Perfectionism is a dangerous mindset that’s run rampant in our churches and minds for far too long. Psychological research shows that it has a lot of detrimental effects on our lives. It can cause us to perform worse at school or work.
But did you know that perfectionism also damages your walk with Christ? Although we’re tempted to dress up perfectionism with the “right” spiritual words, it damages your spiritual life in sneaky and insidious ways.
The following are five ways perfectionism is damaging your spiritual life. I’ve also included tips to help you begin to combat perfectionism as you pursue peace and wholeness in God’s Spirit.
1. Perfectionism can stop you from doing what God has called you to do.
Perfectionism turns us into procrastinators. We tend to have all-or-nothing thinking when perfectionism creeps into our lives. We’re so fixated on doing something perfectly that we end up not doing it at all.
I’ll be a little candid here: Perfectionism is one of the major factors that prevented me from posting with consistency for so long. I was so afraid that I wouldn’t be able to write the perfect thing that I let months (and years) slip by without writing anything.
While we should absolutely give our best to God, we need to combat the urge to procrastinate when we’re afraid it won’t be perfect. What we do doesn’t have to be perfect… it just has to be what God has called us to do.
How to Combat This: Just do the thing God wants you to do. I know this is much easier said than done. But if you trust God’s voice to tell you what to do, you can trust God’s voice to help you with the timing. Don’t let your fear of failure get in the way of doing what you’re called to do.
2. Perfectionism can make you feel unwarranted shame.
Let’s get one thing straight: Your perfectionism is not God’s voice. While Holy Spirit convicts, we often take more upon ourselves than we’re supposed to take on. Perfectionism turns genuine mistakes and human limitations and turns them into moral failures.
For example, I have a close friend who gets extremely upset when they make a mistake. Even when they simply misremember a piece of information, they’re so mortified at their mistake that they think it’s a major failure on their part.
When we bring that sort of perfectionism into our walk with Jesus, we make God a harsh judge in areas where God’s grace covers our weakness. Don’t put that kind of wedge between yourself and your savior.
How to Combat This: Talk to a trusted friend. When you talk to someone you trust, you can get an outside perspective that’s more likely to be fair. A trusted friend won’t be afraid to tell you you’re wrong. But when you suffer from perfectionism, that friend will also be there to help you view yourself through loving eyes.
3. Perfectionism causes you to have unhealthy expectations of other believers.
Most of the spiritual damage done by perfectionism will fall on your own shoulders. However, sometimes perfectionism causes us to damage the Body of Christ, the Church. When we cling to a rigid view of morality or expect a standard of excellence no person can meet, we cause rifts between ourselves and those who journey alongside us.
This doesn’t mean standards are bad. But when we force unreasonable standards on other people (especially when those things aren’t supported by Scripture), we do a lot of damage to other believers. Because our spiritual walk is not one taken in isolation, the damage we do to others has a direct impact on our individual journeys.
How to Combat This: When you expect something of another believer, ask yourself if that expectation is even biblical. It’s fine to want your community of faith to be better. But it isn’t fine to let your own culture or preferences shape the unfair expectations you place on them.
4. Perfectionism pulls you out of the present moment.
God calls us to be grounded in the moment. Scripture is full of verses about how we shouldn’t fixate on the past or worry about the future. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from the past or plan for the future, but those things should never get in the way of doing what God has given us to do in the present.
Perfectionism has a tendency to leave you fixated on things you’ve done wrong in the past or worried about the future. I spent an embarrassing number of years mortified by something I said when I was in Kindergarten. I didn’t care about the person I was, but worried that one mistake was enough to mean I wasn’t good enough.
Our perfectionism can also cause us to fixate on the future. Instead of doing what we should be doing in the moment, we’re too worried about what the future will bring and whether or not we’ll be able to meet those challenges.
How to Combat This: Every day, ask yourself, “What does God want me to do today?” When I was in college, I would have regular phone calls with my grandpa. Whenever I was sick, he’d tell me that school can always wait. I can retake classes. But my health had to be a priority.
God, our loving Father, often speaks the same message to us. Sometimes God wants us to move forward with action. But sometimes Holy Spirit is just reminding us to rest. If you’re looking for a great book about living into the current moment, I highly recommend Liturgy of the Ordinary. It has powerfully shaped how I view God’s call on my life as I live into an “ordinary” season as a new mom.
5. Perfectionism paints a false picture of God.
When we find ourselves in the mire of perfectionism, we end up painting a false picture of God. Every time we fixate on our human limitations and call them wrong, we see God as a vindictive god who’s out to get us. That isn’t our God.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Perfectionism and God’s voice aren’t the same thing. Your mind and God’s voice aren’t the same thing. It’s important to discern between your own anxieties and the leading of God’s Spirit.
How to Combat This: Dig deeper into Scripture to learn about the true nature of God. It’s hard to paint a picture of a vindictive God when you read about the God of love. Don’t just read Scripture alone, but worship in a body of believers. When you read and interpret Scripture together, you’re able to see God in a more honest light.