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In Pursuit of Perfection

The pressure to be perfect, to achieve, to be great is massive. By Irene Cho

“I just don’t think I can do this anymore. I can’t keep going on pretending to everyone that I’ve got everything under control and am this perfect all-star person.”

Kayla was sitting in her pastor’s office in tears. The semester was finally ending, but she was on the verge of a breakdown. It was all getting to be too much to handle—the pressure to maintain her GPA, lead worship at church, be a small group leader, volunteer at the elderly home. All she could think of was how she wanted it all to be over and done with. How could she keep going on like this? She was suffocating from fear of failure, guilt and shame.

Many of us can relate to Kayla. I know I can. The pressure to be perfect, to achieve, to be great is massive. We’re told by our parents, teachers, future colleges and jobs, and the world how important it is to be the best and most successful. And sometimes church is equally a space where we feel the burden to be superstar Christians. We feel required to do what’s right and good, and to be perfect. Often, we believe that if we aren’t these things, then God will love us less and will be extremely disappointed with us.

Let me introduce you to a beautiful Hebrew word: (darash).

We often translate darash as “require,” as in requirement. For example, take a look at Micah 6:8 (NIV).

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God.”

In our Western, American culture, we have a lot of requirements. We have requirements at school, at home and for whatever sports teams or student clubs of which we’re a part of. In order to get into the “right” college, we have to do this or that. It seems like life is just a bunch of requirements.

A good majority of our world and culture operates with this transactional understanding of requirements. If you do this, then you’ll pass the test and get the scholarship, the newest technology or the car.

It’s no wonder we believe that God operates with us in the same way. Requirements at church, along with requirements to have faith and do what’s right seem to be the name of the game. There are just so many requirements.

But darash actually means something different. Darash isn’t a transactional requirement. The direct translation means “to search carefully.” But what exactly does that mean?

“We are free from the law. Free from fear. Guilt. Shame. Obligation. Duty. Requirements.”

Imagine your closest friend—your ride-or-die friend. Think back on something they’ve done for you. Whether it was helping you out when you needed it, or defending you when no one else would, or standing up for you when things got rough. What’s amazing is that they did these things, because they actually care, not because they were required to.

They “searched carefully” and saw something that you needed, and then they helped you out.

God does, and has done, the same thing. We all know the greatest story ever told.

God “searched carefully” and gave us what we needed—Jesus. God searched just like our close friends do, and what we naturally want to do in return is “search carefully” for what they need and give back to them. We’re not required to; we want to. Not out of fear, obligation, shame or guilt, but out of gratitude and love—we do it freely.

Darash is basically the exact opposite of how the world works. Rather than a transactional requirement, our relationship with God is already in place and has zero requirements from us—because God provided what was required of us. It’s already complete through the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus needed. “It is finished are the three most powerful words said to mankind (John 19:30).

It is finished. We are free.

We are free from the law. Free from fear. Guilt. Shame. Obligation. Duty. Requirements.

So, what exactly does this look like? Since we are free, are we now allowed to do any and all things? Am I allowed to go out and murder? Steal? Slander? Do whatever I want?

Yeah, that’s going to be a no. If your ride-or-die friend sacrificed and did an amazing thing for you, would you then turn around and steal from them? Would you turn around and spread the most horrible rumor about them? No, you wouldn’t.

Rather, the ultimate question is—What will we do with our freedom? If we are free to do what we’d like, God’s asking because of all the goodness He’s given you, because of the love He’s shown you. What will you do with your freedom? Will you turn around and give God the same love by showing it to others? God’s hope is that the answer will be a resounding yes.

I used to call my mother daily, because I felt that if I didn’t, I’d get punished and lectured about what a horrible daughter I was. But then we had a major argument, in which she freed me from calling her anymore. “I don’t want you to call me because you have to, but because you want to. I don’t want or need your obligatory love for me. I want your love, as I freely love you.” And guess what happened? Nothing changed. I still called her. But it wasn’t because I had to, but because she freed me from having to. And once I was free, I realized I actually did want to call her. And we’ve gotten closer because of it.

See, darash is actually the natural result of a healthy relationship. While the world suffocates us with fear of failure or disappointment and endless lists of things for us to do, God motivates us with freedom of love.

So, what do we search carefully for? What’s on our list? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God—these are what God needs. He needs what is pleasing. This list isn’t a list of obligatory actions we do, but rather it’s a list for a thriving life we experience with one another.

Ultimately, this means that we can be free from the pressure of perfection. God already has our backs. From this point forward, we’re merely living our lives out of the free choice to do so, not because we have to, but because we want to. Ultimately, why wouldn’t we reciprocate such love? What’s better than living a life motivated by the freedom of joy and love, not suffocated from fear and obligation?

Honestly, there’s really nothing better.

For Further Reflection

  • Reflect on the freedom we’ve been given. How does it make you feel knowing that you aren’t under obligation and pressure to be perfect anymore?
  • Thinking of darash, in what ways does your understanding of God change, knowing your relationship isn’t dependent on your actions, and that it’s not a transactional relationship, but rather an intimate, communal one?
  • Think of Kayla and her situation. What words of comfort would you give her, knowing the freedom we now have through Jesus?

Serving as the Program Manager for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), Irene Cho holds a Master of Divinity and a BA in Christian Education. Having served over 25 years in youth ministry, her passion is for the misfits of the world and to bring the gospel message to those who seem to fall through the cracks.

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