Pride’s Pesky Perfectionism

Every facet of life (work, responsibilities, relationships) brings its own stress, but some of us put an exorbitant amount of pressure on ourselves in every, and I mean every, area. Why do we do that?

That’s a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. Why do I put SO much pressure on myself to hit deadlines, follow up with every email, and stay on top of all my tasks? Why do I only feel really good about my to-do list if I can get a little bit ahead (overachiever alert)?

Instead of just saying “Oh my goodness, I feel overwhelmed” I think we have to dig a bit deeper. Yes, certain seasons may be uncharacteristically hard for reasons far beyond our control (family illness, job layoffs, etc.), but those aren’t the scenarios I am zeroing in on.

I am talking about the everyday pressures that add up over time, and before we know it we feel over our heads, frantic, and unsure of our next steps – we spiral fast! We form ongoing mental dialogues and create insurmountable narratives that leave us exhausted and hopeless.

Why We Carry the Weight of the World On Our Shoulders

If I can’t keep up, I don’t have worth. 

There’s one line in the song “Surface Pressure” from Encanto that, since I’ve watched this movie many times with my nieces, sticks out to me every time. “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.” While it may sound dramatic, I teared up the first time I heard it because that’s so often my mentality. I just don’t want to admit it, to myself or others.

If I don’t do this perfectly, “they” are going to be so disappointed in me. 

It’s easy to get off track because serving others and staying on top of responsibilities are admirable actions, right? Yes, but somewhere along the way, we start becoming the solution to everyone’s problem. Sometimes I think our fear goes deeper than we realize: If I don’t go above and beyond, I won’t be seen.

If I don’t work REALLY hard (run myself into the ground), I am not trying hard enough. 

Busyness does not equal significance, but we wear it like a badge. This can stem from a lack of saying “No” to things. God calls us to be faithful, not the Energizer bunny. Sometimes being busy is easier in the moment because then we don’t have to deal with our own hearts. Are we angry about a situation? Disappointment in a friend? Trying to avoid making some important life decisions?

All three lines of thought overlap. Do you see the main commonality in all of them? Each fear places the self at the center. And when we try to be self-sufficient saviors to our daily problems, we feel weighed down.

What Does This Show About Our Theology?

At first this question might seem like a leap but stick with me. When we follow the narratives above, we are inherently saying what we believe about God in that moment. And this is sobering.

If I can’t keep up, I don’t have worth = My identity in Christ is not sufficient.

God has given us all roles, in our jobs, families, friendships, and even in the gifts He’s given us. However, when we begin to tie our identity to any one of those, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

If I don’t do this perfectly, they will be so disappointed in me = The opinion of people matters more than God’s. 

Colossians 3:3 tells us our life is hidden in Christ. In Ephesians 1, Paul tells us how believers are chosen and adopted into God’s family. That is where our security stems from, at least should. That doesn’t negate the importance of working hard or investing intentionally in people. It does take away the angst of trying to keep up with the unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves. We cannot be more accepted than. we already are in Christ.

Does the opinion of a person matter more than God’s? If so, we will always be swinging for the fences. Praise and encouragement have their place (Hebrews 10:24-25), however, if we aim to please people (the exact opposite of 2 Cor 5:9), other imperfect broken people, our efforts will never be enough. Yet we still try, and before we know it, we are putting our talents into a vending machine that never gives us what we ask for. 

His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor His pleasure in the legs of a man, but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love. 

Psalm 147:10-11

If I don’t work really hard, I am not trying enough = Christ’s work wasn’t sufficient. 

The lives of believers are to be marked by peace, as Paul so beautifully states.

And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. 

Colossians 3:15.

The peace that comes from Christ stems from the life He lived for us. When we complain, He lived in joyful obedience. When we doubt, He trusted His Father completely. When we selfishly choose our own way, He sacrificed His life. When we fear we will keep failing, He rose from the dead to show He was greater than our sin. That’s where peace comes from.

And the work of Christ is complete, nothing can be added or subtracted from the sufficiency of His sacrifice.

Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once and for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins.

Hebrews 7:27

In each lie, we are forgetting Who God is, and, in some shape or form, trying to be the solution to all our problems. That’s when the pride of perfectionism sneaks in.  But the position of Messiah has already been filled, and it’s not us!

So how do we fight the pesky pride of perfectionism? We press in and know our God better. As J.I. Packer said in Knowing God:

There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on forever.

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