When Perfection Becomes an Obstacle

David Seamands, a longtime Christian counselor, told of a young woman whose mom always demanded perfection. She was never good enough for mom’s praise. When she was 6 or 7 she had a piano recital. She had worked hard and practiced and practiced. On the day of the recital she performed her piece flawlessly. Her teacher leaned over and whispered, “You were perfect!” The young girl then sat down by her mother who said nothing. Ten minutes later her mom finally said, “Your slip was showing.”   perfection.jpg


I wonder if some of us do not have a similar view of God. You do your best and then expect him, like this girl’s mother to say, “Your slip was showing.” No matter what you do, or how well you do it, it is not enough. Such a view of God, is not only inaccurate, but can be actually be paralyzing.


I remember sitting in my first graduate Bible class at Abilene Christian University, a number of years ago. It was “Introduction to the New Testament.” The class was full of students who seemed to know more than I knew. The professor would refer to various scholars and other students would nod their heads knowingly. Sometimes a student would raise his hand and interject thoughts from a book he had read recently.


I sat there feeling as if I was at the back of the line, behind most of the other students. It seemed they knew so much more.


Eventually, I finished school, and we moved back to Alabama where I began preaching for a small church full of patient people. I was new, and I wanted to do well. Yet, even though I had just begun my work there, I felt hopelessly behind. I wrestled with these kinds of questions:

  • How can I read all of these books?
  • How can I know everything that is in the Bible?
  • How do I know when I have sufficiently prepared a sermon or Bible class?
  • What if I steer someone in the wrong direction? Is this really the best answer to give them?
  • What am I supposed to do?
  • Am I doing this (ministry) right?
  • Am I praying the way I should?
  • Am I depending on God the way I should?
  • What if I don’t do ministry very well?
  • What if I fail?


Then, someone would call our church office. They wanted to ask a question about the Bible.

“I just thought I would call you. I figured you would probably know the answer to this question.”

“Right.”


I wanted to do my work right but for the longest I was so focused on perfection and not making a mistake that it became paralyzing. It was hard for me to finish anything without worrying about whether or not it was good enough.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Years later, I am thankful to be free from that kind of bondage! I am glad to be free to give the time and effort that I have and to trust God to be at work in whatever I have to offer. I am glad to be free to trust God instead of my own performance. I am glad to seek excellence but to be satisfied with what I have to offer, trusting that God will bless.


Question:

Can you describe a time when you found seeking this kind of perfection to be an obstacle or even paralyzing?


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6 thoughts on “When Perfection Becomes an Obstacle

  1. I have certainly felt that way throughout my life. Not so much anymore. It is as you said, a most miserable feeling. I think it is another way Satan works, wanting us to doubt how much God loves and cares for us and wanting us to doubt ourselves.

    Very good post!

  2. I felt that way once in ministry because of a very loud voice in the congregation who because of a disagreement, decided to wage a war upon my work ethic, integrity, honesty, faith, and motives. Around him I constantly felt like I was under a microscope. Needless to say it was one of those unhealthy situations that most ministers encounter at some point in their calling.

    Good post!

    • Rex, it is interesting how immaturity can be loud, agressive, and totally focused on sabotage. And yes– I suspect most ministers encounter someone like this at some point. Reading your comment brought back some memories for me.

  3. A great article with an important message. I am so thankful that we have God who openly embraces us…mistakes and all!

    When I first became born again I was 17 and hadn’t been raised in a church. I remember getting involved in a church and being a camp counselor that summer. I was zealous and in love with God but overwhelmed at the knowledge that those around me had. They had been raised hearing Bible stories and memorizing scripture in Sunday school classes…I hardly knew many of the storylines in the Old Testament! The biggest obstacle I had was when I was introducted to praying in a circle of people. I remember feeling my heart want to leap out of my chest as slowly, one by one, each person would say this magnificent prayer, bringing up great points and supplications to God and then it was my turn. I was so afraid of saying something “wrong” or “stupid”..it was awful! I’d avoid such situations but have found that God loves everyone’s prayer…no matter how detailed or how simple and oftentimes the most simple ones with the fewest words can sometimes be the most sincere.

    • Jessica,
      Wow. Your comment is powerful. You reminded me of just how devastating such an experience can be. You also helped me remember that the zeal and the love of God of a new believer is precious and is such a valuable gift to the body of Christ. In your story, the people in the prayer circle seemed to miss this. I am glad to be reminded of just how much those with a simple faith have to offer.