Guest Post: Stephanie Kehr on "Lollipop Perfectionism"
Pitfalls of Lollipop Perfectionism - and the Truth that Sets Us Free
By Stephanie Kehr
I remember those markers. They were perfectly wet and splashed brilliant colors of purple, sea green, and orange across my poster board with each stroke. I was enjoying myself. Colors had the ability to cast a spell of joy over me. Not only that, but someone had asked twelve-year-old me to design a sign for church. I felt pretty special.
“Can we help?”
I turned to the two boys standing next to me. No, I wanted to say, impulsively. They were good friends, but this was my project, and I wanted it to be done my way.
“Okay,” I gave in, trying to be nice.
The two boys sat down next to me gleefully and picked up my perfect markers. “I’ve outlined all the letters here, so all you have to do is color them in. But every stroke has to go the same way, and they can’t be overlapping. You can’t scribble.”
“Because it doesn’t look good.”
I explained the color pattern to them, and just in case they forgot, I drew one perfect line of each color in every letter so that they didn’t mess up.
But the inevitable was the inevitable.
I cringed watching their fingers rub the markers back and forth across the paper, not with my standard even strokes. They used dry markers, went outside the lines, and messed up my perfect color pattern twice. Immediately, my spell of joy was snapped in two, replaced with severe agitation. I considered throwing down the markers and letting them finish their scribbling.
The oldest boy caught on to the obvious tension I was exhibiting. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
I decided to tell him the truth. “My work doesn’t usually look like this…and it bothers me.”
“Oh.” He ushered to his younger brother. “We can leave.”
“No, it’s alright. It’s not your fault.” The harm was already done, and they were having a good time coloring. “I’m just a serious perfectionist.”
My ten-year-old friend put his finger to his chin in thought, and looked me in the eye. “Maybe that needs to change.”
I walked out of the room with that little sentence playing around in my mind. Maybe that needs to change. I’d never considered it. Everyone always complimented my work, and I thought pretty highly about making praise-worthy material. Why change?
Years later, the comment is still with me. I often use it to remind myself when I’ve gone too far expecting perfection from others, or even from myself. I’ve discovered that when I let myself ease up on the perfectionism dose, drawing can be far more enjoyable and even therapeutic. Not only that, but things really don’t turn out that bad. Our sign was hung high on a wall, and you couldn’t even tell that the boys had colored slightly over the lines.
But for me, my friend’s little sentence hit a chord in my heart—and it didn’t stop at calligraphy lettering.
Like many of you, I was brought up as a school dress-wearer, tea party fanatic, and frequenter of baby showers. In our days, eleven-year-old girls were supposed to be sugar and spice and all that’s nice...and a whole bag of chips besides. There’s nothing wrong with sugar and spice. The Bible calls us to be kind, sweet, loving. However, the Bible does not call us to a form of overpowering niceness that leads us to lollipop perfectionism. We are not meant to take it to the extent where we’re on display and fed completely by our own strength and artificial sweetener, elevating our angelic hearts to idolatry. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” [NASB]
As a Christian girl brought up in baby shower society, I find myself and my sisters stumbling in that pit of religious perfection far too often. We’ve been brought up to be good. Most of us have never committed what people generally tag a “serious” sin. We find it easy to be the perfect, and one day, we find out people like us to be the perfect.
Unknowingly, we engage in contests with one another, hoping to appear somehow “better” than our comrades, and mostly just better than we really are. We look down on others, judging their character and whether or not we obey the rules better than they do. We refuse to confess our sins to one another because then we’re admitting we’ve got flaws. Yet those are our instructions in James .
We trap ourselves inside these boundaries and burdens, leading each other to believe we’re obeying the Bible, when in truth, we’re wallowing deep in sin.
Maybe that needs to change.
Jeremiah 17:5 says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘cursed be the man who trusts in mankind and makes his flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.’” [NASB]
It’s not wrong to be a good person. That’s Biblical. It’s not wrong to be good at something. God gives us gifts. But it’s wrong to turn perfectionism into an idol. To judge and look down on others. To elevate ourselves because of a form of goodness we’ve created. To steal someone else’s joy because we want everything—including ourselves—to be perfect.
It needs to change. We need to change.
But in order for that to change, we’ve got to acknowledge that we’re sinning in perfection, and repent. We’ve got to allow Almighty God to take over, numb our control-fanatic streak, and kill our flesh, our desire to be perfect. To be liked. We’ve got to be willing. Open. At the feet of Jesus.
See, we’re not going to help our falling world by hiding under a veil of handmade perfectionism. We’re not going to fight sin that way—because we’re in sin. The Bible says, “You will know them by their love,” not, “you will know them by their perfection.” To help our dying world, we’ve got to throw down our masks of falsehood and embrace truth—freedom. There is so much more value, sweetness, and truth that resonates from a girl who chooses to love God…and just be real.
Yes, we were sinners. Yes, we are sinners.
We mess up. We’re liars, thieves, persecutors, evildoers.
But those who were once dead are now made alive. Those who have been made alive now shine a light. Those who shine a light, are saved by grace that not of ourselves! Sinners see perfection and believe there’s no hope for them, because they’re sick. Their lives look dirty, like my friend’s scribbles. But Christ came for the sick, the broken, the hurting, the sinners, for the lives that look like scribbles. He came to set them free! How many more souls could we win—how many more souls could we encourage just by cutting down our heavy layer of self-made perfection and pointing to the cross?
Christ, not us.
Him, not me.
“For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” Ephesians [NASB, italics mine]