There is something that traps me. It hems me in from all corners. It’s called, perfectionism. It doesn’t allow for mistakes, and takes no prisoners.
I remember quite clearly one of my first experiences with this foe when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I was helping my dad build drawer boxes in a small shed out behind the garage. What stands out in my memory is that the shed was actually in the cow pasture, and it was hot, very hot. It was the middle of the summer in Southlake, Texas. I was given the job of running the glue bottle down the drawer dado in a straight line. No beading allowed. A consistent line of thin glue was needed so that there would be no evidence of squeeze-out on the inside of the drawer. But I couldn’t do it. Not after the first try, or second or third try. It was all wrong. I wanted to please my Dad. I wanted to achieve that perfect line of glue, and also it was hot out there! No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the angle of the glue bottle set right. Tears began to stream down my face. I kept trying, again and again with the same result: glue showed up every time on the inside of the drawer box. As you might guess, I eventually got it. Fast forward a couple years, and I was the drawer boxing pro. I could put down that glue and slap together the sides, ends, and bottom in 20 seconds flat.
Throughout my life I have struggled with perfectionism. It has always trailed along disguised as excellence and beauty, but sabotaging my efforts in the end. First a filmmaker, and now as a worship leader and musician, it is critical to recognize this tendency.
Here’s what I’ve learned. God asks for excellence, He asks for our best. I am the one expecting perfection, not God. In my own personal strength I am trying to be what God already is. Perfect.
Job’s friend Elihu says this in the book of Job:
“. . . stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know how God lays his command upon them and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine? Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge. . .”
Job 37: 15-16
So if God is perfect (and even much more) why do I attempt perfectionism? I can speculate, but deep down I know it is because of sin. I want to be great. I want to be known, respected and admired by men. I am trying to be my own god. And I can tell you from experience that perfectionism makes a terrible god. God does not ask us to be perfect but God does value skill and excellence. These are important to God. We see this in the book of Exodus where five chapters are used just to describe the crafting of the temple. In chapter 35, it says this:
“Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship,
God called and created these men to help build his temple with “skill” and with “intelligence”. It is incredibly freeing to understand that my worth is not tied up in how good I am at something. Any skill I posses is by the grace of a perfect and righteous God. It is liberating to realize that I should not endlessly strive to be perfect. God has designed me with certain skills and knowledge to glorify Him, not to hopelessly exalt myself. God has called me to sing to Him and to “play skillfully on the strings (Psalm 33:3).
It is evident that skill is important to God. The issue arises when the focus shifts from using the skills God has given me for His glory to using my God-given skills in pursuit of perfection. In Worship Matters Bob Kauflin makes this abundantly clear:
“Valuing skill too highly can yield some ugly fruit. It becomes an idol. We arrogantly think our church’s worship is better then the church down the street. We over-rehearse and get impatient when others make mistakes” (Kauflin, 36).
Sadly, I have does this all to often. I have thought my music is better than someone else’s. I have practiced in pursuit of perfection. In other words, I have practiced and played in pursuit of an endlessly hopeless idol: the idol of perfection. This is utterly exhausting and draining. Just as God created Noah to build the ark, and the men in Exodus to build the temple “with all craftsmanship”, God has created me and gifted me with certain skills to worship Him. Through His glorious grace I am set free from the pursuit of perfection.