I am a perfectionist, which means I am always trying to crack the code of the perfect life, the perfect family, the perfect career, and the perfect world.

I work tirelessly to make the best possible decisions to get the best possible outcomes so I (and everyone around me) can live in the best possible way.

Unfortunately, this also means I spend most of my time in a mental torture chamber of my own making, second-guessing myself at every turn and always wondering if what I just said or did was good enough.

Can you relate?

Here’s the hard truth: It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. My family is not perfect. The world is not perfect. And it’s not supposed to be…at least not the way I define perfection.

That’s the real problem – my definition of “perfect” is always changing. And it’s usually based on comparisons to others, cultural ideas about the good life, or the way society portrays success.

But is there a different standard of perfection we can look to apart from our consumeristic, performance-based culture? One that helps us embrace our imperfection, be at peace with our own humanity, and give us meaningful purpose in an imperfect world?

Love: The Standard of Perfection

Love is one of the highest, most celebrated values in our culture. We talk about it often, we write songs about it, we say it to each other. But how do we define “love”?

One of the most famous passages in the Bible (quoted at almost every wedding) is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, where Paul defines love this way:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

But before Paul defines love, he makes an even more radical statement about love, declaring, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains…if I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship…but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2-3)

What if the true measure of perfection is not who likes us, how much we have, or what we can accomplish, but rather how well we love?

And how can we access and share this kind of love?

The Apostle John gave us a big clue when he said, “We love because He (God) first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

In other words, the only way to truly practice love is to first practice being loved. Put another way, the only way to be gracious with your imperfect self is to experience God’s graciousness towards you.

Without a deep experience of God’s love, we are at risk of living a life of disappointment and bitterness – always questioning our worth, always trying to protect ourselves from criticism and failure, and rarely taking the risk to be truly known or to know others.

And that doesn’t sound like perfection at all.

So, how can we experience and share this perfect love in our daily lives? Here are three practices…

Practice speaking God’s love over yourself

One of the most astonishing truths in the Bible is that if you are a Jesus follower, you have access to the same relationship with the Father that Jesus has (See Matthew 6:9, John 16:26-27, Romans 8:15-17)

This also means the words of the Father spoken over Jesus – “This is my son, who I love, in whom I delight” (Luke 3:22) – can now be spoken over me, because my identity is in Christ, and I am fully united with Him by faith.

So any time I am feeling fearful, insecure or inadequate, I simply speak these words from the Father to my own heart: “This is my Tom, who I love, in whom I delight.”

I meditate on these words until I can feel the Father’s love for me well up in my heart, remembering that even though I am not perfect, I am perfectly loved, and that perfect love is changing and transforming me day by day (See 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Practice gratitude and affirmation

Every morning over breakfast, we share gratitudes and hopes for the day.

This helps us focus on what we have been given in spite of our imperfection – a warm home, good food to eat, family, friends, opportunities, and meaningful work.

And as we focus on these blessings, we are empowered to hope (and ask) for even more!

Occasionally, we also make time for affirmations, where we take turns sharing the things we love and appreciate about each other.

This helps us look at ourselves from the outside (apart from our own inner thoughts and criticisms), and see that even though we aren’t perfect, we matter to others. We have value.

Practice vulnerability and compassion

When we embrace our own imperfection by living into our belovedness, we become free to be vulnerable with others.

We often fear being vulnerable because it looks weak or because we don’t want to be taken advantage of.

But I have found being vulnerable often inspires others to be vulnerable and, therefore, much more gracious with me and themselves in return.

This is because vulnerability overturns our cultural narrative that we are supposed to have it all together and be great at everything we do, instead modeling a humble dependence on God’s power to make up for our weaknesses (See 2 Corinthians 12:9).

When we are comfortable being vulnerable, then we can become more compassionate and others-centered, feeling freed up to reach outside ourselves to be encouraging or helpful to those in need.

Progress, Not Perfection

The truth is perfection (this side of heaven) is impossible, so the real measure of success is progress.

And in a world where we are all growing and developing together in the pursuit to become more human, it’s enough to simply be learners.

So we can lay down the weight of unrealistic expectations and visions of the perfect life or family, and instead embrace our lives “warts and all,” content to be loved and to love others as best we can.

That sounds much more practical!

Reflection Questions:

1. In what areas of your life do you struggle with perfectionism or control? Relationships, material things, or work?
2. What does love look like to you? When do you feel most loved by others?
3. Where have you seen progress in your life? What would it look like to celebrate that more often?



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