by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA)

There are certain kinds of pretending that can choke you out. This is another thing you need to be aware of in regards to perfectionism. Steve Brown put it this way, “You greatly diminish your freedom when you pretend to others that you are accomplishing perfection.”(5)

Before I understood this, I spent too many years trying to do something I couldn't do and just as much time trying to convince everyone that I'd done it. You know what that is called? Hypocrisy. It's a very human thing to do and a very damaging thing to do to your mental state...and your freedom. That's why I “stopped” trying.

Let me present some questions to you at this point:

Do you have any dark secrets? The kinds you know that if your friends knew you'd be so ashamed and embarrassed you would just want to disappear? If so, welcome. We all do.

Do you sometimes have doubts about certain aspects of your faith? We all do at times.

Do you sometimes commit deliberate sin? So do I. I don't know why we always try to explain it away, “Oh, it just came out of nowhere and I gave in.” Baloney! Much of the sin I've committed was brewing inside of me for awhile. I thought about it before I did it. Sometimes I thought about it a lot.

Do you have difficulty forgiving people who have caused you to feel devalued? A lot of believers struggle with this.

Do you find some Christians incredibly irritating and when they are talking do you feel like you're going crazy? Sometimes I feel that way too.

Do you ever get mad and can't really pin-point why and end up spouting something you regret? Hey, me too.

Do you try so hard to be good, happy, caring, kind and loving that it exhausts you and you realize you can't sustain it? I've been there and understand that.

Do you deal with anxiety, depression, fear, stress? Guess what? So do I.

Do you ever feel that if people truly knew who you were inside they wouldn't like you? You even think they wouldn't believe you are a Christian? I've been there and dealt with many believers who have been there as well.

You are not alone. These things are going through the minds of countless Christians on a daily basis and each one of them feels alone and/or ashamed.

It really boils down to this: Are you a sinner? Yes you are, and I am too. I'm sure you knew that already but I'll let you in on a little secret, so is everyone else. John Calvin, Martin Luther, Billy Graham, Charles Spurgeon, Mother Theresa, and your pastor, are (or were if they've passed on) all sinners. Chances are most of us are not going to get much “better” yet Jesus still loves and forgives us anyway.

So, after reading all of this let me ask, do you feel better or worse? You might not like being called a sinner, you might be feeling guilty or angry right now, and this brings me to another issue with perfectionism. It's been mentioned before but I want to state it again. Perfectionism plays a direct role in affecting your freedom, or as Steve Brown put it above, “diminishing” your freedom.

It's not only foolish to keep trying to do the impossible and convince others you are accomplishing the impossible, it's also foolish to keep heading down the wrong path insisting that your power and time spent on the path will somehow turn the wrong path into the right one.

I'm going to quote Steve Brown again as he has a humorous way of making the same point, “The problem with trying to do something you can't do, and the problem with pretending to others you have done it isn't just that it's stupid; it also wastes time and effort that you could devote to something more productive, such as...playing golf, reading, going to a movie, talking with friends, or maybe even praying.”(6)

I want to share an extremely important principle from Scripture with you, which is the only reason I've stopped trying to be better: Those who do get better are the ones who know that, if they never get better, God is on their side and will love them anyway. And what follows from that is not only will God love you if you don't get better, he will teach you that getting better isn't really the issue. Jesus is the issue. God's love is the issue. And it's out of that love and kindness of God's presence being with you that you will discover yourself getting better.

I wonder how much time Christians have wasted feeling deep guilt over our lack of perfection or pretending that we have more of it than we actually do. If that was all there was to it then it would be nothing more than a neurosis. Truly believing that of ourselves we can be much better than we are is one of the main reasons we are so caught up in bondage. Our freedom has been stripped from us because we thought we had to get better and better, to be perfect, in order to be free.

Guilt should have only one purpose and when it does you have healthy guilt as opposed to self condemnation and guilt that damages your being. Guilt should “drive us to the throne of grace, where we allow God, if he deems to do so, to change us and make us better.”(7) When we let guilt do any more than that we become perfectionists – legalistic, unhappy, miserable, sad and lonely.

God doesn't morbidly dwell on our sins as we do or the way others do when they judge us from the outside. We shouldn't be approaching God in an attempt to keep him from getting mad at us and begging and pleading for him to forgive us for the same sins we have already confessed (usually several times).

There's obviously something very unsettling about Christians who spend the majority of their time trying to please God out of desperation when he's already pleased. These types don't understand grace, they don't have any freedom. And, these types often rob others of their freedom.

The most effective way for us to get better is to stop trying so hard to get better. Nearly everything that is truly important to us such as love, joy, and being content, comes when we stop trying to make those very things happen. When I turned my focus from getting better to Jesus himself and his Word, that's when I started getting a little better. So that's what I try and do, focus on Jesus who forgives me and loves me even if I don't get much better.

Over the years I have noticed the closer I get to Christ, the more I see the reality about who I am and how far off the destination to “goodness” really is. The truth of the matter is I've got better because I've got closer to him, but the closer I get to him, the less I feel I'm getting better. I know that may seem strange to you, but it's true. But I think it's a good thing because if I knew and felt I was getting better, I'd most likely start feeling self-sufficient and think I can do so in my power. Before I'd even know it I'd probably take it on myself to start trying to help God by starting to “help” others be better the way it happened for me.

But the reality of it is, making others better is God's job, not mine (or yours). God chose me, he chose to adopt me, he chose to be my friend not to make me better but because he wanted to adopt me, he wanted to be friend and Savior. Instead of being obsessed over being good, God wants me to fellowship with him, to follow him, and see where he leads me. He promises us in his Word that he will never leave forsake us. So we can stop worrying so much about getting better, or lacking in our holiness and sanctification. The more we worry and stress out over these things the worse we are going to get, but the more we abide in him, the better we are going to get – even if we don't know it or feel like it.

Paul says in Philippians 1:6 that what God starts, he brings to completion. That means that God starting in our lives is the assurance and promise that he will keep working to completion.

With all of this said let me leave you with this little tidbit: It is likely true that the most godly person you know isn't the one you may think it is. In addition to that, the most godly person you know most likely doesn't even realize that he or she is all that godly.

Article adapted from Brown, Steve, A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel (New York: Howard Books, 2004), pp.31-73.
(1) Brown, p.53
(2) Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), p.167.
(3) Brown, p.56
(4) Ibid., p.58
(5) Ibid., p.64
(6) Ibid., p.68
(7) Ibid., p.69

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