Many years ago when I was a Computer Tutor, a man phoned and asked for help at his home. It was very early on and few people owned computers at home, and not that many in offices either. So I drove to his place a few miles away and as I stepped into his living room I was taken aback. The place looked so spit-polished I thought Southern Living Magazine editors were scheduled to photograph the home for their elegant pages.
Real Life has Real Messes
In this case, the man was retired and his wife who was still working apparently said, “Now don’t make a mess.” There was not one piece of newspaper or even a coffee cup in view. I helped him set up his computer and left. He seemed more interested in having some company, not much in computers. But I broke up the boredom in his sterile life in a sterile home. I wondered how long that marriage would last.
Perfectionists spread their own fears and unhappiness
Why are people Perfectionists? We aren’t born that way. You can say it’s genetic, but what you mean is that your parent was perfection-obsessed and you copied that in order to survive in his or her home. And then took that lesson with you.
Mr. D. had a perfectionist mother and all his life he was unhappy. That is what happens to perfectionists – they can never be happy because Man was not created perfect nor does he produce a flawless environment during his lifetime. Then when he married, he expected something from his home that was not likely to ever happen – a perfect wife, perfect children, not a mote of dust or toy out of place. He ended up drinking himself to death because he wasn’t perfect. So misery spreads to another generation.
Perfectionism comes from fear
Perfectionism comes from fear. And no one is happy when The Control Freak and those around him are afraid. Fear leads to bondage of some kind. Always. Somewhere along the line a child was told, “If you do everything right you will be successful in life, and happy and others will love you and they will be happy.” Now all the people who believed that can raise their hands. It is not going to happen, not on this side of the grave.
Jesus did not demand flawlessness
So why does Jesus say we must be perfect?
Matthew 5:48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Here is where the King James translators missed the meaning. In Greek perfect means “mature,” not flawless, not blameless. Those are false assumptions we have grabbed onto in English. Mature means ready to be used, as in an apple which is ripe and ready for market.
Mature means, not perfect, but ready for service
Compare the little green apple that is bitter and acidic. You take a bite and spit it out! That happens to perfectionist people too – you want to spit them out as well, because you find you can never measure up. They make terrible bosses; their employees are never happy. And unhappy people are not creative and the company will suffer because it will become locked in a ‘safe’ place to do business. On top of all this, perfectionists are never happy with themselves because the bar they set is too high.
When to Be Perfect
There is a time for exactitude, for being demanding. I worked for a lawyer who scared me to death. I lasted only a few days. He was a fearful perfectionist, and he passed that terror on to me. I am glad when a professional wants, seeks, and expects the best, but he should not be terrorizing his employees. And you, as the customer, want the best too.
There is no glory in carelessness either
No one wants a brain surgeon who graduated at the bottom of his surgery classes. With hope and prayer, that doctor will select a less precise way of business management, like working with children who never expect perfection and will always cooperate with a laid back doctor. He can leave the tough medical jobs to people who are more comfortable with their calling.
Being real about yourself
I tell my students, I was fired and it was the best thing that happened to me. I found out where I did not belong. Success rarely teaches us much – but failure leaves a lesson for us all. Permanent success comes when we know what God wants and then obey. Yes, it takes time and study, and focus. But so does every other valuable pursuit.
And that is what brings maturity, knowing God, knowing what He wants and then obeying.
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The Ministry of the Watchman – Not a prophet who maps out God’s future for the people of earth either individually or collectively, but an observer on the wall sharing a report of what God is seeing and doing in the world at large and also in the congregations of His people. Cornelia Scott Cree, Watchman, Change Agent, Essayist. See www.CorneliaScottCree.com.