The Gospel Unravels Perfectionism
by Rachel Craddock, Guest Writer
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.
I have done many things in seasons of rebellion, but my most plaguing, ongoing sin is my desire to be perfect all of the time. At times, I am a slave to perfectionism. I let the unrealistic expectations I have for myself and others tangle up the way I see the world. This slavery to perfection prohibits me from living in unity in the body of Christ. This all comes from my misunderstanding of strength, the need to hold everything together all of the time, and insecurity about my identity in Christ.
When the desire for perfectionism is greater than my desire to embrace the grace given to me by Christ, I fail to see myself and others around me with the eyes of the gospel. Perfectionism leads me back to a life of living behind a mask; I am disconnected from unity with others because perfection stifles vulnerability.
Over the years, God has been gracious to slowly unravel me from perfectionism, but as a new wife, in our two-bedroom apartment during our seminary days, I worshipped the idea of appearing perfect to a watching world. One of the first times we invited a friendly couple over for dinner, I spent most of the day scrubbing the house, vacuuming, dusting the picture frames on the walls, and searching the Internet for a recipe for casseroles. I had never prepared a casserole before, but on this day I felt like this was something I needed to do.
As I prepared, I was tangled up in the lie that I needed to impress others. I embraced perfectionism and the need to appear as if my home was perfect, while outwardly I fought to feel completely joyful, happy, content, fulfilled, and strong; I couldn’t let people see who I really was beneath the surface. In my perfectionism, the real me was afraid to be seen for who I really was, so I layered on falsities to hide my loneliness, fear of the unknown, and insecurities. I layered the idea of looking cleaned up on the outside to prevent anyone from seeing the tangled-up messes which were beneath the surface.
When we sat down for dinner, we prayed with our new friends, and then I served my casserole, the church-people food I was hoping would please the crowd. As I scooped the casserole from the 9x13 baking dish, what I saw was raw chicken on my serving spoon. My casserole was not cooked perfectly. The chicken was not edible! How could this have happened? I followed the instructions perfectly. I had nothing else to serve and I was completely mortified! Our new friends were gracious and waited with us in my shame-space as I placed the casserole back in the oven. Sadly, in this moment, how well I executed hosting new people in my home as a new wife concerned me more than the actual people around my table. I didn’t recover from almost poisoning my guests with raw chicken. Though the night went on, I was completely withdrawn.
Slavery to perfection keeps us from unity within the body of Christ. When we desire to show only the most perfect parts of ourselves, we are hindered from the unity Paul writes about in Ephesians 4. Perfectionism prevents us from humility, patience, gentleness, and the ability to bear with one another in love. If we are unable to be patient, humble, gentle, and bear with our own selves in moments of imperfection, how can we extend these things to others within the body of Christ?
Much of my bend toward perfectionism comes from a desire to control. This comes from the deeply-woven threads I have tangled up around my heart in woundedness. I believe if I can show a perfect self, I can protect myself from the deeply-woven shame and pain. We are never free from shame and pain when we operate from a place of perfectionism. Vulnerability is the only thing that can free us from the shame and pain beneath the surface. It is in the human imperfections that God’s perfect power is displayed (2 Corinthians 12:9).
When we humbly embrace that we belong to God and are aware of the ungodly desire to only show the most perfect parts of ourselves, then we find ourselves truly free from the yoke of slavery to perfectionism. If we find that we belong to God, we will rest in Christ’s perfect work on the cross and surrender our own fallen desires to meaninglessly perfect the world around us. In this world, the greatest commandment is not to have the perfectly decorated home, the tastiest casserole, or a dust-bunny-free hardwood floor. The greatest commandment is to love God and love others. When we finally realize that His grace is sufficient and rest in His work, we will be able to find rest from the yoke of slavery of perfectionism. In Christ, we are lavished with His grace—this grace is for us in the imperfections of everyday life.
Lord, You are gracious and all-sufficient in our imperfections. Enable us to rest in Your perfect work, help us pursue humility, gentleness, and patience with ourselves when we may feel less than perfect. Your grace is enough.
Rachel Craddock, a writer and speaker, serves as Regional Advisor of Women's Ministry to Mid-America for the PCA. She desires to encourage women in a relatable way to practically apply the gospel to their daily lives, and have a relationship with the God who unravels the old to make us new in the redemptive blood of Jesus. When she is not busy serving in her community as a substitute teacher in the public schools or parenting her four fun children Ezra (10), Asher (8), Caleb (7), and Lydia Jane (5), 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, Instagram,or on her blog, rachelcraddock.com
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