By Anne Peterson, Crosswalk.com
God is a loving Father who wants what’s best for his children. God empowers us to do the things he asks us to do. Whatever we do in word or deed we are to do as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17). God reminds us that He is the one who will reward us, we work to please him (Colossians 3:23-24).
So where does this desire for perfection come from? Well, if it’s not from God, we know it’s from the enemy of our soul, Satan.
When you look at the results of perfectionism it makes sense why Satan would be in favor of it. Here are 7 signs the pursuit of perfection is Satan’s ploy:
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1. Perfectionists Please Men, Not God
Whether we are talking about others or ourselves, when we pursue perfection we are seeking to please man. Paul asks us to consider whom we are trying to please (Galatians 1:10). I have to confess, when I was a new Christ-follower, I thought if I pleased man, I was also pleasing God. When I saw this verse in Galatians where it explained a servant of Christ is not a people-pleaser, it really surprised me. And caused me to really look into it.
Then I began reading books like, Boundaries, by Townsend and Cloud, as well as other books about codependency, and I realized I cared far too much about what others thought. Learning to follow Christ and walk with him was an eye-opener, because I was in God’s Word—and able to see what God thought as opposed to what men think.
Instead of performing for others to gain their approval, I learned God accepted me, just as I am. God showed his love for me while I was a sinner (Romans 5:8).
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2. Perfectionists Worry, They Don’t Trust
God’s Word is forever encouraging us to trust God, to put our faith in him. Precisely where Satan doesn’t want us to be.
Perfectionists trust their own efforts, and they do not allow themselves the freedom to make mistakes, nor are they forgiving of the mistakes others make. Perfectionists often have all-or-nothing thinking, no in between.
I am a recovering perfectionist and my wake-up call came the day that we were getting our photograph for a church directory. “Smile,” the photographer said to the four of us. Every hair was in place, great care was made to have the perfect picture. “You’re such a beautiful family,” he added, just to ensure he’d see our pearly whites.
What he didn’t know was that just two days prior we had been in the emergency room. My husband’s depression had hit an all-time low. I’ll just leave it at that. Appearances can be deceiving.
Perfectionism is not something that perfectionists like, but the enemy knows how to drive us to it with an urgency you would not believe.
Growth came for me when I faced reality. Things were not perfect. We...were not perfect. But God promises he will be with us even though we have imperfections. He also encouraged us to trust in him wholeheartedly, not leaning on our own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5-6).
I’ve tried the other way. It didn’t work. I was so ready to try God’s way.
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3. Perfectionists Get Anxious, They Don’t Have Peace
I’m pretty certain my perfectionist tendencies started from my family of origin, where nothing was seen unless it was perfect. Satan wants you always doubting if what you have to offer will be enough, keeping you anxious. When I became a Christ-follower, some of what I was learning seemed foreign to me. I had to dissect those things in my mind and eventually learn God’s ways instead of the things I had learned.
God said to be anxious for nothing, but instead, I could bring every concern to God and he, in exchange, would give me his peace (Philippians 4:6). Like everyone else in the world, I longed for peace, a settling of my mind, a calm in my spirit. But I was surprised to read God wanted me to be thankful as I brought those requests to him. I was not used to thanking God before I received my request, but the more I learned about God, the more I saw that God values faith. In fact, it’s impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).
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4. Perfectionists Are Prone to Discouragement
Striving for perfection is tiring. Nothing counts if it misses the mark. Nothing. And Satan knows if he can make you weak, he’ll be more likely to gain a foothold.
I’ll never forget the time our dad promised $5.00 to any of us who got all E’s (equivalent to A’s) on their report card. And there I was with my coupon for $5.00 right in my hand. I was so excited that I turned to my classmate, Bob, behind me and wrote on his report card, “Bob is bad.”
I was so giddy, I didn’t realize what was going on when Mrs. Akin called me up to the front of the room, asking me to bring my report card. And in one short moment she changed my fate by changing one of my E’s to a G. I was more than discouraged. I was devastated.
It was similar to watching my mom at every meal, looking for my dad’s approval...which never came. Instead of praise for even one meal, he was meticulous about pointing out what her dinner lacked. Discouragement is one of the enemy’s favorite tools. If he can get Christ-followers discouraged, they are open to hearing his whispered lies.
