Are you a perfectionist?
Most hardline perfectionists are quick to own up, but before you say ‘no’, hear me out. I think everyone carries a streak of perfectionism in at least one aspect of their life.
Perhaps it’s beauty. My make-up routine takes two and a half minutes, but I know women who spend hours in front of the mirror, striving to apply the perfect face. For others—both men and women—it’s a quest for perfect hair, and their burgeoning cache of hair products gives them away. In fact, I think it’s safe to say the entire multi-billion dollar beauty industry thrives on this version of perfectionism.
Or is it your home? Some people strive for a spotless house 24-7, and almost achieve it—with constant effort. I’d be one of them, but four furry pets make spotlessness a joke. Still, we all know people whose dwellings always look like show homes.
Maybe your car is your shrine. My son, with daily attention, keeps his vehicle looking like he just drove it off the lot. He’s fastidious about his wardrobe, too; not a trait he inherited from his father, whose own version of perfectionism centers on exhaustive research and absolute symmetry in everything related to graphics.
Across the street, my retired neighbor is an extreme perfectionist, exhibited in his immaculate lawn and garden. You could eat off his sidewalk. He’s out there year round, battling nature and making our yard look even worse than it is. He even shovels his driveway while it’s still snowing!
Maybe your perfectionism comes out at work or school, where you overextend to lead the pack in every test or project. Or perhaps it shows in the realm of gift-giving, where you agonize over finding the perfect gift for every occasion. This morning I saw a woman buying Christmas wrap (it’s October 1st), and I suspect she’s one of those.
However it manifests, perfectionism can be exhausting, sucking up time, money, and energy like a ravenous bottom-feeder. Fortunately, one of the great things about getting older is we finally realize how pointless and draining it is to be devoted to perfection in areas of our lives where, frankly, nobody cares. It’s a pity most of us don’t figure this out sooner.
Is your face not perfectly contoured? Is your hair doing its own thing? Is your car messy, your house cluttered? Does your lawn need cutting? Do you have a bit of soup dribbled on your shirt?
Really…nobody cares. We understand this better as life wears out nearly everything, and we see the futility of striving for a perfect… anything. Except when it comes to the inner life, to the things that really matter. Inside qualities like integrity, holiness, love, compassion, and faith: the makings of the ‘inner’ person who’ll be revealed when Christ returns.
Here’s where we should ‘strive for perfection’—and also where we need the most help. Age-acquired wisdom make this fact more obvious, too. We all fall short in the inner arena, no matter how we try. Here’s where we need a Savior, a perfect stand-in for our personal moral failings.
And here’s where we’re given exactly what we need.
Hebrews 7:11 says this:
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still a need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?
Jesus became our permanent High Priest through God’s appointment, not on the basis of human ancestry (as with the Levitical priesthood), but “on the basis of the power of an indestructible life”. Because he lives forever, because he has been made perfect through suffering, because the sacrifice of his body is worth the sins of the whole world, because he is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens,” he is able to SAVE US COMPLETELY; or, as some translations read, TO SAVE US FOREVER (Hebrews 7:25).
His perfection has been credited to me, and to you. When God looks at a true Christian, he sees not a sinner, but the perfection of his Son, covering us completely. As Paul writes in Colossians,
But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Col.2:22-23)
All those centuries of blood sacrifices and offerings, performed by generation after generation of Levitical priests, were simply object lessons, demonstrating the pervasiveness and costliness of sin. God required it, but it was “weak and useless, for the law made nothing perfect”. The temple sacrifices took place day after day, atoning for the sins of the priests and the people. The priests were covered in blood, a sight from which we’d instinctively shrink. But no doubt those bloody scenes—the bleating of innocent animals, the smell of burnt offerings, the beautiful robes of the priests, deliberately soiled with blood and oil forever (see Exodus 28: 31-39, followed by Exodus 29:19-21)—were intentionally shocking. I remember reading these passages for the first time, visualizing the gorgeous priestly garments, and then being stunned by God’s command to splatter them with animal blood and oil—impossible to clean.
Surely this too was an object lesson from God, an illustration of how our sins stain the perfectly created beings we are at birth. Impossible to clean—by our own efforts.
But perfectly made spotless by the blood of our eternal Savior.
This inner perfection should bring us great joy, especially when we most need a reminder. I’m going through an intense spiritual battle right now, attacked by the Enemy though someone I deeply love. My turmoiled heart doesn’t always feel pure, and I pray for the Spirit to guide my emotions and responses. What peace to know I stand pure in Christ, completely forgiven, made perfect through him! But my woundedness—the stained, bloody garments I wear without his sacrifice—must keep me humbled and grateful forever.
Maybe it’s time to drop some of our outward striving for perfection, or at least lighten up. The hair, the makeup, the house, the yard…none of these define us. As for the inner stuff…let’s continue to seek our perfection through Him.