivating you to strive for perfection. As I mentioned earlier, the genesis of my striving came from my father’s abandonment. Your motivation might be different. A loved one’s comment about your appearance or performance as a child might be your driving force. Spend time in prayer asking God to reveal the cause of your striving. When we understand our “why”, we gain more awareness and allow the Lord to heal the root of our perfectionism.
2. Understand the Cost of Perfectionism.
Perfectionism creates unhealthy patterns that can lead to depression and anxiety. It also puts an unhealthy focus on self and others instead of God. It drives self-sufficiency instead of God-dependency. It robs us of resting in God’s love and grace. Our relationship with God and others becomes distorted and performance-based. When we understand the cost of perfectionism, we are able to turn to God for deliverance.
3. Understand the Freedom of Repentance.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). God is full of compassion and love. Perfectionists don’t have to fear rejection because God will always forgive those who turn to Him in repentance. I often repent for seeking the approval of man and not completing God-ordained projects due to my fear of failure. Repentance allows God to cleanse us from our unrighteous ways and releases us from our striving. Like Paul, we discover that God’s grace is all we need and we can finally rest.
Like Paul, we discover that God's grace is all we need and we can finally rest.
We are free to move forward and fail without shame.
4. Understand the Protection of Spiritual Disciplines.
Developing spiritual disciplines will help those who struggle with perfectionism abide in Christ. Daily reading of God’s Word and renewing the mind will help transform toxic thought patterns and beliefs. Meditating on God’s character and practicing His presence, helps us understand who He is and who we are in Him. Incorporating sabbath rest into our daily or weekly routines cultivates rhythms of release and surrender. Celebration and gratitude guide our hearts to worship God and to praise Him for what He has accomplished through us.
As you release the burden of perfectionism, remember that your new life started by the work of the Holy Spirit. Rest in God’s love.
Lohnmann, Raychelle Cassada. “Perfectly Imperfect.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 25 July 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/teen-angst/201807/perfectly-imperfect.