I’ll admit it…I’m a perfectionist. I’ve cried over a 79% grade on a draft of a paper, read through and edit my texts, and change outfits on average of two times before I leave the house. I measure out things when I cook, (how can a recipe call for a pinch of salt? That’s just an open invitation for inaccuracy) hesitate to ask questions that will make me sound stupid, and write notes to myself on my hands because I cannot, will not forget anything.
On most days, instead of striving for sainthood, I strive for flawlessness. Yet when that impossible goal is missed, as it always will be on this earth, I’m left in a devastating tailspin, wondering what in the world I’ve done wrong. I’m not perfect. But I spend a lot of time beating myself up over times of inevitable imperfection.
God craves the raw us. The struggling, imperfect, help-me-I-can’t-do-this-alone us that yearns for completion in His heart. He stands as a father, watching out the window everyday for us to return to Him. At the first glance of us, He bolts down the pathway, arms open, smile broadly reaching across His face, eyes crinkled with absolute joy at the return of His child. The return of you.
Striving for absolute perfectionism and believing it is possible to never mess up and always make the right decision is an insult to God. By believing you can be perfect, you’re saying ‘I’ve got this. I don’t need help. I’ll figure it out. This shows an inadequate gratitude for a God who poured Himself into humanity so that He could save you from your imperfection.
The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes. (CCC 2015)
What is at the root of perfectionism? Pride. There is no holiness without renouncing oneself. Pride loves the self, and skirts away at the signs of mortification.
So it is not a surprise that I struggle with both of these issues. I’ll be the first to admit that my pride has squelched the joy out of living multiple times. It’s the sin that tells me I do not need the grace of the sacrament of confession, and is the first out of my mouth when I finally drag myself into the confession line. Pride says you can achieve perfection. Pride says you don’t need anyone. Pride says you’re the best already and there is no room for improvement.
And there couldn’t a bigger lie.
Because pride leaves you worshiping yourself. And you are far too loved by the Creator of the Universe to be the only thing standing in the way of eternal bliss. You are far to intelligent and beautiful, mercifully forgiven and capable to abuse yourself by holding a standard of impossible perfection.
We are not called to perfection. We are called to holiness. As much holiness as we can possibly fit into our lives. Shaken down and poured over holiness that soaks every aspect of our being – from the moment of the alarm going off in the morning to the last slow blink before closing your eyes at night.
Yet Matthew 5:48 says “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Isn’t that a call to perfection? The Greek definition of the word ‘perfect’ (Telios) means ‘the full purpose’ or the ‘full vocation.’ So our vocation is to reach Heaven. Strive for Holiness as your Heavenly Father is complete. We are called to best-version-of-ourselves, dead on sprinting to Christ and His goodness. We’re called to strive for the holiness of God while still acknowledging that until that final goal of Heaven is reached, we won’t be perfect as He is perfect.
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13).
Let our lives be punctuated with the sound of imperfect Hallelujahs. The joyful din of a people striving to sing the perfect song of God, despite the fear of falling short. Be filled with the joy of knowing the infinite mercy of a perfect God. Know that our imperfections are not too big for Him to envelope in His goodness. Lift your voice, as off-key as it may be, to the maker of the Heavens.
And know that it’s okay to not be perfect.