Ok, so today I’m sharing something that has been on my heart about the impact of the Gospel on us as women and it’s this: understanding the Gospel means that we can stop striving for our own perfection, and instead abide in Jesus’ perfection on our behalf.
I wrote an entire chapter about this in my book Impact: Gospel Hope For Every Woman, and I’d love to share a part of it with you today. 🙂
I’ve broken up this post in sections similar to the ones in the book.
From Self-Perfectionism To Rest
As the word suggests, self-perfectionism (a term I created!) is essentially a striving for perfection regarding the self.
The Macmillan dictionary defines the verb strive as: “to make a lot of effort to achieve something” and the Cambridge dictionary defines it as “to try very hard to do something or to make something happen, especially for a long time or against difficulties”.
So striving can be used to describe our great effort to achieve anything: good grades, a tidy home, a simple way of living.
Striving for perfection is a common issue for women, so much so that when I asked women how often they struggle with perfection from a scale of 0 to 10 as part of my book research, the results were astounding.
A total of 64% of women reported a scale of seven to ten in terms of struggling with perfectionism, with eight being the answer with the highest percentage (29%).
But what are the roots of this striving for perfection?
Root causes of self-perfectionism
In his book, What Happy Women Know Dan Baker—a PhD psychologist—states that in his practice he has noticed that women, in particular, battle with perfectionism.
To illustrate, Dan Baker shares the story of a woman who visited him at this practice, who told him she played the piano every day, but could not perform in front of loved ones.
Fear of failure, of playing the wrong note, of ruining the music piece, stopped her from sharing her music with her nearest and dearest.
Why do you think she feared she would ruin the music piece? Would it have harmed her friends or family members if she hadn’t played well? Of course not.
The reason this woman hated the thought of ruining the music piece, I believe, is this: she thought that by not being perfect in her execution, this would affect her worth and identity as a person.
This story is not the first, nor will it be the last, of its kind.
All the areas that women most admitted to perfectionism are related to spheres of responsibility: homemaking, work, close relationships.
We strive for perfection because we look to ourselves, and not God, for our worth, identity, and righteousness.
Sometimes we do this out of our insecurity. Like the piano player, we listen to the lies of the enemy that we need to perform perfectly in order to earn our worth.
Other times, though, our striving for perfection is rooted in pride.
We want to be God. To be perfect. To not be constrained by limitations or weakness. We want to satisfy the needs of those around us, because we want to be the answer to their void. We want to be perfect because we want to be God in the lives of others. To be admired, needed, venerated.
This deep desire for perfection apart from God is exemplified in the “unleash your inner goddess” movement, which has invaded the media in the last few years.
The premise of this movement is that women are perfect deep inside, and the reason they are not acting that way is that they are victims of circumstances. So, the ironic solution, according to the gurus, is for women to unleash the inner goddess, the perfect self, by following certain steps.
From Self-Perfectionism To Rest – The Good News Of God’s Redemption
We strive to be perfect in our work, relationships, homes, communities because we both search for our worth in our performance, and we have a prideful desire to fulfil the deepest needs of those around us by meeting their deepest needs for God. Yet, still we fail!
So this begs the question, if we’re not able to be perfect, why on earth does Jesus Himself tell us to be perfect in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”?
Some people would say that although God is holy, His love is greater. In effect, they downplay God’s holiness and the righteous demands of the law.
They will say “It’s OK. God loves you” as if somehow God’s love makes Him blind to our imperfections. His love cancels out His holiness, so to speak.
There’s a problem with this; it’s not true. Both holiness and love are attributes of God. And because God is holy, He cannot be in close fellowship with those who are in sin.
Remember the garden of Eden? Before Adam and Eve sinned, they enjoyed close communion with God as their Creator and Father. When they sinned, the close relationship was broken.
So in telling us to be perfect as the Father is perfect, Jesus does not pat us on the back and tell us we’re perfect just the way we are. Or that God loves us, and it’s OK if we sin. Jesus says the Father is perfect, and we are to be perfect too!
But then again, how could he tell us to be perfect when He knows we can’t be? The answer to this is: Jesus was pointing us to Himself.
Jesus was showing us that what we really need to be perfect are three things: justification through Jesus’ righteousness imputed to us; the Holy Spirit at work within us in sanctifying us (the inheritance of those who believe in Jesus for salvation); future holiness when we enter God’s glory.
I highly recommend the article Yes, Actually, God Does Demand Perfection, which explores this in more depth.
Real perfection (not the world’s version of it!) is not human in nature, nor does it come about from striving. It actually comes as the fruit of biblical rest.
The Cambridge dictionary defines rest as: to lie or lean on something, or to put something on something else so that its weight is supported.
This definition is fascinating when we look at what Jesus says about rest in Matthew 11:28:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So what is God’s rest? Well, if we read the verses above, we see Jesus talks about rest for our souls.
The simplest definition I can give about resting in God is relying on God instead of relying on ourselves.
Instead of striving to achieve perfection on our own, we look to God—the source of all perfection. Instead of striving to achieve our own worth by performance, we rest in the God who makes us cleansed, new, and perfect in Jesus’ righteousness.
We rest when stop striving for our worth
As women, we often take on a mindset that we need to perform in a certain way in order to gain our worth as people.
We feel we need to be excellent homemakers, keep perfectly manicured gardens, raise our children with excellence, develop our careers, dedicate time to voluntary projects, all the while looking good and staying fit. By doing these things, we will essentially be “good” and “worthy”.
When I was a young mother, this was my mindset.
If I managed to raise my kids well, work on my freelance projects, be an excellent homemaker, and never fail to give my children my love and attention, that would make me a good person.
If I failed, then I was bad. My identity as a person was tied to my performance as a mother.
Then, when I inevitably failed, guilt and inadequacy permeated every aspect of my life. This guilt was not just regarding a particular action (although that certainly occurred to me too) but also my overall inability to be perfect as a mother and as a woman.
With time, though, I realised that my core identity was not based on my performance, but on Jesus’ performance on my behalf.
He lived a perfect life without sin or failure. And in Him, I was set free from the law. I was under God’s grace. I no longer needed to perform for my identity. My identity was based on Jesus’ righteousness imputed to me.
I could rest that as a child of God, I was redeemed, forgiven, set free.
Resting in God is about understanding this fundamental truth: as children of God, we don’t need to perform for our worth or our identity, we can rest in who we are in Jesus.
Did this post bless you? Check out the book Impact: Gospel Hope For Every Woman