Education and psychology love to declare new rules on a regular basis. For a time, self-esteem was king. Your kids were to be told on a daily basis how awesome and special they were. “Losing” became a dirty word. Honor rolls, competitions – even correction and consequences – were rejected as damaging to the fragile self-esteem of children and teens.
Then it came out the entire movement was based on a faulty study, which some claim had been purposely misrepresented. Yet after years of being pushed hard by educators, psychologists, parenting experts and writers, the idea it was important for kids to have a strong self-esteem was firmly entrenched. In reality, the godly attributes of humility, a strong work ethic, persistence, kindness and more were found to be better predictors of future success. (Ironically, new studies found strong self-esteem often led to many negative behaviors!)
In the rush to raise kids with strong self-esteem, a few other things were thrown out as unhealthy. One was the idea of striving to do your best. It was seen as unhealthy, because trying to do your best means you often have to endure criticism and even some negative consequences as you learn and grow towards your best.
Trying to do your best was relabeled “perfectionism” and became a derisive term. “Perfectionists” were seen as uptight, anxiety filled and extremely judgmental. We were encouraged to relax our standards and expect of ourselves and our kids only whatever “came easily” or was “natural” to us. If, we wanted to learn and grow, that was okay to a point. As long as we didn’t “expect too much” of ourselves or others.
While I agree, carried to the worldly extreme, perfectionist tendencies can be harmful, I believe God does indeed call us to strive for our best. He wants us to try to be perfect. He wants us to raise our kids to obey and please Him as perfectly as possible. He wants all of us to reach our godly potential. Yes, He sent His son to die on the cross so we could have forgiveness when we don’t reach that perfection, but He still calls us to strive for it.
The idea that striving for our best and perfection are unhealthy has become so accepted as absolute truth, it is even taught in our churches. Yet, I want to share the scriptures I read that led me to conclude God does indeed expect all of us to strive for our very best – even our kids.
- “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Luke 6:40 (ESV) Since Jesus, our teacher, is perfect, it would seem our goal is being fully trained so we can be like Him. Will we succeed 100% of the time? Of course not, but that is the standard set in this verse.
- “By using Scripture, the servant of God can be completely prepared to do every good thing.” 2 Timothy 3:17 (NIrV) It sounds like we need to do whatever we can to be completely prepared to do what God wants us to do. It doesn’t seem mediocrity or half measures are what we are called to in this verse.
- “I pray that your love will grow more and more. And let it be based on knowledge and understanding. Then you will be able to know what is best. Then you will be pure and without blame for the day that Christ returns. You will be filled with the fruit of right living produced by Jesus Christ. All these things bring glory and praise to God.” Philippians 1:9-11 (NIrV) Pure implies perfection. Something that is pure white, doesn’t have spots or discolorations. “Best”, “pure”, “without blame” are all calling us to our best.
- “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 (ESV) We are supposed to count it as joy in hard times, because those difficulties help us grow and mature to the point where we are considered perfect and complete and lacking in nothing.
Want more examples? Read Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 John 3:6-10, Titus 2:1-15, 2 Timothy 3:1-17, Matthew 5:48, Philippians 2:15 and more for examples of our being called to strive to do our best – for perfection – as it were.
Here’s the key difference between how the world handles perfectionism and how Christians should handle it. Christians know they will make mistakes and even sin in their striving for perfection. They also know those mistakes and especially sins are covered by God’s grace and they are forgiven and forgotten.
This is the core truth you need to drill in your kids. “Strive for your best, knowing that at times you won’t succeed. You will make mistakes. You will sin. You will even suffer some consequences and experience failure. You don’t have to carry that burden, though. God gave you the gift of resiliency because He forgives and forgets. You have a clean slate to learn from past mistakes, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and continue striving for perfection – knowing God is with you in the process.”
Each of your kids was created by God to be unique – even identical twins. Each of your kids will have a different “perfect” towards which they are striving. That’s okay and even healthy. Ignore all those experts still extolling the virtues of strong self-esteem and mediocrity, though. Don’t raise average kids. Christian kids have been given by God what it will take to strive for perfection and not end up an emotional wreck in the process. Give your kids those gifts by making sure they are taught them by you on a regular basis.