As if that were not enough, shortly after hearing about her suicide, I got a call from a man who listens to the broadcast. “Steve,” he said, “I haven’t told anybody in the world what I’m going to tell you. I have decided to leave my wife, and I told God that if I get through to you, I would do whatever you told me to do.”
I asked him what prompted him to decide to leave her.
He told me, “I became a Christian at fourteen, and all my life I’ve been living up to the expectations of others. I work full-time in a ministry, I teach the Bible, and everyone thinks I’m a model Christian. I’m just tired of it. I’ve decided to do something for myself for a change.”
Let me share a letter with you. There was no return address, and the person gave no name: “Dear Steve, Please pray for me as I am on the edge—a total failure as a Christian. I have failed as a husband and as a father. He [God] has probably given up on me. I feel so very alone and abandoned. It’s a horrible feeling that words alone cannot describe. Please don’t judge me. Pray for me. Sincerely, The Lord knows who I am.”
At first these three incidents didn’t seem related. They were just about individuals for whom I had prayed. But in the silence of my prayer, it dawned on me that they all had the same problem: they all had created a false standard of perfection (or accepted someone else’s standard), and they couldn’t live up to it.
What advice would you have given them? If you had talked to the young lady before her suicide, or the man thinking about leaving his wife, or the anonymous letter writer—what would you have said?
Most people would say they should try harder. The problem is that all three already had.
Some would suggest they pray and read the Bible more. But they all had done that too.
Others would tell them to receive Christ and have faith. But, you see, all three had received Christ. And yet, they discovered that the faith they needed can’t be turned on and off like a faucet.
And then there are those who would send them to a mature Christian who would then tell them to try harder, read the Bible, pray, and have faith so their witness would not be hurt.
But what would Jesus have told them? We don’t have to guess: “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” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Perfectionism is a horrible disease. It comes from the pit of hell and smells like smoke. Someone convinced these folks that they were called to measure up to a perfect standard. They couldn’t do it, and each in his or her own way simply quit trying.
Nobody told them that Jesus was perfect for them, and because of that they didn’t have to be perfect for themselves. They didn’t understand that if Jesus makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).
They never heard—or if they did, they didn’t understand—that Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven, accepted, and loved and getting better. Someone should have mentioned that if God was satisfied with them, nobody else had the right not to be.
I told the man who wanted to walk away from his wife about God’s unconditional love. Do you know what happened? He started crying. And before we got off the phone, he had decided to do the right thing. Not because he had to but because he was responding in freedom to the love of Christ.
Nobody can help the young woman who took her life, that is, nobody but Jesus.
And what about the letter writer? Without a return address and a name, only Jesus can handle that one too.
What can we do? We can present and model the real Jesus—the One who came to lift our burdens, not to add to them the hellish weight of perfectionism. Perhaps we could then see fewer sacrifices on the altar of perfectionism.
Time to Draw Away
Read 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Galatians 5:1
Do you find yourself caught in a performance trap, where no matter what you do it doesn’t seem to be enough? Is a standard of perfectionism driving you further and further into despair and discouragement? Please listen carefully… That is not God’s expectation or standard; it’s someone else’s. God doesn’t enslave his children. He sets them free.
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