How Can a Christian Perfectionist Find Rest?

An excerpt from Peace over Perfection on the command to “be perfect,” the exhaustion of scrupulosity, and rest in Christ.

When I finally came to the life-changing realization that I was a perfectionist, I told a close friend. She laughed. It was already obvious to her then, and in hindsight, it’s obvious to me now. Still, by the time I recognized it, perfectionism had already marked my walk with God for decades.

Psychologists who study perfectionism define it as a personality disposition characterized by extremely high standards and overly critical self-evaluations. These two characteristics are known as “perfectionistic strivings” and “perfectionistic concerns.” Most perfectionists don’t experience perfectionistic strivings and concerns in all areas of life. Rather, their perfectionism is focused on select domains such as sports, work, academics, relationships, physical appearance, or—as is my case, and that of many Christians— spirituality.

I am a Christian perfectionist. My perfectionism is an anti-Midas, turning moments dark at the slightest touch. It twists my view of the past. While I know it’s not fair to expect, say, 19-year-old me to have acted as I would now, when I look back, my predominant feeling is often regret. I should have cared more, known better, been different.

Perfectionism keeps me second-guessing my choices too. It brushes against the desires I have to do good, and what was once a joyful, exciting opportunity to love others becomes beset with self-doubt and questioning. Am I doing this for the right reasons? Is this really God’s will? What if I do more harm than good?

In the past, when I suffered larger failures and committed bigger sins, I often plunged into despair. You will never be good enough. You’re fake. Are you sureyou’re …

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