Trying to be the Perfect Christian? Here’s Why You Should Stop

Trying to be the perfect Christian is a vicious trap that often comes with spiritual bypassing.

Raise your hand. If you have ever tried to be the “perfect Christian”. Yep, me too! For a long time, I spent most of my time in God’s Word and prayer trying to figure out all of the things that I needed to do to be good enough for God. 

I wanted to check all the boxes and do all the right things because I felt like that was the answer to all of the trouble and the hard times going on in my life. Spoiler alert: it was not the answer for me. It’s also not the answer for you. 

I learned that my hard times were not a result of my failures or successes when it came to my faith.  So I really want to take a look at this pressure to be the “perfect Christian” and how it affects us emotionally and spiritually, especially when we are walking through hard times. 

Last week we took a look at spiritual bypassing and why it is so harmful to you when you are walking through hard times. This idea of striving to be a perfect Christian is part of that spiritual bypassing, and it really has a lot of emotional challenges and consequences as well that you may not be aware of.

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Spiritual Bypassing and the Perfect Christian Trap

There’s so much pressure today on people, especially inside the church, to be perfect. We are judged when our lives don’t match up with this ideal Christian image that people have in their heads. 

If you don’t go to the right church, if you don’t read the right version of the Bible, if you don’t have the right friends, or if your kids aren’t educated in the right way. There’s pressure to achieve all of these things that we’ve decided equal a “good Christian”.  

We get stuck in this perfectionist trap of trying to hit this idealized image of what it means to be a perfect Christian. It’s so damaging because it’s a lie. You’re not able to actually be yourself. 

You’re not able to be honest about what you’re feeling or what you’re going through. None of that is going to help you when you are walking through hard times. It’s going to make life more overwhelming by making coping with hard times more difficult. 

You have to learn how to get out of this perfectionism trap. How to take that pressure off of yourself and instead learn to be who you are. Let God be part of your journey of learning how to live here on earth and cope with whatever it is that life throws at you.

I know this idea of falling short of this image of perfection is scary. But when you give into that fear it’s going to keep you from acknowledging that it’s just not possible. Then you’re not going to address what’s actually going on. 

Instead of being open and honest about how you feel, you’re just going to be stuck in denial about what is going on. You’re not going to have a firm grasp on your faith because you aren’t actually asking those deep, hard questions that solidify your faith. 

That draws you closer to God and helps you care for yourself in a way that allows you to have healthy coping techniques. To have many things in your toolbox that you can use when you’re having a bad day when life gets hard and you start to feel overwhelmed. 

Things that will keep you from sliding down into despair and into a place you can’t really get out of without a lot of support and professional help. You want to be able to avoid that whenever possible. Learning how to avoid or get out of this idea that you have to be a flawless Christian is a great first step in that direction. 

Remember when we are talking about spiritual bypassing, it’s about using your faith or spiritual practices to avoid facing what’s really going on. Instead of dealing with your anxiety, depression, or anger you just do “good Christian” things instead.

A great example of this from my own life was a time when I was running around trying to do every Christian book club and bible study that I could find because I believed it was the way out of my depression. 

The way to deal with the hard things that I was walking through at the time: divorce, single parenting, and losing a parent to cancer. I thought if I could study the Bible and get a firm grasp on God’s word, I’d have all the answers and all the solutions that I needed. 

I was doing all kinds of studies with friends, at their churches and my church. I was busy doing all of these things. From the outside, I looked like I was coping well and had it all together. “Look at her and how great she’s doing. She’s doing three studies. She’s doing her own personal devotion. She’s always willing to pray for people. LaToya really has it all together.” 

No, I didn’t. I was a hot mess and wasn’t dealing with it because I was so focused on checking those “good Christian” boxes.  As a result,  I got worse because I wasn’t dealing with what was actually going on. Eventually, I came to a point where one day I woke up and I didn’t even recognize myself. 

I didn’t know who I was. I had no idea who this person was looking back at me in the mirror because I had avoided her for so long. I was so deep in anxiety and depression that I couldn’t even get up and take care of my kids. 

The only thing  I was able to was get up, throw on a sweatshirt over my pajamas, drop the kids off at daycare, go back home, get back into bed, and stay there until the very last minute when I had to go and pick them back up from daycare because it was closing. 

I was not living. I wasn’t functioning. But you never would have guessed that from all of the things I was running around doing. The things that looked like what a “good Christian” would do.

Dangers of Trying to Be the Perfect Christian

Let’s talk about some of the dangers that come from this pursuit of perfection. 

Increased Anxiety and Stress

Number one is increased anxiety and stress, and I am the poster child for this. The amount of effort that I spent on being perfect, of appearing like I had everything together because I didn’t want to appear like a person who didn’t have faith was exhausting. 

