As a recovering eating disorder sufferer, I’m keenly aware of the perfectionistic component to the creation, maintenance and challenging treatment of the disease. It’s often an uphill battle. Perfectionism, fueled by deep anxiety and pressure, can kill. According to statistics…
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
- A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover
- The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
- 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems
(From South Carolina Department of Mental Health: http://www.state.sc.us/dmh/anorexia/statistics)
So, the word “perfect” is not just a word; it can be a threat.
The perfectionistic person, in recovery or not, is therefore, left to grapple with its meaning for his/her life. How important is it?
According to the dictionary definition, it reads as follows:
Being entirely without fault or defect: flawless; satisfying all requirements; corresponding to an ideal standard.
So, of course, with that definition, it’s all too easy for a perfectionistic eating disorder sufferer to take it to its extreme limits. I did.
What are we to do then, if the definition of the word and its presence both seem to be so epidemic, harmful and hopeless?
What if we changed the view of the word?
Being a Christian, doing my “faith walk,” I’ve had to examine not just what I believe about the word, “perfect.” I’ve also needed to look at what God believes about it as well.
And the word IS in the Bible.
After all, God is described as perfect.
- As for God, his way is perfect… 2 Samuel 22:31, Psalm 18:31
And most of us can acknowledge that fact. A perfect God isn’t so much of a problem to us as an imperfect humanity. That’s us. And that’s where things go awry.
I’ve often prayed about and pondered the “perfect” word in the Christian context. I’ve wondered what, exactly, is required of us. Perfect is there, applying to us.
- That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:17
Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. Deuteronomy 18:13
“I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” John 17:23
Looking at the mention of the word, it can appear bleak. It looks downright impossible. But are we viewing the word correctly?
And, perhaps, here’s where a shift in thinking – or, rather, defining the word “perfect” comes in. And that word is “effective.” Does that work? Now, let’s take a gander at the scriptures.
- That the man of God may be effective, throughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:17
Thou shalt be effective with the LORD thy God. Deuteronomy 18:13
“I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made effective in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” John 17:23
Indeed, God knows we fall short of His perfect glory (Romans 3:23). But, nevertheless, He has desired for us to use what He’s given us: “power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Wouldn’t that mean we’d need to be effective? Again, let’s check out the dictionary definition of the word:
- “Producing a strong impression or response; Prepared for use or action; Operative”
So, are we effective in our recovery, our life and our faith?
It is not a onetime event; it’s ongoing. It is a process, an imperfect one, requiring patience.
- “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. James 1:4
And that’s often discouraging. But I think we need to be more imperfect process minded than perfection minded. And none of us have arrived. As long as we’re in this life thing, there will be pressing and reaching; there will be some form of recovery process.
- Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12
And perfection only will occur when we’re completely reconciled, spirit, mind and body, back to God.
- Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: Ephesians 4:13
So, in the meantime, there’s grace.
- And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Grace exists in spite of our inherent imperfection. Grace empowers us with effectiveness. It is not oppressive; it’s freeing.
The same, however, cannot be said of perfectionism.
There’s a lot to recover from; there’s a lot to change, heal and correct. Those of us, grappling with addictions, disorders and compulsions will not be helped by rigid and unrealistic standards.
- For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he… Proverbs 23:7
We will, however, be helped by God…
- I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go: I will guide you with My eye. Psalm 32:8
So, as we go through life, let’s think in terms of being effective, not perfect. God is both; He has it covered!
That’s worth thinking and living!