Perfection not a goal

Curtis Shelburne

This column is only for perfectionists, recovering perfectionists, or people trying to live with perfectionists.

A genuine perfectionist thinks perfectionism is a virtue. He is perfectly wrong, but I wish you luck in convincing him.

He is also probably tired and testy. It is exhausting to be the only one really concerned about doing a truly excellent job in your home, your work, your school, your church, your . . . It’s not true, but his thinking so is exhausting for the perfectionist and a drain on the poor populace around him.

News flash! We live in an imperfect world. Unless you’re sure the Almighty has made a dreadful mistake by dropping you into the wrong universe, learn to live with much more imperfection than you wish to. If you expect to have a perfect house, spouse, kid, office, etc., you will drive yourself and those around you crazy and/or away. I mean it. I’m serious.

Come to think of it, another reason perfectionism is so exhausting is because it is so utterly serious. A true perfectionist can’t trust anyone else to be serious enough, so he/she does it for everyone—which is seriously tiresome.

Perfectionists flirt a bunch with dishonesty and hypocrisy, because they are not perfect. They look down on others but fail to realize that perfectionism is one of the worst and stinkiest of human imperfections.

At its withered heart, perfectionism is a denial of the gospel. Christ was truly perfect, truly righteous, and salvation means accepting his sacrifice—harder to do when we’re most impressed with our own.

Perfectionism is a control issue. Who’s in control? Me or God? A nice perfectionist will say, “God” and then spend most of his/her time denying the answer.

Perfectionists are terribly insecure. God assures us that because of who He is and what Christ has done, we are absolutely secure. Afraid they don’t measure up, perfectionists again deny the gospel by choosing fear over faith, and they spread their fear. Those around them know that they are “weighed in the balance” and found wanting. So why try?

Here is profound counsel for those of us with this affliction: Lighten up! (Or “gospel” up!)

We really do live much better lives when we trust Someone bigger than ourselves and quit making such a joyless job of it.

Don’t worry about keeping the world spinning. Don’t dehumanize people by making them your improvement projects. Trust God more and trust your ability to perform less.

By the way, not everything you do needs or deserves to be done perfectly. Here’s homework: For a change, pick something to do not excellently but just adequately—“fair to middlin’” as we Texans say. Relax. It’ll be good for you. If you’re a perfectionist, way more than half of what you do so well only deserves to be done about half as well as you do it.

I’ve just written a very imperfect column. I feel better already.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at