I didn’t want to be the person who didn’t believe that God was going to help me. Pouring all of my energy into that only set me up to fail. There was no way that I was going to be able to keep up with four Bible studies with all the other things that I had going on in life. 

I really needed to just go to church to just sit out in a pew and be there. But I was trying to do all of these things and I wasn’t keeping up. I was pretending and faking my way through discussions. It was awful. I felt worse instead of feeling better by being in God’s word. 

Depression and Low Self-Esteem

I felt worse because I wasn’t living up to these expectations that I had placed on myself and that I felt like other people had on me as well. Then I was more stressed, anxious, depressed, and completely burnt out. 

Everything that I was trying to solve by doing all of these things just got worse because of all the energy that I was spending on something that was 1000% unattainable. My self-esteem was pretty much non-existent. I didn’t think very highly of myself at all. 

I was constantly speaking negatively to myself and about myself. I felt worthless. I felt unworthy of my salvation. I was stuck in this cycle where I felt bad about myself because I was not meeting the standards I set for myself and that only made me feel worse about myself. 

I was not walking in my identity as a child of God. I was not walking and acting like a person who was beloved right by our Father in Heaven. I wasn’t doing that and this led to me engaging in behaviors that weren’t serving me well at all.

Avoiding Risk and Failure

I am, by nature, a risk-averse person. I want a sure thing. I want the most logical choice. I don’t want to have things that are like up in the air. I don’t like being in the gray. When I was stuck in the perfectionism trap,  I would avoid any risk of any kind because I was afraid of failing or being rejected.

Afraid they were going to see how messed up I was and then want nothing to do with me because I wouldn’t want anything to do with myself and I was pretty sure that God didn’t want anything to do with me because of this laundry list of things that I’ve done wrong. 

Strained Relationships

You know what that led to? Strained relationships.  I was isolating myself from my community, and then I felt lonely and began to resent the people who I believed abandoned me in my time of need. 

It’s really hard for people to be there for you and support you when you aren’t being honest with yourself. When you’re down in the dumps all the time, people can only handle so much of that before they have to take a step back for their well-being. 

Spiritual Stagnation

One of the most devastating things was that I felt stuck spiritually. I was doing all of these things and I didn’t feel any closer to God. I didn’t feel any stronger in my faith. I was like what am I doing? I’m killing myself trying to do all of these things and nothing is changing. 

I feel worse. God feels farther away and all I think about is how awful and sinful I am. What is going on? All of this was a result of being stuck in this perfectionism trap that I couldn’t get out of because I was looking for spiritual solutions to something that, like, was bigger and more complex than that. 

Unpacking Emotions as a Christian

Now I want to look at unpacking emotions because for me that was the root of my issue. The perfectionism trap was around the fact that I really believed that there was something wrong with what I felt about what I was going through. 

There was something wrong with me because I was depressed, anxious, and angry. I was struggling to forgive people who wronged me. Obviously, there was something wrong with me because a good Christian doesn’t have these emotions. 

They don’t have these experiences. They don’t think the thoughts that I was thinking about people who had hurt me. They don’t feel the way I was feeling about people that had hurt me. They don’t feel the way I was feeling about life in general. That’s just not what Christians do.

The book of Psalms is full of David and the other psalmists experiencing negative emotions. I look at it now and I’m like, oh my goodness, I was so lost. I was so lost, I was so blind. But it’s true. We don’t deal with our emotions for fear that it’s going to somehow cause us to lose our salvation. 

That you’re not a real Christian if you’re having all these feelings. Which is bananas because nothing could be further from the truth. All this does, when you put these labels on your emotions, is make you get worse. 

If you aren’t aware or if you’ve never heard me say this before, hear me right now: Emotions are not good or bad. They just are. They don’t have morality attached to them. They’re just feelings. 

It’s just how you feel and you know where they came from. They came from God, because our God has a range of emotions that we see him express right in scripture, and so they’re just emotions. And so you’ve got to take this judgment and this label off of how you’re feeling.

It’s just how you feel. You’re just sad or feeling hopeless right now, probably because of what is going on in your life. It makes sense. It’s information on what is going on in your life and you shouldn’t judge yourself,  measure your faith, or assign any kind of value to yourself based on what you’re feeling. 

When you have these misconceptions about emotions or misinterpret them, “I’m angry, I’m not a good Christian, you’ll feel confused or guilty. Then you suppress and push it down and ignore it more, which makes you more confused and more guilty.  It just keeps going on and on.

