Perfection Must Die

There is probably nothing more annoying to a perfectionist than people and change. These are two things that perfection cannot tolerate; because it cannot understand either. The unfortunate irony is that there is nothing more certain in the experience of a human being than people and change. You might say that the perfectionist could become a hermit but we must remember that the perfectionist is also person, something they only frustratingly admit. In fact, their own imperfection might be the thing that annoys them most.

The other unfortunate irony is that if we are going to follow after the God of the Bible (ironic because he is “perfect”), it seems that the goal of life is people, not perfection. In fact, it seems like God decided to leave perfection in his pursuit of people. If this is true, then logic would tell us: perfection must die.

Firstly, because perfectionism simply cannot treat people as people. They are either projects to be fixed or are lost in the mountain of expectations that have been heaped upon them. They are either problems to be solved or are seen for who they are not. And sometimes people are taken on as projects to meet those expectations. Sometimes they are taken on as projects out of a genuine desire to make them better humans but more often so that they are not an imperfection in the perfectionist’s life, a roadblock to my utopia.

Secondly, perfectionism is delusional. Perfectionism tells them they really will arrive at a fixed point of perfection in a world of constantly changing people. But things will never be clean. It will only be clean enough. Things will never be fixed. They will only be fixed for now. You never write the best book, at best you have written the best book for now.*

And so, tragically, perfection will never be happy with the process, only the result. And tragically, the result only comes at the end; a fleeting and illusory blip at the end of the process. It overlooks almost all of life for the always-just-out-of-my-grasp end.

And so, in the most ironic conclusion, perfectionism often leads us to busyness instead of productivity. There is always one more thing to clean, there is always one more problem to solve, one more fact to double-check. And while we slave over the details, the world moves on. Our loved ones are learning to ride bikes, falling in love, failing tests, and living the journey, existing in the “almost all of life.” And when they fall, or when they succeed, they look over their shoulder and wonder why we haven’t been walking beside them. And all we can say, with regret in our voice, is: “I just wanted the best for you.” May we remember the beauty of Jesus, that his salvation came from his presence, not his expectation of perfection.

*Important Side Note: If you said, “Oh he must not know me – when I clean, it is clean” just note that you are a perfectionist and this post applies to you. And also note, and this will (hopefully) probably drive you crazy, science tells us that not only can you not get things perfectly clean when you scrub, but one second after you clean, it is dirty again. So your “clean” is arbitrary, hence my “clean enough” *gasp*

5 responses to “Perfection Must Die

  1. Good points. Arguments like this make me wonder about the nature of heaven. If there is food there will be crumbs, and if there are crumbs there will be housecleaning… 🙂

  2. Good stuff. I appreciate the image of God leaving perfection to pursue people. Beautiful. Perfection is such a lust; a thing that always promises more than it can live up to. I feel like perfection/lust is such a big struggle for Westerners today. Thanks for sharing.

  3. The Laing Lectures ( at Regent College this year featured Dr. Albert Borgmann who spoke on the effect of technology in putting forward, in almost every area, impossible perfection – to the detriment and dehumanizing of people as they pointlessly pursue that impossible goal. It’s worth listening to the lectures even if you don’t agree with everything he says. To quote from the excerpt on the site, “Technology as a rule is always more than a tool. It is inevitably woven into a culture of inducements and compliance that looks superficially congenial and yet is deeply inhospitable to Christianity. Cyberspace competes with grace as the dominant background of life. Hyperreal perfection makes providential burdens look irritating. The displacement of material reality by preternaturally glamorous images dissolves the ground where the life of the spirit can flourish.” – Dr. A. Borgmann.

    Food for thought.

    PS I am a perfectionist. Sigh.

    • This is incredibly interesting Jen! I am writing an article right now on technology as hospice. Great food for thought my friend.

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