I remember learning that we are all born sinners (Romans 3:23). I learned the good news that God loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). It was important to realize that even though we aren’t perfect, still the creator of the universe loves us.
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5. Perfectionists Don’t Extend Grace to Others
One thing I learned as a perfectionist was that mistakes were not allowed. The problem with that thinking was that it transferred over to my expectations of others. I remember the many times I tried explaining to my daughter how she had folded the towels wrong.
I am ashamed to admit my words lacked grace. I was impatient that she couldn’t get it right. And one day, I realized that I was modeling the very thing I had seen growing up. I needed to model what my heavenly Father modeled instead. Grace. When God gave us the gift of salvation, it was with grace. That’s how we were saved (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Satan loves it when we’re impatient with those around us. He hates those who love God. He hates grace. He doesn’t want anyone drawn to God. When people quickly judge one another, the enemy smiles. For with judgment comes a feeling of superiority, a brother of pride.
6. Perfectionists Aren’t Humble, but Proud
One day as a returning student in college, we’d just received our papers back from a Biology lab quiz. One girl (who I’ll call Barbara), had just realized she missed two questions. And while she still got an A, she was angry that she lost points. Immediately she challenged the lab assistant on those questions. Barbara intimidated the assistant with every word that seethed out her mouth. I remember sitting there and thinking, “Is that what I sound like, when I’m so sure I’m right and someone else is wrong?”
There was only one man who was perfect and humble. And his name is Jesus. He left glory to be born in a stable. He was a king, but he came to serve. And Jesus didn’t call the shots, but he always submitted to his Father. Even when he was in the garden of Gethsemane facing the biggest trial of all, he shared what he felt, but still submitted himself to the Father (Luke 22:42). Satan would not.
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7. Perfectionists Seek Glory for Themselves, Not God
After all the exertion, all the energy spent, all the tireless hours, the one who pursues perfection wants everyone to know they are the one who worked for this moment. It is all because of them. They find it unbearable if someone else gets credit for something they were a part of. There is this unquenchable thirst for recognition. And if someone were to critique what they do, or in some way disagree with their end product, it feels as if an arrow was thrust into their very being.
But those who seek excellence instead of perfection, know that the only reason they have strength is because they receive it from the giver of power, the Almighty One. And they know that the reason they can do what they do is because of Christ (Philippians 4:13). Paul was one who knew that anything he accomplished was due to God (Philippians 3: 13-14).
This kind of thinking doesn’t enslave us like the temptations of the enemy. Rather, it sets us free.
We Get to Choose
For those of us who have struggled with perfectionism, we can stay on that merry-go-round, or we can decide to pursue God’s desire for excellence in our imperfections instead. When we do our best, give ourselves permission to be human, and realize that we will make mistakes, we can still pursue the excellence God sees in us.
We also acknowledge that God is the one who provides us with the strength to accomplish our purposes. We can learn to lean on God instead of trying to do it all ourselves. And we’ll find that not only do we experience God’s grace, but we will also be able to extend grace to others.
When I stopped trying to pursue perfectionism, I became more approachable.
If I admitted that I made mistakes, then others didn’t feel intimidated by me.
Satan loves perfectionism because this singular focus causes you to miss a lot of what is going on around you. God, however, wants us to be present in our lives. He wants us to have relationships with others and with him.
Father, I have struggled, with wanting things just so,
perfectionism ruled my life, I knew it had to go.
And then you showed another way, a path that I could take.
Where I can strive for excellence, with grace for my mistakes.
Thank you that you’re here with me, no matter what I do,
And help me, Lord, to lean on you, the way you want me to.
– Anne Peterson
A Prayer For Those Struggling with Perfectionism
Lord, we ask you to help us as we follow you. Sometimes we get wrapped up in what we’re doing and that becomes more important than anything else. Help us to include you in our lives and recognize when Satan is using perfectionism as a ploy. Guide and direct us so we are not driven by this insatiable desire to have things perfect. Help us to value people in our lives and spend time with them. Lord, help us to always be aware of your presence in our lives so we are thankful for all you have provided. Free us from the pursuit of perfection. And Father, we give you the praise and glory, for we pray this in your Son’s precious and Holy name, Amen.
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