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Perfectionism and Brokenness: Expectations Versus God's Acceptance

By Kristen Harvey

Kristen Ree Harvey, a native Californian, grew up as a pastor's kid with a hero complex. Kristen recently completed her Master of Divinity degree at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. She is currently developing her gifts in writing and music, while volunteering in a local women's shelter and her home church.

Have you ever wondered why ministers often try so hard to be perfect? The desire to be perfect isn't necessarily wrong, but the motives behind the strive for perfectionism reveal a lot about the human heart. Do we want to be perfect in order to know and relate to Christ more? His idea of perfection drove Him to His death. In His perfection, He let go of himself, let go of His infinite glory, infinite dignity, and infinite honor in order to elevate the broken, wounded, rejected, and bound.

Are we trying to justify our existence based off of our own accomplishments, or the accomplishment of Jesus Christ?

In our striving to achieve, in our worrying that we do not measure up, in our bitterness towards anyone threatening our achievement of perfection, are we really trying to be like Jesus? Are we so in love with Him that we will forsake all earthly comforts and all earthly ambitions in order to identify with Him? Or does our idea of perfection equate to self-aggrandizing goals and accomplishments? Are we trying to justify our existence based off of our own accomplishments, or the accomplishment of Jesus Christ?

In Old Testament times, the Israelites were instructed to make sacrifices to God as atonement for their sins. God gave the priests very specific instructions on how to prepare the offering, and how to place the broken pieces on the altar. Once the altar was lit and the broken offering was burning, the aroma lifted to God. It was pleasing to Him, and He forgave the people of their sins (Leviticus 1:9,13,17). David addresses this in Psalm 51:17: "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise" (NIV). When David wrote his psalm, he created imagery that mirrors the image of the broken sacrifices on the altar.

While David's words seem beautiful and poetic, actually living with a broken and contrite heart sounds like something to avoid. Not only does God's desire for brokenness conflict with our instinct to protect ourselves, but it also starkly contrasts the message of popular culture. Human culture, when left to the inclinations of its wicked heart, begins to set its own goals and desires above the desires of Christ (Revelation13:3,4,14). Desires to be popular, powerful, or rich, for instance, are not the same as God's desire for His children to be holy. "Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy" (Leviticus 19:2, NIV).The trajectory of the human heart, therefore, does not take humanity to the same place as the trajectory of God's heart. For this reason, we cannot save ourselves and must completely rely on Him to rescue us from our own inclinations. He desires to make us holy to spare us from the consequences of our own sin. The more He gives us the desire to be holy, replacing it with our selfish ideas of perfection, the more we are able to rest in His grace, and allow Him to do the necessary transformative work in our lives.

Ultimately, revealing our brokenness to Jesus Christ is the only way to genuinely be perfected.

Many times ministers seek His gifts in order to achieve their personal goals instead of seeking Him so they can achieve His goals. While there are many issues that exacerbate perfectionism like the unrealistic pressures from media, role models, and authority figures, the root issue is that humanity exalts its own voice and expectations above the acceptance Jesus Christ already offers to all. Many of us eagerly pronounce Jesus as "Savior," but reluctantly acknowledge Him as "Lord." And, unlike Christ, we mask our weakness, and are unwilling to be vulnerable because our personal goals are more valuable to us than the goal of Jesus Christ.

Perfectionism, therefore, is merely an externally manufactured façade to mask internal imperfections. Coming up with a system to perfectly avoid perfectionism, ironically, does not solve the issue. Only Christ can transform us on the inside, and offer us the acceptance that sets us free from expectations. Those who desire to be free from the bondage of perfectionism must ask God for His free grace, and humbly receive it. His acceptance fully protects us, while also allowing us to be completely confident and vulnerable. Seeing Jesus' broken and contrite heart to demonstrate His full and complete acceptance of us enables us to reciprocate a broken and contrite heart for Him. Allowing others to witness our brokenness, as Christ showed His brokenness, brings salvation to the world. Ultimately, revealing our brokenness to Jesus Christ is the only way to genuinely be perfected.