The class started innocently enough, “Evangelism, Justice & the Emerging Generation” a topic I’m passionate about and have a fair amount of experience in. For the first half of the quarter I got 10/10 scores on my weekly assignments, then 100% on my first book review, and then my second. As I started the last leg of the class, I realized that I had a perfect score on everything – each post, each report, each assignment! I just had to take the final exam and turn in my research paper. I started telling myself not to get too excited, just do the work and don’t stress out and don’t take more time than I needed! The final exam returned and each of the short answer essays, multiple choice and true and false questions were… correct. The Professor wrote, “You seem to have amazing mastery over the subject matter.”
Now the pressure was on, only a final research project. I reviewed the grading rubric, the objectives and anticipated outcomes – I couldn’t help it, I wanted a perfect score to complete a perfect course! The notification popped up a week later that my grades were in… and I held my breath as disappointment greeted me. 99 points out of 100, one point docked for a small citation error. One measly, tiny, itsy-bitsy point shy of week after week (10 long weeks) of perfect performance. The world is in a state of dystrophy.
I generally know I do ‘alright,’ at juggling all the things, but deep down I want to do great. I feel that way about most areas of my life (conveniently discounting the gym) and have started to recognize how it gets unhealthy. It gets unhealthy when I stop Sabbathing because there is more to get done. It gets unhealthy when I trust only myself and control other people and outcomes to be just right. It’s unhealthy when I strive and work myself into a “do, do, do” mode and needlessly stress and worry. It gets unhealthy when it drives me.
I recognize that in some ways my desire for perfection is a holy longing for the completion only brought in Christ. I always wondered why Revelation 21 was my favorite passage. Over the years of my life I would regularly weep as I read the comforting words that one day, we will dwell with our God and there will be no more pain or tears. One day there will be no more pain or crying. Deep in me, I yearn for the salvific redemption that will end the mess of children being separated from parents at the border, of borders, of addiction wreaking havoc in my family, of cancer affecting young teens.
Even as I repent of how my perfectionism is a sin, I rejoice in this, “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” Hebrew 10:14. Hallelujah. In Christ perfection has come, in Christ, we are being made new. My longing for perfection is a holy longing and if I sift that longing – it propels me to seek and speak of Christ – the one who Is and will bring perfection.