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Sentence Sermons (Christian Inspiration) #55 --- Perfectionism
Quotations on Perfectionism (Perfectionists)
"Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48.)
There is such a widespread perversion of the Scriptural teachings on perfection that we want to call attention to that religious disease which might be called perfectionism. One of the abnormal categories of religiously minded people is that of perfectionism. Now, perfectionism takes several different forms. It is a serious disease and is evidence of deep maladjustment.
1. Perfectionism is a state of mind which impels one to hold fixed views that have been arbitrarily arrived at even though some external authority, usually a particular version of the Bible, is credited with being the authority for their fixed views.
2. Perfectionism is the outgrowth of a certain type of warped personality. Various factors may have contributed to it.
Perfectionist is used below to indicate those who are victims of perfectionism.
3. Perfectionists are always adequately informed people who adopt a "know-it-all" or "know-I-am-right" attitude.
4. Perfectionists are not so much concerned with the virtues and values of the good life as they are with their judgment of people who either fit into or do not fit into their arbitrarily fixed concepts.
5. Perfectionists are the kind of people who know themselves to be so completely right that anyone who does not see, feel, and act just as they do is, in their eyes, so wrong that he is sure for Hell.
6. Perfectionists are people who suffer from an acute inferiority complex, but who have reacted with a burning initiative which gives them the highly satisfying feeling of great self-importance. Some of them develop a martyr complex. Often they inflate their own ego by tearing down everyone who does not agree with them. The bigger the man in whom they tear down, the bigger they make themselves feel.
7. Perfectionists are emotionally unstable people, and they react sharply against those who are emotionally stable and well poised.
8. Perfectionists are unteachable people. There is little hope for them ever to be different unless some way can be found to do for them something like what the "shock treatment" does for a psychotic who is a manic-depressive case. In such a case the psychotherapist can give any therapeutic suggestion until he can get the patient to the point where he is 'teachable.' So it is with those who are victims of perfectionism and its self-exacting rightness.
—J.H. Avery, Panama City News-Herald, Panama City, Fla., June 10, 1956.
The Bible is very plain when it comes to the goal of human living, perfection. A Christian person cannot be satisfied with anything less than perfection in the sight of God.
We are all aware of the fact that it is humanly impossible for us to reach the goal which has been set before us. Our goal of perfection continually requires us to strive to fulfill our living in conformity with the laws of God.
I suppose that one reason for an impossible goal is that it keeps all of us humble. We can never say that we have arrived, that there are no attainments for us, that we have exhausted the glories of God.
We have all fallen short and we are forced to admit that we are dependent upon God. However, in our day we seem to have an ample number of people who drive themselves into nervous prostration because of an exaggerated drive to be perfect.
It is most interesting to observe that many of these persons strive for perfection in minute details and relatively unimportant events in living.
First of all these people try to be perfect in preciseness. This tendency is almost always exaggerated, and to normal people it is an extremely exasperating tendency These people who have to be so perfect about every detail of living are very unhappy people and they spread their unhappiness to all those about them.
These people are usually extremely thorough. Many of them drive themselves into near insanity because they cannot follow through on any action until every detail is thoroughly checked time and again.
This thoroughness is also carried over into their demands on other people. The perfectionist mother demands impossible thoroughness in her children, her husband, and those who come into the home to visit.
One woman of this type thoroughly embarrasses guests in her home by placing a towel under their feet as they sit down in the living room. She always explains that she cannot tolerate any mud in the house. Frequently she meets friends at the door and checks them over before she will allow them to enter.
Those who know her take it in good spirits, but she is driving herself into abnormality because of her thoroughness in keeping the house clean.
Another tendency of this kind of person is extreme definiteness. ... These people are quite often very rigid, incapable of adjusting to other people and circumstances, and usually miss the great happiness of living.
The Bible does teach us to be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect, but perfectionistic tendencies in minute details of living destroy religion as well as sanity.
—Harold L. Hawkins, Baptist Message, Alexandria, La., July 22, 1954.
Impatience breeds frustration and is really an ill-disguised symptom of perfectionism.
—Jude Speyrer, Lake Charles American Press, Lake Charles, La., June 26, 1987.
All of us have experienced rejection. It is a very normal occurrence of life.
The tragedy of it all is when external rejection is transformed into self-rejection. Self-rejection leads to depression.
Of course there are several causes and expressions of self-rejection. First, there is the perfectionist. Odd it is that perfectionists usually look up to and admire people that are less than perfect. The perfectionist is too far obsessed with his own faults.
Again, critical parents, relatives, and teachers cause self-rejection. We must not live in the past, and learn to let God's opinion overrule the opinions of others.
The answer to self-rejection is found in the Gospel of Christ. ... Christ and the apostles taught the doctrine of election as an antidote to self-rejection.
Election tells us that we were accepted before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:14.) Election saves us from the despair of subjectivity by pointing to the objective standard of God's acceptance, Jesus Christ. ...
God has a purpose for you. Allow no person, circumstance, or sin to stand between you and your acceptance by God in Christ.
—Randall James Chesson, Lake Charles American Press, Lake Charles, La., Dec. 5, 1981.
