The Pitfall Of Perfectionism
By Tullian Tchividjian | Christian Post Guest Columnist
I recently read this from Steve Brown and had to share it with you:
She was only twenty-six years old. She was a Christian working in a church. After college she had served for a year on the mission field. I didn’t know her well, but I liked her a lot. She was a strong witness for Christ and she was an articulate spokesperson for evangelical Christianity. This morning I got the message that she had taken her life. I was absolutely devastated. I didn’t understand.
As if that were not enough, shortly after hearing about her suicide I got a call from a man who listens to my radio broadcast. “Steve,” he said, “I haven’t told anybody in the world what I’m going to tell you. I have decided to leave my wife and I told God that if I get through to you, I would do whatever you told me to do.”
I asked him what prompted him to decide to leave her.
He told me, “I became a Christian at fourteen and all my life I’ve been seeking to live up to the expectations of others. I work full-time in a ministry, I teach the Bible, and everyone thinks I’m the model Christian. I’m just tired of it. I’ve decided to do something for myself for a change.”
Let me share a letter with you that I received a couple weeks ago. There was no return address and the person gave me no name.
Please pray for me as I am on the edge–a total failure as a Christian. I have failed as a husband and as a father. God has probably given up on me. I feel so very alone and abandoned. It’s a horrible feeling that words alone cannot describe. Please don’t judge me. Pray for me.
At first these three incidents didn’t seem related. They were just about individuals for whom I prayed. But in the silence of my prayer it dawned on me that they all had the same problem: They all had created a false standard of perfection (or accepted someone else’s standard) and concluded they couldn’t live up to it.
What advice would you give them? If you had talked to the young lady before her suicide, or the man thinking about leaving his wife, or the anonymous correspondent–what would you have said?
Most Christians would say that they should try harder. The problem is that all three already had–and they were at the end of themselves.
Others would try to help them trace their despair back to some unconfessed sin in their lives–drawing a straight line between their spiritual depression and their spiritual failure.
And still others would tell them to have faith. And yet, they discovered that the faith they needed couldn’t be turned on and off like a faucet.
But what would Jesus have told them? We don’t have to guess: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Perfectionism (or performancism) is a horrible disease. It comes from the pit of hell, smelling like rotting flesh. Someone convinced these folks that they were called to measure up to an unattainable standard. They couldn’t do it and each in his or her own way simply quit trying.
Nobody told them that Jesus was perfect for them, and because of that they didn’t have to be perfect for themselves. They didn’t understand that if Jesus makes you free, you will be free indeed.
Christian, please remember that Jesus plus nothing equals everything. That,
Because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak;
Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose;
Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one;
Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary;
Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.
Preaching the gospel is the only thing that helps us take our eyes off ourselves and how we’re doing and fix our eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Jesus fulfilled all of God’s perfect conditions so that our relationship to God could be perfectly unconditional.
William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is a Florida native, the new pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Tullian is the author of Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship (Multnomah), Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different (Multnomah) and Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels (Crossway). Tullian is also a contributing editor to Leadership Journal. He speaks at conferences throughout the U.S. and his sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program Godward Living.