Perfectionism

The Temptation of Christ
(pic: Simon Bening’s The Temptation of Christ from Wikipedia ; public domain)

I had a conversation last week where I brought up my perfectionistic tendencies.  I tend to expect a lot from myself–I want to do things well, become a better person.  I’m always striving to learn how to do life, how to better seek and obey God, how to rise a bit higher.

I get angry at myself when I give my all and fail.  With age I’m getting less wigged out about failure, but coming out less than best still stings. 

As luck(??)…ummm…I mean God would have it, a series of articles on perfectionism popped up on my Psychology Today home page feed this week.  Of course I had to peek and see…

One of the articles that caught my attention is entitled “What flavor of perfectionism are you?  It matters!”  Although the article swims in clinical jargon, I would still recommend reading it–it is decipherable to the attentive and ends with a perfectionism test

Primarily the article eyeballs three different types of perfectionism: self-oriented, other-oriented and socially-prescribed. 

1. Self-oriented perfectionists self-evaluate mercilessly, live within narrowly defined standards and are highly motivated to achieve and not fail. 

2. Other-oriented perfectionists are unrealistic in their expectation of others and are perpetually judging/evaluating those they live with/work with, etc.

3. Socially-prescribed perfectionists think that others are watching and holding them to unrealistic expectations.  They sense criticism where criticism may not exist and let this control their worldview.  They think others expect them to be perfect. 

In listening to the article I kept hearing a spiritual tie in to the temptation of Jesus in the desert.  Here is the Gospel of Matthew’s account, found in chapter 4:

1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
   ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
      and they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”
 7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”
 11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

I learned years ago that each temptation ties in with a way to secure for oneself what one needs.  For instance: the stones to bread (said to a starving man, no less) is akin to us securing our own provision instead of seeking God’s provision for us–we control our life, not Him.  In this example we spot the self-oriented perfectionist (which, by the way, is where I lean according to the perfection test noted above) who is out to make a life, out to forge their own agenda and live according to their own will.  Rugged American individualism fits well here.

The second example (Jesus being born up by angels after throwing Himself off the top of the temple–creating a public spectacle, securing the favor of the masses) is akin to the socially-prescribed perfectionist, as this soul is perpetually trying to gain the favor/esteem of others.  In order to feel secure, one senses that one needs to please others, impress others.  The opinion of others is god, while the opinion of God is ‘other’.  (By the way, according to the article this perfectionist fares worst of the three–they’re most prone to procrastination, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, etc).

The  last example has to do with attaining power over others (kingdoms of the world offered to Jesus).  Having power over others is akin to the other-oriented perfectionists, for other-orienteds love to lord it over others.  They’re power seeking ways include perpetually evaluating others, putting down others, insisting others are incompetent or unable to make good decisions (hence they’re needed to make decisions for others, are needed to lead others).  They’re judgmentalism (Pharisees fit here) helps foster the argument that they need to be in power, make decisions, etc. for no one else is doing it ‘right’.  In securing places of power, they find a sense of security.  They’re power dismisses God’s power/God’s will in any given circumstance.

The way I see it, pride is front and center in all of these tendencies.  Securing our own way instead of surrendering to God’s way is the temptation.  Jesus ‘got it’ and after he faced down pride, He was sent into ministry (not before). 

Perfectionists everywhere: we need reorientation.  We need repentance.  We need surrender and obedience to the only One who can keep us safe and secure.  Until we learn that, maybe all we do falls short of real ministry…

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