The Paradox of Perfection: How Embracing Our Imperfection Perfects Us
“The Paradox of Perfection, by Reber and Moody, is an important book. As a pastor of a local church, I have seen firsthand what it does to people’s souls when they try to attain the unattainable ideal of perfection. People in pursuit of this goal either end up becoming Pharisees or failures. The good news is that our failures can lead us to grace and the love of Christ. The authors do a great job of pointing us in this life-giving direction.” —Scott McKinney, Pastor at CenterPoint Church
“This book is a vital antidote to the poison that infiltrates many religious people―perfectionism. I hadn’t even realized I’d ingested this poison until I read this wonderful book! It draws you in immediately with its charming yet profound insights. Reber and Moody have clearly penned a gem.” —Brent Slife, Clinical Psychologist and Professor Emeritus
Americans are wealthier, smarter, and more beautiful than ever before, but we are also more depressed, anxious, and lonely. How can this be? The answer for many of us is perfectionism. Perfectionists pursue flawlessness and often reach great heights as a result, but we ultimately fall frustratingly short of our ideal. Christian perfectionists turn frustration into despair, because Christ commands us to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.” This seemingly impossible demand promotes feelings of guilt, unworthiness, and discouragement. Why would God put us in such a hopeless position?
The short answer is, He didn’t. In The Paradox of Perfection you will discover that the perfection Christ commands of us is actually possible here and now in this life, but to achieve it we must learn a new, properly Christian language of perfection. Relational experts, Dr. Jeffrey Reber and Steven Moody, will teach you this language and help you learn that the perfection Christ commands of you is not individual flawlessness, but a form of relationship with Him that depends precisely upon your weaknesses and imperfections, which enable Christ’s perfect love within you, your marriage, your family, and your church.
Excerpt from The Paradox of Perfection:
Toward a More Perfect Marital Union
come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by learning to see an
imperfect person perfectly. —Sam
One evening when I returned home from shopping, my husband, Larry, met me at the door, grinning. What’s he up to? I wondered. He led me into the kitchen and announced, “I did the dishes for you!” As I hugged him and exclaimed, “Thank you!” I looked over his shoulder and noticed crumbs and drops of liquid on the counter. But you haven’t wiped the counter, I thought. You haven’t finished the dishes! Before I could chastise him, I remembered how my struggles with perfection- ism and impatience robbed me of enjoying and appreciating my wonderful husband. I thanked him again, determined not to allow his “mistakes” to bother me. The next evening Larry did the dishes again. I realized he wouldn’t have washed them a second time if I’d criticized him the day before. I witnessed again the power of affirming his attempts—even if they didn’t meet my expectations.
Someone once said that a
perfectionist is a person who takes great pains and passes them on to others. I
would have given my husband a great pain that evening if I’d discounted his
effort. Yet that’s exactly what perfectionism does: It brings pain and
destruction to our lives and marriages. Throughout the first seven years of our
marriage, I struggled with perfectionist tendencies. Nothing Larry did was good
enough. He wasn’t a good enough provider—even though he worked two jobs to
support our family while I stayed home with the kids. He didn’t talk enough to
me; he didn’t help properly with the housework; he wasn’t as concerned about my
desires and expectations as I was. The list went on and on. My standards were
set so high that Larry couldn’t win—ever. Since Larry didn’t meet all my needs,
I believed I couldn’t give him credit when he showed me love. Instead I focused
on his inadequacies. No matter how Larry tried to please me, I found fault and
pointed out his shortcomings to “motivate” him. I “punished” him with my
displeasure by withholding sex, affection, joy”1 (Miller, 2008).
excerpt from Kathy’s story poignantly demonstrates what happens in a marriage
when the language of perfectionism is the only language spouses know. As you
can see in the first paragraph, even though Kathy learned some coping
strategies, her perfectionism remained front and center in her mind and heart.
She still noticed the crumbs and drops of liquid on the counter, and she
continued to evaluate those things as flaws in her husband that demonstrated
his inadequacy in completing the task. She coped with this by determining
within herself not to be bothered by these mistakes, and she made sure to catch
herself before chastising him. However, at this point in her story, she remains
a perfectionist, albeit a less outspoken one.
Kathy’s story does not end there. After seven years of living
perfectionistically, falling out of love with her husband because he failed to
meet her high expectations, and then trying to cope with all of that by holding
her tongue, Kathy was exposed to an alternative language of perfection, a
properly Christian language of perfection. Kathy writes, “One day, during my
devotions, God opened my eyes to what I was doing.” Kathy, who, like all of us,
was incapable of finding a way out of the vise grip of perfectionism by her own
efforts, was shown the more perfect way. And what is the more perfect way that
she was shown? Kathy answers that question through an experience. She reports
that one day while cleaning the house:
sensed God say, “Tell Larry you love him.” I was shocked. No! I thought.
I don’t love Larry. My unmet expectations had squelched my love—because
love and a perfectionist attitude can’t really coexist. Besides, I
thought, I haven’t said those words to him in more than two years. If I say
them now, he might think I approve of his negligence toward me and the kids.
In my perfectionistic thinking, since I didn’t feel love for Larry all the
time, I couldn’t say I loved him. Finally, I felt God whisper, “Think it the
next time you see Larry.” That’s strange, I thought. But if he
doesn’t hear me, then he can’t use it against me. All right, Lord, I’ll do it,
even if it isn’t true.
evening when Larry returned, I stared at him, gulped, and thought, I love
you…but I don’t really. Even though I obeyed God begrudgingly, an amazing
thing happened. Over the following months, as I continued to think the words I
love you whenever I looked at Larry, I began to feel love for him. I
also recognized that I’d been holding Larry responsible for my happiness. As I
received grace for myself and then offered it to Larry, my “all or nothing”
thinking changed. I accepted the truth that Larry couldn’t meet all my
needs—only God could. In time, Larry noticed that I wasn’t as angry and
demanding. And our marriage became more comfort- able and enjoyable for both of
exposed Kathy to the language of His perfect love. At first, she resisted this
alternative and only practiced it begrudgingly. The language was so foreign, so
unfamiliar. It just did not ring true. However, as she practiced speaking it,
even if only in her mind, her heart changed. She allowed God’s love in, and
through the grace of His love, her love for her husband grew and their marriage
improved. It was not easy. It did not happen over- night. Surely, she still
falls back into her primary language of perfectionism all the time. But now she
knows there is another way to be perfect, another language she can speak, and
she knows it is the Lord’s way because it came directly from Him.
About the Authors:
Jeff Reber and Steve Moody are educators and therapists who specialize in relational approaches to issues at the intersection of faith and psychology. They have given presentations on perfectionism to audiences across the continent and have published scholarly articles, book chapters, and books on this and other important societal epidemics. Their latest book The Paradox of Perfection is available for pre-sale on Amazon. Readers can connect with the authors on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. To learn more, go to https://paradoxofperfectionbook.com