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Why Perfectionism Could Cost You Your Purpose

Why Perfectionism Could Cost You Your Purpose

Are You Ready to Recover the Person You Truly Are?

Would you be willing to let Wonder Woman go? Could you?

Life has taught us that our perfectionistic pursuits are necessary. If your mother-in-law doesn’t approve of you, she will make life unbearable. Or you can choose to be eye candy at work, or join the ranks of the unemployed.

It took years before I even acknowledged my perfectionism. I didn’t see it as overachievement. To me it seemed more like an essential tool for survival. If you’re not prepared to be Wonder Woman, they won’t even let you in the door. While this is a broken identity that we need to let go of, it’s one that the world around us tends to reinforce. It’s the broken identity that helps us land a job, keeps the peace (or a truce) in our homes, helps people accept and respect us (or a version of us anyway), and helps us climb the corporate ladder. In short, it helps us get by. Besides, how can you live the life you were made for when you are not given an opportunity to live it?

Can God redeem this? For an answer, let’s look the story of Esther and Mordecai. Haman, one of the king’s noblemen, allowed a feud with Mordecai to push him into plotting evil. When Haman learned that Mordecai was a Jew, he resolved to kill all the Jews who remained in Xerxes’s empire. He manipulated the king into creating an irrevocable law ordering that the Jews be killed (see Esther 3).

When Mordecai called on Esther to intercede for her people, at first she hesitated. Her new role in the royal court was to be beautiful and compliant. The king had not summoned her from the harem for a month—and she appeared only at the king’s behest. To show up uninvited would endanger Esther’s life. Vashti had been banished for a lesser offense.

When Esther indicated that she preferred to stick to her survival strategy, Mordecai gave his version of The Talk:

Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? (Esther 4:13–14)

Mordecai called on a powerless woman to exercise her power at a time when doing so could save the lives of an entire minority population. He called out Esther’s identity in the face of an oppressive, male-dominated, pagan system. He reminded her that she was a Jew. He reminded her of her people’s part in a bigger story—God’s story. He even pointed to a bigger purpose. The lives of Esther’s people living in exile needed to be protected.

In calling out Esther’s identity, Mordecai called out her voice and her purpose. Esther, like you and me, needed to be reminded of who she was, not who she had become. If she remained passive, she would be complying with forces that held her captive to their definition of perfection. Look pretty, obey the men, and be silent. So this time Mordecai did not tell her to hide who she was. It was time to reveal her background and heritage. It was time to be Hadassah.

Are You Ready to Recover the Person You Truly Are?

It was only when Esther embraced her full identity that she found her voice. She could finally speak as herself. This is when her purpose emerged and she recovered her spiritual authority. She called the Jews to fast. Then she approached the king with- out an invitation. When she brought her full identity to the king, her life and the lives of her people were saved and their enemy defeated. She still had the name Esther, but her identity, Hadassah, was back.

When we trade our identity for a perfectionistic alternative, even when it’s for survival, it comes at a heavy cost. We lose our true selves and we lose our voices. We lose our spiritual authority, because perfectionism relies on our skills rather than God’s power. It costs us our purpose because perfectionism has a different purpose than the one God has given us. We lose our courage, because at the root of perfectionism is fear.

God wants to redeem it all. Rather than your being transformed into a broken identity by the pressures of your world, He wants to transform you to recover who you fully are.

Are you ready to be led toward redemptive wholeness, even when you might still fear for your survival? It can be hard to imagine how God could lead us through that shift. But He is waiting for us, ready to lead us back to who we are.

Of course, you play a big part in the process. Start with identifying the areas where you struggle with overachievement or perfectionism. Think through how you present yourself at work, at home, at church, in the community, and with friends. Take a careful look at each role you fill, and consider what it is costing you.

Esther didn’t face her crisis alone. She had a mentor who called out who she was and spoke to her purpose. We need people who will speak into our lives about who we have become. Who can you talk to?

Esther recognized that, to take on the systems of the Persian Empire, she needed more than personal strength. Esther needed God, her stronger covenant Partner, to deliver her and her people. She called her entire community to fast and pray for three days. Our situations are bigger than we are. We need more than personal confidence, because we are engaged in a spiritual battle. We need to pray, fast, and gather others to join us. Who can you pray with?

After all this preparation, Esther was ready. She faced the expectation of her culture, and instead of complying, she chose to speak up. She entered the king’s presence knowing that doing so put her life at risk. Still, she spoke out against evil and saved a nation.

What would it look like to be who you truly are, to claim your real name and to reclaim your real voice? When you lose your identity in the perfectionism required to survive the world, it’s painfully hard to find your way back. I was unaware that, in the process, I was losing my full God-given identity. I was unaware that I was losing my voice and my purpose. 

Excerpted from The Dream of You by Jo Saxton; Foreword by Ann Voskamp Copyright © 2018 by Jo Saxton. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.