There are many things and people in our life that combine to tell us we should be perfect. They scream in our ear that we should stive for perfection and second place is unacceptable. The pursuit of perfection is contradictory to the pursuit of holiness God desires for us. Our earthly parents may tell us we must be perfect, but our heavenly Father tells us that we must be holy. The world’s view of perfection opposes holiness.
The Christian life is not about perfection. It is about holiness. It is about the journey and the endeavoring for holiness. Perfectionism does not equal holiness and the pursuit of holiness is not the pursuit of perfectionism.
Holiness places God first. Perfectionism places ourselves as the center of our world. Holiness accepts that we are sinners, but our faith and desire to please God leads us to holiness. Holiness seeks to see the world through the eyes of Christ. Perfectionism rejects anything containing a flaw. Perfectionism does not provide room for sin or mistakes. Perfectionism sees the world through the eyes of the Great Deceiver and Liar – Satan.
Perfectionism originates from pride. Holiness comes from humility.
Perfectionism is an attitude and mentality the world imparts to us that creates a sense that we must reach excessively high and unrealistic goals. It is often claimed to be necessary for success, mandatory, or desirable. Those who have taught others to be perfect are, themselves, imperfect and ignore their own flaws. Christ, on the other hand, teaches us different.
“For it is written, ‘Be holy because I am holy’” (I Peter 1:16)
The desire and quest for holiness does not necessitate perfection. I, admittedly, have struggled with perfection my entire life. Rooted in the indoctrination of my mother for such an expectation, I have always chased being perfect, being first, and believing second place was never good enough. I also desired a deeper, stronger, and more intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus. It seemed as if there was a wall preventing my ability to achieve that relationship.
Pope Benedict XVI beautifully distinguished between perfection and holiness. He provides a clear portrait of Christian perfection when he says, “holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning. Holiness grows with capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.”
Benedict’s reminder that mistakes do not negate holiness, and holiness is not dependent upon perfection, is one that draws our attention back to the writings of St. Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.’” (I Corinthians 1: 26-31)
My struggle for perfectionism has led to success equating to failure and failure being unacceptable. It often overshadows the reality the world’s idea of perfectionism is both unattainable and unfulfilling. I frequently became upset with myself when I would finish less than first place in anything or when I believed I was anything except the best in everything. It often became a fight, admittedly still becomes a fight, that caused my attention and eyes to be shifted from the holiness of God to the expectations of Satan’s world. It’s a battle, perhaps, I may always fight. It is one that many others struggle against as well.
St. Francis de Sales, one of my favorite saints (and my patron saint), exhorts us to keep our eyes on what matters. He urges us to recognize those things which are imperfect and work toward overcoming them. He acknowledges we all have imperfections and sins. King David was an adulterer and murderer, St. Paul was a murderer, St. Peter denied Jesus, and St. Augustine had a list of sins longer than Santa’s Nice List as Christmas. These individuals became powerful forces for the preaching of the Gospel. Their imperfections did not make them unacceptable to Christ. Their sins fueled their testimony and propelled them to a life of holiness.
“We must not be disturbed at our imperfections, since for us perfection consists in fighting against them. How can we fight against them unless we see them or overcome them unless we face them.” (St. Francis de Sales)
If you want to achieve holiness through Christ and forego a pursuit of unattainable perfectionism, you must first recognize your desire for perfection. You must evaluate where that view of life comes from and then acknowledge it is a lie. You need to spend time in daily prayer. To become holy, you must draw near to the Holy One. Holiness is not achieved without prayer. Additionally, you must allow someone to hold you accountable for your feelings of failure when you are not perfect. The person you allow to hold you accountable must be someone who will refocus your vision on Christ.
Holiness is attainable. Perfectionism is not achievable. To be holy, you just need to look up. Holiness is what all Christians should stive to reach. Perfectionism is not.