Releasing the Pressure Valve of Perfectionism

My name is Samantha, and I’m a chronic perfectionist.

per·fec·tion·ist

noun

  1. Definition: a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.

My standards are high, and my mind is hypercritical. I appreciate precision and thoroughly thought-out, well-executed plans. I hate settling for less than best, and I love when people notice how perfect my work is.

Are you in the perfectionist club, too? Then you know how fabulous it feels to step back and observe a job well done, how satisfying it is to see 102% written on your test, how energized you are by straight lines and perfect handwriting.

We weren’t created to be perfect—we were created to worship a perfect God.

But I’m also way too well-acquainted with the dark side of perfectionism. The ultra-critical voice inside my head. The frustration of submitting a project that’s less than my best. The inability to make decisions because I can’t see the most perfect path. The way I ignore people in my pursuit of perfect. The intense and debilitating analysis paralysis.

The thing that drives me to achieve at a high standard is the very thing that can break me in a split second. The precise, thoughtful mind God created in me switches into overdrive, and I leave people feeling undervalued and my soul tied up in critical knots.

And in this lifelong battle, God is teaching me something. He’s revealing my striving and wrestling heart in light of His Word, the truth that says, “Come away and rest” (Mark 6:31). Are you walking on your own long journey of perfectionism? Let’s consider and apply some truth together.

I’m a Perfectionist—And an Idol-Worshiper

Do you see yourself as a perfectionist? Here are some ways to recognize it in your own life:

  • You can’t make a decision unless you’ve agonized over it, because you want to make sure it’s perfect.
  • You (ironically) procrastinate projects because you refuse to start on it until you have the perfect idea, are in the perfect mood, and know that the finished product will be perfect.
  • You’re extra critical of someone else’s work that falls below your standards.
  • You’d prefer that people just get out of your way.
  • You frequently lose sleep because you can’t stop analyzing a project or situation.
  • You wish your family, friends, coworkers, youth leaders, teachers (and basically everyone else) would meet your expectations.
  • You’re crushed when something important to you falls short of your standards.
  • You struggle to compliment others on a job well done.
  • You feel downright green with envy when someone scores higher than you or wins an award or accolade you wanted.
  • You can’t stand to look at social media because others’ lives seem completely perfect and make yours look so . . . not.

I used to think these were just the side effects of my personality; it’s the stuff that comes with being someone who loves being perfect. Except God sees it so differently.

Here’s how He’s revealed the ugly sin that’s ruling my heart:

As a bride-to-be, I wrestled with the dream of a perfect wedding as soon as the engagement ring was slid onto my finger. God’s grace would remind me again and again that the purpose of my wedding was to showcase the glory and splendor of Christ. He was so good to draw my heart to Himself as I planned the wedding. I just wasn’t prepared for the “battle after the battle“—all the should’ves, would’ves, and could’ves that came crashing on me afterward.

Months after my wedding I find myself stuck in analysis paralysis, agonizing over the ways I could’ve prepared better, soaked in the moments better, made things go even smoother. Yet no matter how long I mull it over, I can’t change a single detail. And that makes me crazy.

But God’s Word helps me see that all this analyzing isn’t really about the wedding at all. It’s about the idol controlling my heart.

The expectation of perfection runs my life. I bow down to it. I long for it; I crave it; I lie awake agonizing over it. I want my life to be perfect.

Do you?

Perfect? There’s No Such Thing

This perfect ideal we’re striving for? It’s just a mirage, a lie the enemy wants us to chase. He’ll do anything to convince us that the perfect guy, the perfect grade, the perfect college, the perfect wedding, the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect family is all in our reach if we fight hard enough. If we lay everything at the altar of perfectionism, we’ll get there . . .

The idols in our hearts will make us crazy—we’ll analyze until we crack, we’ll do anything to achieve perfect performance, we’ll neglect the people in our lives who can’t help us reach our goals. We can nitpick, plan ahead, and work until we can’t see straight.

And then we’ll fall apart.

Because the gloriously shining ideal of “perfect” isn’t in our grasp. We weren’t created to be perfect—we were created to worship a perfect God (Col. 1:16).

Seeing Perfectionism As It Is

Perfectionism is idolatry. It says, “Above all else, chase after perfection. It’s what will fulfill you.”

Perfectionism is pride. It says, “You deserve this to be perfect.”

Perfectionism makes us miss God’s blessings. It says, “If it’s not perfect, it’s not good.”

Perfection can control our lives like an addiction, but Jesus sets us free from all its idolatrous, prideful striving and pressure (Gal. 5:1).

Stop Striving; Find Hope

Is your craving to be perfect so strong that it runs your life? Are you frustrated, stressed, and worn out because though you work and fight for it, perfection continues to slip through your fingers?

Perfection can control our lives like an addiction, but Jesus sets us free from all its idolatrous, prideful striving and pressure.

Trying to be perfect is just hard.

Release the pressure valve of perfection.

Quit striving and fighting. Perfection isn’t for us.

Find peace, rest, and true satisfaction not in the false hope of perfect things, but wholly and completely in Jesus.

If your anxious heart is striving for the idol of perfection, spend some time in these Scripture passages:

“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zeph. 3:17).

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress (Ps. 46:10–11).

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you (Ps. 33:20–22).

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie! You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your
wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told (Ps. 40:1–5).

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About Author

Samantha loves lazy lake days, strong coffee, and writing about the ways Jesus transforms our everyday messes into beautiful stories. She digs the four seasons in northern Indiana, is probably wearing a Notre Dame crew neck, and serves as the social media manager on the Revive Our Hearts staff.

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