Daily Devotional

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

I’m kind of an all-or-nothing type of person.  I like things that are black-and-white, cut-and-dry, clean, clear, simple, and straightforward.  But life is often sloppy, messy, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and characterized by many shades of gray.  If I’m not careful, the tension between those two extremes can create a lot of inner turmoil and conflict.  

Can I make a confession?  When I was younger, I almost never flossed my teeth.  Perhaps I was lazy.  Or perhaps I was busy.  But I hated taking the time to floss.  So I never flossed at all—unless it was an emergency like there was a big piece of steak lodged in my front teeth.  

As an all-or-nothing person, my brain only had two categories for flossing: either you do it, or you don’t.  Either you floss every day, or you don’t floss at all.  There was no in-between.  

Then one day a dental hygienist asked me if I wanted to keep my teeth for the rest of my life, or if I was okay wearing dentures.  She told me if I didn’t start flossing, my gums would recede and my teeth would fall out!  That created something of a crisis in my life.  It literally kept me awake at night, until I had an epiphany that changed my life.  

The epiphany was this: “It’s better to floss one day a week than not at all.”  For normal people, that sounds ridiculously simple and obvious.  But for a perfectionist, it’s quite profound.  

I call it “The Flossing Principle,” and I believe it’s the key to progressive sanctification in every area of life.  In a nutshell, it means that change and transformation don’t take place overnight.  It’s not an all-or-nothing kind of a deal.  It’s not black or white, pass or fail.  Rather, sanctification is a process of slow, incremental change made up of many tiny steps in a positive direction.  

2 Corinthians 3:18 - “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (underline added)

For a perfectionist, this is absolutely liberating.  If you’re a fellow perfectionist like me, here are a few thoughts to reflect on today:

  1. Perfectionism is the desire to strive for flawlessness and set exceedingly high standards for ourselves or others that are in fact impossible to keep since no one is actually perfect except God.  Therefore, in reality, perfectionism is a futile and frustrating pursuit of something that is unattainable. Let’s begin by admitting that perfection is a myth.  It’s not even a realistic or achievable standard.

  2. Perfectionism is motivated by pride and the fear of failure—the fear of not living up to our own or someone else’s expectations.  It’s the residue of indwelling sin in our flesh that strives for salvation by works and self-effort.  It seeks to justify ourselves by proving we are valuable.  But at the bottom of it all is fear, insecurity, and a low sense of self-worth.

  3. Perfectionism is a demanding, draining, debilitating way of life, a relentless cycle that takes everything and gives little in return.  It’s never satisfied.  The reason perfectionists procrastinate is because the pressure to perform is overwhelming.  Trying to be perfect is utterly exhausting. Is there a way to get out of this self-imposed prison?

  4. The solution is learning to receive the grace of God rather than trying to earn it, understanding that God loves you and accepts you unconditionally for who you are in Christ, not because of anything that you do for him.  His acceptance is not based on your performance, and your value is not determined by what you produce, because Christ finished the work of salvation for you!  You are Beloved, accepted, cherished and valuable, ransomed and redeemed, adopted and secure, made worthy by the blood of Christ alone.  Therefore, you can rest in him and know that you are totally, completely, and perfectly loved by God.  

So how are my teeth and gums?  I’m happy to report that I am now a regular flosser. At first, it was just once or twice a week.  But then over time, as I built up a healthy habit, I started flossing more and more.  Now I floss virtually every day.  And by the grace of God, I still have all my teeth!

If you’re a recovering perfectionist, send me a quick email and let me know your thoughts.  I hope you find “The Flossing Principle” helpful.  And if you’ve learned any principles that you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear them.  
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
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