Some people might be frightened by the word perfection. And, on the other hand, there is the danger that others will be misled by the natural attraction to perfection and will concentrate on themselves too much rather than on the love of God. On many occasions our Lord was not addressing a chosen few but the whole of a large group of people. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord commanded nothing less than perfection and He commanded it for all. "You therefore are to be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48.) Since this is a command given to all, we are not really free as to whether we will perfect our spiritual nature or not. We are in some manner to become perfect in our way as God is in His way. The desire for perfection is anything but alien to human nature. It is the desire for perfection that turns children into mature adults. It is the desire for perfection that is pushed humanity out of the stone age into the light of civilization. But man will be uselessly impelled to perfection if he did not seek most of all to perfect that part of him that rules him, that is the soul. For instance, technology will destroy him if he does not control himself by perfecting his own spirit. Man must perfect himself spiritually for even a greater reason--his eternal salvation. The farther he is from perfection, the harder it will be to save the soul. Most of us achieve less than we strive for. Unless we strive for more than the minimum, we greatly risk losing even that. If you give God no more than the minimum, and will avoid everything that causes difficulty or pain, it is not a likely way to heaven but perhaps an easy way to hell. The idea of perfection, then, is involved in the questions each man must ask himself again and again: "What am I working for? What am I living for? For success, security, money, pleasure? (all of which will pass away). Or am I working for eternal life?" Besides this, there are some people along larger, spiritual lines who will hardly save their souls in an ordinary, mediocre atmosphere where nothing more than the average is proposed to them. They will exhort themselves, only if they are inspired by the possibility of the highest. If there are no stars to reach for from the mountaintop, they will more easily become like animals or devils from those of us who are not built that bright. For these most especially, the ideal of spiritual perfection is a necessary thing. Perfection is so close to our nature that we instinctively admire it in many forms, as in physical beauty or in an exceptional performance at an athletic event or at the theater. But despite that perfection is natural as well as necessary, enough of us steer it in the form of spiritual perfection and so much so that sometimes we do not even claim to admire it. This kind of fear of spiritual perfection has two reasons. One is that we do not understand what spiritual perfection is. And two, that we are afraid of the price we must pay for it. It is well to note here that spiritual life is a growth and growth is usually a gradual process. We are not asked to suffer all things or to give up all things much less all things at once. We must only be willing to take the next step and to pay the price if there is a price, and to know that there is no price too great to pay for heaven and for love. Now as to what perfection is, it is not the distorted exaggeration of perfection known as perfectionism nor is it a sterile, self-admiring perfection, a perfection for its own sake. It is not really not a different thing from close union with God. It is not really different from close friendship with God. It is really, basically, great and true love of God. In the same way, when perfection is understood to be the pursuit of greater love of God, if follows that it does not consist in the number of prayers we say nor in the number of devotions we've acquired. ... Although knowledge is never to be despised, spiritual perfection is not necessarily connected with great theoretical knowledge of the spiritual life. So true is all this, that any overemphasis on any one of these can become an impediment to spiritual perfection. Again, perfection is to be understood as the pursuit of greater love of God. It doesn't consist of the number of prayers we say or the number of devotions we acquire. ... Perfection is the pursuit of a greater love of God. Opposed to all overemphasis on one detail, the Lord indicates that our perfection consists primarily in love--the teaching of the two great commandments, love of God and love of man. He tells us that all other commands, all other counsels are only aspects of these. Although both are necessary, one of them is first and it must be kept first. In fact, if we have the first, the second is by necessary consequence a part of us also. The first is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with they whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength." If we love God with this wholeness, we will love what He loves and in the way He wants to love us.
—David Richter, St. Joseph Catholic Church Devotional, Zwolle, La., April 7, 1996.
What does it mean to be diligent? It means doing our very best at whatever we are doing. While we do not insist on perfection, we will be dissatisfied with less than the best we can do. We will refuse to be deliberately sloppy in our work or play. This kind of attitude says several very significant things.
It says that we regard our abilities as gifts from God and that we recognize that we are responsible to Him for the way we use them. To do less than our best is to waste what God has given us. Only by consistently doing our best can we properly develop the gifts God has given us and grow in skill.
When we are diligent in our daily life and work, we say that we regard our abilities and our opportunities as God-given. These can be wasted as well as other gifts.
The same opportunity never comes to us twice. When we fail to be diligent we miss, we waste, opportunities which will never come again. It is a poor witness when Christians take God's gifts so lightly.
One of the positive benefits that comes to us when we are diligent in our daily life and work is a fine personal satisfaction. It is gratifying to realize that we have done our best in some particular task.
A person cannot have much respect for himself if he knows that he never really tries to do his best in anything. However, it is satisfying to make a sincere attempt to use God's gifts to us in the way He intended them they should be used and in a way that will honor Him.
Another positive benefit of living diligently is that it encourages others to make the best use of their opportunities and abilities. One of the most pernicious attitudes we come across is that anyone who is diligent in all his ways is some kind of "eager beaver."
Some people think that the mark of real sophistication is a studied lack of enthusiasm about almost everything. If we have the courage to be diligent, we can do a great deal to effectively counteract such an unworthy attitude and its influence on other people.
Diligence should not be confused with perfectionism. Some people are so concerned about excelling that they almost worship excellence for its own sake.
This attitude can develop in several unfortunate directions. Some people become overly cautious. They are so concerned about excelling that they refuse to attempt anything unless they are convince beforehand that they can do it better than anybody else.
Being too anxious and too cautious produces the same result as not caring enough. Things that needs to be done are not done or are not done well.
Another bad effect of the perfectionist attitude is that the motive for work becomes unwholesome Instead of doing a thing in order to have it done, it is attempted in order to gain superiority over others. The satisfaction of doing a thing well may become the unwholesome satisfaction of being better then someone else. Diligence is wholesome. Self-seeking superiority is not.
—B. Hoyt Evans, Presbyterian Journal, Weaverville, N.C., Jan. 29, 1969.