I want you to begin this journey of becoming aware of and accepting your emotions.  As you’re spending time in your bible, just take note of the emotions people are experiencing. Jesus is a fantastic example of someone who experienced lots of emotions. 

You see him weep when Lazarus dies.  You see him in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before he’s getting ready to be taken off to be crucified on the cross. You see him get angry at the Pharisees and the Sadducees. You see him go to the temple and flip over tables and whip people because he’s so angry at what they are doing in God’s house. 

So, if Jesus is walking around expressing all of these emotions, why do we convince ourselves that it’s not okay for us to do so?  If that’s not enough for you, just read through the book of Psalms. David was all up and down all over the place with his emotions, and he is still known as a man after God’s own heart.

Your emotions are just part of who you are, and learning to pay attention to them, to be aware of them, to embrace them, to process and work with them instead of trying to avoid them, will help you go a long way toward healing and growth. And finding that peace that you need.

Spiritual Bypassing vs. Authentic Faith

We’ve talked about emotions and the effect of trying to be the perfect Christian. It also has a great effect on you spiritually. I talked about this a little bit in the last episode of spiritual bypassing, but you have this tension between spiritual bypassing and true faith. 

True spiritual growth is about facing your emotions, questions, and doubts about your struggles and working through them with God. It is not about ignoring those things, pretending that they don’t exist, telling yourself that they’re not Christian, or that you’re not being a biblical person because you have them. 

True faith is about facing whatever is coming at you and working through that, with God by your side. It is about being vulnerable, open, honest, and real and embracing the fact that you are not perfect.

None of us are Jesus Jr. We are not perfect. 

How was I able to overcome deep depression? How was I able to overcome debilitating anxiety? How was I able to conquer the rage that was building up in me and learn how to forgive people who had betrayed me, abused me and caused me so much pain? 

A huge part of that was my faith. But also being honest with the Lord. Telling him, “they suck and this sucks and I hurt and I am angry and it’s your fault and it’s their fault and I’m done.” 

He would be like, okay, you feel better? I’m still here. I still love you. I’m still going to be here with you while you’re processing that. You’ve got to learn to be okay with that. Don’t leave issues and things unresolved because of some notion that that is some kind of comment about your level of faith. 

It’s not. It’s a comment about the fact that you’re human. You want to have that deep connection with God because you need it. I hear it all the time. You just want peace. You want to know that God is with you. 

You want to feel close to God. You want to have peace of mind. You don’t want to be overwhelmed anymore. You want to let go of this anger.  God wants that for you too but it starts with letting go of this need and this desire to be perfect. 

God does not expect perfection out of any of us. That’s why he sent Jesus on the cross to die for our sins because he knew that we could not do it. He expects you to be open, truthful, and vulnerable. 

To come to him just as you are with whatever you’re dealing with and give it to him, because he wants to help you carry that burden. That also means getting support for your mental health if and when you need it, being in community, taking care of your body, sleeping, eating, drinking water, finding hobbies, and learning to rest. 

All of these things go together to help you learn how to manage your emotions. If you are someone who has been spending so much time striving for perfection, please let it go. That is a waste of your energy.

 Instead, can I just encourage you to take all of that energy, all of that effort, and put it into really truly learning how to manage your emotions, understanding how you feel what you feel, and developing the coping skills and techniques that you need to manage those to live life and enjoy your life, even when things aren’t perfect? 

It is possible, and I want that for every one of you.

Overcoming the Desire to Be the “Perfect Christian” with the Peace-Filled Mind Course

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to be the perfect Christian? Do you find yourself struggling to manage your emotions when life gets hard? You’re not alone. 

Many of you have been taught to suppress and ignore your feelings or put on a facade of calm strength and having it all together.  When deep down, what you really want is a safe place to fall apart. 

To do the work of healing and find the encouragement and peace you know you need to get through those hard times. The truth is that striving for this perfection when it comes to your faith or spiritual growth actually hinders the thing that you’re looking for. 

It is going to keep you from having that peace that God promises and that you know you want to have when things are going haywire in your life. 

Instead of experiencing the freedom of joy, the peace that passes understanding, and a close connection with God and others you feel trapped inside this cycle of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and doubt.

You’re not growing spiritually. Listen, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can come sign up for the Peaceful Mind Group Course, which is going to help you on your journey towards developing emotional resilience, growing spiritually, and having authentic faith and relationships with God, yourself, and other people. 

Inside this course, I tell you everything that I have learned about managing your emotions, processing your emotions, and how you can have strong faith and take care of your whole being when you’re walking through hard times. 

If you are looking for some help with learning how to cope when things are going hard, with not being overwhelmed by your emotions, and not being stuck in this negative thought spiral, this is the course for you!

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