Shawna remembers how uncomfortable she felt when she relaxed around her home growing up. When she was busy doing her homework, her mother would go out of her way to hug her and praise her for her hard work. But when she wanted to just watch TV to veg, her mother wouldn’t approach her and went around the house with a frown on her face. But if Shawna started her homework again, she could count on her mom kissing the top of her head as she worked.
Shawna transferred that kind of conditional love onto her perspective about God.
Unless she was doing something “spiritual,” she couldn’t believe God would approve or love her. If she was reading a novel, she thought she really should be reading the Bible. If she was talking to a friend who wasn’t a Christian, she felt guilty she wasn’t talking about Jesus. Even if she was blow drying her hair, she would think, I really should be memorizing a verse. For her, she should use every moment to grow in her faith or live it out.
But Shawna has been learning how her mom’s conditional love contributed to her adopting an unhealthy perspective of God’s love. Now she’s seeking God’s help in changing the wrong idea she can make God love her more through her continuous spiritual efforts. Do you relate to some of those feelings and thoughts? You might have perfectionistic tendencies.
Read the following nine statements and check any that you relate to—even if it isn’t in your life 100% of the time.
1._____ Most of the time I sense God is disappointed with me.
2._____ I spend lots of energy evaluating my performance.
3._____ I tend to think in terms of “all or nothing.”
4._____ I think I should have my act together by now.
5._____ My expectations tend to be unrealistic.
6._____For me, “good” is rarely “good enough.”
7._____I often wonder why other people can’t get their act together.
8._____I’m compelled to straighten out misunderstandings.
9._____I won’t begin something if there’s a possibility I can’t do it well.
Add up your check marks. If you scored three or more of those statements, you have perfectionist tendencies. You may not be a “total perfectionist” but some of your tendencies are intruding into your desire to respond with godliness. And they could be contributing to the feeling you can never be good enough to please God.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the false beliefs behind those feelings.
1. If I were a better Christian, I would feel God’s love. I’ll just try harder to get closer to God.
A friend of mine was the oldest child in an alcoholic home. She never knew when her father might go off on another binge, sometimes leaving their home for days. One time, he was gone a week. To try to prevent his excesses, she tried to do everything well, hoping for his approval. Although she wasn’t responsible for him drinking excessively, she somehow reasoned that doing things right would please him and keep him away from drinking. As a result, she worked hard at getting straight A’s in school.
As an adult, Jamie has carried the perfectionist viewpoint of “having to try harder” into her relationship with God. If God didn’t answer her prayer a certain way, she concluded she just needed to have her devotions more often. If a friend misunderstood her, she worried if she gave up too soon when talking to a stranger about Christ a few days earlier. When she caught a cold, she worried that there was an unconfessed sin in her life. If she were totally “sold out” for Jesus she would sense his love for her all the time.
Second Timothy 1:9 assures us, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
As someone has said, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.” God loves unconditionally to the max!
2. God will love me more if I sin less.
Another friend feels God is punishing her and can’t accept her because of wrong choices she has made. Raised by perfectionist parents who rarely gave her any praise or encouragement, Debra accepted Christ at Vacation Bible School and continued to attend that church. But when she was twelve years old, she told God that she couldn’t be a Christian because she couldn’t stop sinning. Today, even though she’s overcome a dependency on drugs and alcohol, she can’t believe God can love and accept her. Debra’s vindictive view of God prevents her from receiving God’s unconditional love and grace.
Isaiah 43:25 tells us the truth: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
3. I can earn God’s love and approval.
A third myth is the belief that we can earn his love and approval. But Isaiah 64:6 tells us, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (NASB). Moreover, Romans 3:20 explains that we can’t be declared “righteous” or “good enough” by keeping the law or being “good enough.” Yet many of us still think we can become “good enough” to earn God’s love.
Healing From the Lies
We can prevent these myths from affecting us by healing the inner wounds that created them. We do that by slowly but consistently replacing the lies with the truth by concentrating on God’s grace. Since we can’t earn God’s favor, He offers it as a free gift through Jesus’ death for our sins.
Ephesians 1:4 assures us, “But God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved.)
I was reminded of that quite some time ago when I arrived at our local regional park. I had come prepared with the necessary quarters to deposit into the machine that controlled the mechanical arm blocking my way into the park. I deposited the quarters, and looked forward, anticipating the mechanical arm to raise. Much to my surprise, I realized there was no mechanical arm at all attached to the machine. It had been removed for some reason. Nothing had prevented me from entering the park all along.
“I just wasted my money,” I muttered to myself. “I could have gone in free!”
That’s just like we perfectionists who are very good at depositing our quarters of good works in an effort to earn entrance into God’s love.
“Here, God, is my quarter of loving that person I hate. Do you love me now?”
“Here, God, is my quarter of having my devotional time today. Do you love me now?”
“Here, God, is my quarter of serving in the nursery even though I would rather go to the service. Do you love me now?”
We put in our quarters, while all along, the mechanical arm we think is blocking us from God’s love is not there. Jesus died on the cross in our place and has shattered the obstacle to God’s unconditional love.
Instead of putting in the quarters, we can move forward into experiencing God’s love.
Certainly, God does want us to obey him, to love others, to have our quiet time with him, and to serve in our church.
But those things should be done out of our gratitude for His gift of salvation—not as a means of earning His love and our entrance into heaven.
Are you willing to give up depositing your quarters trying to earn God’s love? He wants you to know his incredible, unconditional love to set you free from the demand for perfect performance.
(adapted from my book, Pure-Hearted: The Blessings of Living Out God’s Glory)