Awhile back someone recommended Richard Winter’s book on depression called The Roots of Sorrow. I thought it was such an excellent book that I ended up getting a few more by Winter, including Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment and Perfecting Ourselves to Death. Though these are all good reads, right now I want to highlight the latter: Perfecting Ourselves to Death.
This book could be classified as a sort of pastoral counseling guide in the areas of achievement, success, failure, and frustration. Winter examines an unhealthy desire for perfection, which is often accompanied by depression, idolatry, coveting, anxiety, shame, guilt, and other sinful or debilitating traits or outcomes of perfectionism. While Winter doesn’t only talk about the religious aspect of perfectionism, he does well note that the pursuit of perfection in all areas of life has much to do with the main truths of Christianity (sin, salvation, and service).
In the first part of the book, he discusses the different pieces and parts of perfectionism. For example, he mentions OCD, the fear of man, anger, eating disorders, indecisiveness, abuse, the craving for acceptance, and the influence of social media. Basically, he looks at the pursuit of perfection from all these different angles.
In the second part of the book, Winter examines the philosophical and theological side of perfectionism. Here is where he talks about the image of God, biblical anthropology, sin, a fallen world, and what the gospel of grace means to perfectionists. He also gives biblical guidance on dealing with perfectionism. I appreciated his emphasis on grace, the need for a Christian church community, and the hope of the New Creation, where God’s people will no longer live in an imperfect world with imperfect minds/bodies.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes.
“These seductive sirens of the advertising and Hollywood cultures that surround us stimulate our partially conscious fantasies and dreams of perfecting ourselves. They increase our dissatisfaction and discontent with who we are and what we possess” (p. 21).
“Most perfectionists do not live in reality because they assume that setting the highest possible standards always leads to optimum performance. Somehow they need help to move from this idealism to realism” (p. 140).
“The average model is thinner than 95 percent of Americans. No wonder we have seen a huge increase in the incidence of eating disorders in recent years. No wonder the enormous amounts spent on plastic surgery grow each year” (p. 113).
“We can rest in that deep security and know that we have significance in being made in his (God’s) image and in being a child of God, saved by his grace, not by anything we have done or earned. At the deepest level, understanding and experiencing God’s grace is the key to unlocking the prison of perfectionism” (p. 160).
If you’re a perfectionist of any stripe, or if you are a Christian who counsels and helps other Christians through life’s struggles like these, I recommend this book. Also, if you’re a pastor I’d suggest getting it – it will certainly help you think about this issue from an informed and Christian perspective.