“All this preoccupation with your own imperfection is not humility, but an insidious form of spiritual pride. What do you expect to be? A saint? There are desperately few of them. And even they found that faults, which are the raw material of sanctity remember, take a desperate lot of working up.
You know best when and how you fall into these various pitfalls. Try and control yourself when you see the temptation coming. Never allow yourself to be pessimistic about your own state. Look outwards instead of inwards: and when you are inclined to be depressed and think you are getting on badly, make an act of thanksgiving instead because others are getting on well. The object of your salvation is God’s glory, not your happiness.” (By Evelyn Underhill in An Evelyn Underhill Anthology)
In the part of the world in which I live, preoccupation with our own imperfection is the primary stumbling to spiritual growth. We are devoted, mostly subconsciously, to the idea that we must be “continuously improving” (a phrase popular now with manufacturers and businesses.) This false narrative relies on the false perception that the better we are the more God will love us and approve of us. Not only is this a gigantic narcissistic assumption (how can a creature make its Creator do anything?), but it is a sad misunderstanding of the nature of God.
As Underhill brilliantly states, this idea of becoming perfect (flawless skin, efficient digestive systems, errorless parenting) is an “insidious form of spiritual pride.” She then goes on to explain that there is a way to overcome this attitude. It involves training. We train ourselves to listen to the nudge of the Holy Spirit when we are wrapping ourselves in the cloak of perfection. We train ourselves to change our attitudes, remembering that God doesn’t require perfection. We train ourselves to choose not to drown in the muck of perfectionism. We train ourselves to step out of our preoccupation with ourselves to look at others.
While we are outside of ourselves we may have an opportunity to grapple with Underhill’s last statement: the object of our salvation is God’s glory not our individual happiness – which makes the concept of perfection unnecessary anyway.