Perfectionism and God's perfection.

I LOVED ART CLASS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, even though my work was often sent home incomplete. Most of my classmates easily finished their projects within the allotted time. I would still be changing colours or adding lines, tweaking, trimming, trying to get every detail exactly right.

One afternoon we were making wrapping paper. We cut potatoes in half, carved a design into the exposed end, then dipped it into a puddle of paint before stamping it onto a large sheet of paper. I got the idea to use two colours instead of one, which meant painting it onto the spud instead of dipping, then meticulously pressing it onto the paper to avoid smudging. 

The teacher eyed my sophisticated pattern. 

“Absolutely beautiful,” she said. Then she added, “What year do you think you’ll be done?” She referred to me as a perfectionist. 

I took it as a compliment. Any word with “perfect” as its root had to be good, right? Only years later did I understand that perfectionism is actually a serious problem – one that I struggle with to this day.

I want my life to be perfect. That means a perpetually tidy home, happy husband, obedient dog, and stellar relationships with family, friends and neighbours. I want to be clever, physically fit, well dressed, well informed, well read, disciplined, self-controlled and stewardly. (And that’s just for starters!) When things don’t measure up – because they couldn’t possibly – I get frustrated. It’s a quick trip from disappointment to discouragement and defeat. Sometimes the easiest strategy is procrastination – you can’t fail at something you don’t even attempt.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do one’s best. But at the heart of perfectionism lies the inordinate desire for control. It’s a power struggle, really. I want to call the shots for my own life (and maybe for a few other people as well). I have ideas. I make plans. And then “control” proves to be some kind of mirage on the horizon of this wilderness we’re wandering through. As you think you’re getting closer, it simply evaporates.

I’d gladly rid myself of the unrealistic expectations. But didn’t Jesus himself tell us to be perfect, even as our Heavenly Father is perfect? It’s the Imitatio Dei from Matthew 5:48. Would Christ ask the impossible of us? 

Eighteenth century theologian John Gill pointed out that this injunction isn’t about equality, but likeness. He wrote, “We ought to imitate God, especially in his love for humanity” (Emphasis mine). We are to be sincere and upright. The Old Testament Hebrew words often translated as perfect (tamam and calal) convey not so much the idea of being flawless as that of being whole, sound, complete, lacking nothing. The former carries a sense of ethical significance; the latter connotes aesthetic beauty. 

Thankfully, there is One who not only has all of these attributes, he is all of them. He’s not just perfect, he is perfection. The good news for me is that he loves me in spite of my imperfections.

What I lack, he more than completes. In my weakness, his strength is glorified. His grace buoys me up when I flounder in stormy seas. I’m a slow learner, but he’s a patient teacher. Day by day he takes my misguided priorities and puts them on a shelf too high for me to reach. Then he shows me a better way – his way. As his dearly loved child, he wants me to be an imitator of Christ. And although the differences between us are startling, when he looks at me, he sees Jesus. Perfect.

Well, that’s a relief! 


  • Heidi VanderSlikke lives on a farm in Mapleton Township with her husband Jack. They share their home with a gigantic Golden Retriever named Norton, who thinks he's a lap dog. Heidi and Jack have three happily married children and seven delightful grandkids.

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