“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
The Performance Trap – B
In my last blog, we began to look at the issue of the performance trap that we can get ourselves into when we attempt to earn our way into Heaven. Today, I want us to look at the problems we can get into with our perfectionism or what I like to think of as our fear of failure.
The Problem with Perfectionism and the Fear of Failure
Perfectionists usually base their self-worth on their ability to accomplish a goal. Therefore, failure is a threat and is totally unacceptable to them. Perfectionists can be quite vulnerable to serious mood disorders and often anticipate rejection when they believe they haven’t met the standards they are trying so hard to attain. Therefore, perfectionists tend to react defensively to criticism and demand to be in control of most situations they encounter. The focus of the Messianic life should be on Yeshua, not on self-imposed regulations. Our experience of Yeshua’s Lordship is dependent on our moment-by-moment attention to His instruction, not on our own regimented schedule.
When we learn how to relax in God’s liberating grace and break out of the prison of perfectionism, we find a new level of joy and freedom in our life. This is because perfectionism is destructive to your life in several ways.
I know from personal experience that being a perfectionist is a dysfunctional character trait. As far back as I can remember I have always been concerned with the fear of failure. I had to get everything just right to feel good about myself. I had to be in control. With God’s help and my spouse’s insight, I am now a recovering perfectionist.
According to Robert S. McGee in his book “The Search for Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes,” the false belief that we must meet certain standards – for example, perfectionism – in order to feel good about ourselves results in a fear of failure. He then goes on to list several effects of this fear of failure.
Effects of the Fear of Failure
Perfectionism: This is the most common symptom of the fear of failure, an unwillingness to fail. I wanted the “A’s” in school; the next promotion; the bonuses that came occasionally with exceptional performance; and, god-forbid (in my BY [before Yeshua] days) that I would ever make a mistake on something.
Avoidance of Risks: We consciously only get involved in those activities that can be done well and avoid challenging activities. (Fortunately, my professional training in the field of risk management in my later working career helped me to overcome this fear. Although avoidance of risk is a fundamental step in any effective risk management program, it doesn’t allow you to actually do much. I always looked for ways to do what we wanted to do and then mitigate the risks rather than avoid them.)
Anger and Resentment: If we fail, the most common thing we do first to look for someone to blame. When we can do that the anger is focused on them rather than ourselves. James 1:19 has become my go-to verse for my anger issues. “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (NLT ~ emphasis added.) Whenever I begin feeling fear, hurt or frustration I do my level best to remind myself of this verse. It has helped calm many a storms since I committed it to memory.
In her book entitled “Do Yourself a Favor…Forgive” Joyce Meyer has this to say on anger rooted in perfectionism:
“If we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves or other people, it can become a root of anger in our lives. A perfectionist is someone who is unable to be satisfied unless things are perfect. Good is never good enough, even excellent is not good enough – things have to be perfect. Unless the perfectionist allows God to bring balance into his or her life, the drive for perfection usually becomes a source of stress and unhappiness. Life is not perfect and neither are people in it, yet God has given us the ability to endure whatever comes with a good temper if we are willing to do so.”
In short, we need to put God’s Grace into our souls in order to apply that grace to others around us.
Depression: Depression is generally a result of anger turned inward and/or a deep sense of loss. Although I have experienced grief and the deep sense of loss in the death of a family member or friend, I have thankfully not experienced anything close to what could be classified as clinical depression.
Other issues identified by McGee include: low motivation, sexual dysfunction, chemical dependency (having been obese most of my life – food has been my drug of choice, especially after weaning myself off of nicotine thirty-five and one-half years ago), addiction to success, sense of hopelessness (especially true if you are determined to never make a mistake), and anger at ourselves and God.
The Price We Pay for Perfectionism
- It defeats your initiative. Have you ever had a project you haven’t been able to get started on? You think, “One of these days I’m going to get around to it,” but you just can’t take that first step. You’re waiting for the perfect circumstance or timing, until the kids get out of school, or until a certain amount of money comes in. When you set your standards so high, perfectionism causes paralysis, and you can’t get anything done. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 11:4, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done” (LB). [We all need to underline this verse in our Bibles, meditate on it, memorize it, and ask the Ruach to bring it to the forefront of our mind whenever we have something that needs to get done.]
- It damages your relationships. Nobody likes being nagged or corrected all the time. It’s frustrating and irritating! The Bible says, “Love forgets mistakes; nagging about them parts the best of friends” (Proverbs 17:9). Perfectionism – the desire to always correct – damages relationships, because it’s rooted in insecurity. Perfectionists who are harsh and demanding on other people are really harsh and demanding on themselves.
- It destroys your happiness. Ecclesiastes 7:16 says, “Don’t be too virtuous, and don’t be too wise. Why make yourself miserable?” (GW) He’s not talking about genuine righteousness or real wisdom. He’s talking about perfectionism. You can take any virtue and make a vice out of it by taking it to the extreme.
Our worst nag lives under our own skin, because people are their own worst critic. Since we tend to resent and even dislike people who nag us, if you’re always nagging yourself, what does that say about you? It says that you don’t like you. You think you’re not good enough. And you think reminding yourself what’s wrong with you is going to motivate you into doing the right thing. It’s not! That’s called perfectionism, and it causes you to constantly put yourself down.
I confess that I had a relapse recently. Now that I’m retired, I generally wear gym shoes wherever I go. I usually keep two pair. One for going out in public and another pair I wear when doing yard work or going to the gym. I recently had to get a new pair for going out in public. I tossed the old ‘yard’ pair in the trash before I went to pick up the new pair. Naturally, I wore the new pair home and brought my old ‘going out’ pair in the new pair box. Before going in the house, I dumped the old ‘going out’ pair in the trash. Once inside, I realized that I had thrown away my new ‘yard’ pair in the trash. As I went back out the door, I said to myself: “How dumb can you be to have done that!” Old habits do die hard. Fortunately, the Ruach quickly reminded me that I am in the process of renewing my mind and that negative self-talk is not my accepted behavior.
I am beginning to learn that there is only one antidote to perfectionism. While self-help books or a counselor’s office can be helpful; we can only learn to relax when we fully experience the liberating Grace of God.
Again, if I have ‘hit a nerve’ be sure to contact me and I would be happy to share with you my own road to recovery.
In my next post, I will continue in our series of God’s Grace by examining another aspect of the performance trap – do we deserve God’s Grace or how can we relax in God’s Grace?
 “Do Yourself a Favor…Forgive” by Joyce Meyer, Faith Words, 2012, Page 28
 Taken from Rick Warren’s “Daily Hope,” March 24, 2014.