Perfectionism and Christianity
After writing my last article (which took me 3 weeks due to my own perfectionism), I started contemplating how perfectionism impacts so many Christians. When counseling with people, I often give them an Emotional Concept of God test that was developed by Abiding Life Ministries. The whole idea behind this test is that we run to God with our head knowledge (what we learn about God in church) but at our worst, in our emotions, we run away from Him. It asks questions like, “When I think about being with God, I feel…”, “When I have to trust God, I feel…”, “When I think about God, I wish…”. These questions really reveal our beliefs about who we believe God to be.
I believe one main reason we run away from Him is that we feel we don’t measure up to God’s standard of perfectionism. Matthew 5:48 says “Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This verse is the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount where Christ ups the ante on religious people who feel like they’ve arrived at a perfect religion. “To lust after a woman is to commit adultery with her… To be angry at a brother is the same as killing him…” Can anyone attain to that level of perfectionism, let alone attain the call to be humble at the beginning of his treatise? I believe the irony is that so many try even though Christ’s whole point in the sermon is to prove we can’t. In seminary there were many individuals I met who honestly were in pursuit of this perfectionism of behavior to get God’s acceptance.
I love God’s sense of humor and often find myself laughing about the rules I live by. From my rules for self-acceptance to rules for the ways I’m to do simple things like brushing my teeth. To some degree I think that this sermon has become the rules to which “good” Christians live by. Like perfectionism we allow this standard to reinforce unrealistic high expectations of our behaviors and secondly beat ourselves up for all the mistakes we have made.
One of my favorite revelations I’ve had about this passage is that it is not the Sermon on the Mount but the Life on the mount. Jesus wasn’t saying that in order to gain God’s acceptance we must do these things. No, no my friend, what He was saying was because of God’s acceptance based on my new identity in Christ, these things are now what are natural to me. I am perfect because Christ is my life!! It doesn’t “feel” like I’m perfect and many of my behaviors don’t seem to agree with this truth. Here’s where God is breaking my rules and helping me redefine who I view Him to be.
To be continued.