I spoke. She took notes. Toward the end of our session, she asked, “What is the most important thing you said today?”
I said many things in that hour-and-a-half. But to pick one and have to repeat it? I pondered her question aloud: “What is the most important thing I said today?” I searched my mind and I knew what I needed to say, but I didn’t want to. She waited. I sighed.
“I don’t feel loved for who I am so that’s why I try to be perfect…so people will love me for what I do.”
I pursed my lips and nodded slowly, letting it sink in. Yes. I’m a perfectionist.
That was several years ago. Now, I’m a recovering perfectionist. Although I’ve had a lifetime of unrealistic expectations of myself, I’m learning that God doesn’t expect me to be perfect. Because of Jesus, God accepts and loves me for who I am. God isn’t like me–He doesn’t focus on my pesky imperfections.
For many years, I did things to gain people’s acceptance. I rescued them. I pushed myself. I worked harder and longer. I’d nitpick things until they were “perfect.” I don’t recall people telling me I had to do these things–although it didn’t stop some of them from asking. But because I got attention for doing well in school while growing up, that overachiever mindset followed me to college, to adulthood, to the working world, and even to church.
Although I couldn’t pinpoint it back then, my expectations for myself were so high, I couldn’t possibly reach them. But I tried anyway. I figured, if I did things perfectly, others–including God–would accept me, and I would feel better about myself. In the end, I didn’t feel better. Exhausted, but not better.
In the past several years, I’ve learned that God has different expectations of me than I do for myself. Yes, He is perfect, but He knew I couldn’t be. So, He sent Jesus, His perfect Son, to die on the cross for me. When I accepted Jesus into my life, God erased my sins. He welcomed me to live with Him, the perfect God, not only in this life but in the life to come. I cannot be perfect for everyone. But to God, I am perfect. Mature. Complete. Whole. And all because of Jesus.
Still, God knows I’m going to mess up. He knows I’m going to fall short. But because I rely on Jesus’ perfection–not mine–I can relax. I try to excel at whatever I do, and I don’t count it lost if I don’t. I will work at it with all I’ve got and try to live with the utmost integrity, whether at home, work, or church (Colossians 3:23; Matthew 5:48). In the end, I’m not serving anyone else but Him (Ephesians 6:7).
Just because I’m serving God doesn’t mean I have to try harder. Although He expects excellence from me, it won’t win Him over. Because of Jesus, God has already accepted me (Romans 15:7). He loves me for who I am, not because of anything I’ve done or will do (Titus 3:4-5). Nothing can take God’s love away from me (Romans 8:38-39). Not even my pesky imperfections.
God accepts me, shortcomings and all, and He defines me. When God looks at me, He doesn’t see demographics, roles, errors, or blunders. He sees what Jesus did for me on the cross.
I was a slave to perfectionism, but God says I am free (Romans 8:2). I was a striving outsider, but God calls me His friend (John1 5:15). I was my own worst critic, but God says I’m forgiven (Ephesians 1:7). I thought I wasn’t good enough, but God calls me His wonderful creation, His handiwork (Psalm 139:14; Ephesians 2:10). God calls me His beloved child (John 1:12; Colossians 3:12).
It has taken almost my entire lifetime, but I’ve started to see myself the way God sees me, and my expectations are now lining up with what He expects of me. I still have those pesky imperfections. I still struggle. And I still nitpick. But because of Jesus, God accepts me no matter what. He loves me, and He alone defines me.
The most important thing I said today bears repeating: “God accepts me. He loves me. And He alone defines me.”
For that, I’m thankful.
Daphne Tarango is a freelance writer and speaker who comforts others with the comfort she herself has received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). She lives in the Southeastern U.S., where she is a leader in a Bible-based recovery program. Contact Daphne at firstname.lastname@example.org.