Perfectionism. It's a loaded word. We largely think of it as a positive thing. Who doesn't want to do all things well? But perfectionism has a dark side. It can become a self-imposed prison where we don't feel like we ever live up to our own expectations. Sometimes, we worry that our imperfections make us unloveable to God.
Even if we know that God loves us, imperfect as we may be, some verses in the Bible can be troubling. 1 Peter 1:16 says "You shall be holy, for I am holy." And also Matthew 5:48 "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect." How should we read those verses in light of biblical truth that we are all sinners (Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23)? Amy Baker wanted to tackle this apparent disconnect in her book Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn't Line Up.
The book is divided into three sections. In the first part, Baker tells the stories of several perfectionists. Since most of us associate perfectionism with people who alphabetize their pantries and straighten the fringes of their throw rugs with a ruler, it's important to see that perfectionism can manifest itself in many different ways. Perfectionism causes some to procrastinate. Others are downright paralyzed from any action. Or they may be angry and controlling. Most readers will find something they can identify with in at least one of these stories. Even if you've never made a bed with hospital corners, you probably have one area where you strive for success at all costs.
The second section reminds us that because of Christ, it is finished. Yes, Jesus death and resurrection is our only hope of escaping God's wrath, but it also saves of from finding our worth in earthly things. We must "preach the gospel to ourselves every day." If we're really doing this, every area of our lives will be changed. That doesn't mean our lives will be easy, but we can rest from striving to justify ourselves by what we do.
Baker does this by focusing on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Jesus words to "be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect." I enjoyed this focus on Christ's perfection—his finished work that frees us. Perfection is, at its root "a heart that fears suffering"(page 70). But when we trust in Christ, we have nothing to fear.
We begin to see perfection both as a gift that Christ has purchased for us and as a process of growing in Christlikeness. Once a source of stress or despair, perfection becomes a wonderful goal. Because of the gift we've received, we want to live a life of love (Ephesians 5:2) because that's what our Savior did (page 68).
The third section focuses on application. Baker zeroes in on things perfectionists tend to struggle with, such as fear, pride, shame, and busyness.
This is an important subject, and I believe it's something we need to be addressing more often. Sometimes, though, we go too far. In our effort to communicate the sin of perfectionism, we might inadvertently leave people with the message to quit trying. This is not, of course, the purpose of God's grace (Romans 6:1). It's a fine line to walk, but Baker does it well. We should still work as if to God (Colossians 3:32), but not as a way to secure what Christ has already secured for us.
I appreciate this book. I recommend it to anyone who struggles with perfectionism. And even if you don't think you struggle with perfectionism, this book will probably reveal to you ways that you do.
Thanks to the generosity of New Growth Press, I have an extra copy to give away. Please enter your name and email in the form below. I promise your email will remain private and we won't spam you. The winner will be drawn on Thursday, July 17, and the winner will be notified by email.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. This review reflects my honest opinion.