Book Review: Picture Perfect, When Life Doesn't Add Up by Amy Baker

I recently reviewed Amy Baker's excellent book for the Biblical Counseling Coalition. You can read it and other book reviews at:

Me, a Perfectionist?
There is something ironic about a perfectionist reviewing a book on perfectionism. As I began reading Amy Baker’s excellent book in order to write this review, I found myself wanting to respond in all the usual ways a perfectionist would. I wondered, “What if my book review is not good enough?” “What if I write something stupid?” As I pondered those questions, it became clear to me that I needed to read this book!

“Perfectionism is a harsh task master and serving this master is frightening and exhausting.” (p. 16)

Amy takes a problem that wants to remain in the darkness and brings it into the light as she exposes with exceptional accuracy the various faces of perfectionism.  The thoughts and motivations of those who are burdened by the demands being perfect requires are revealed through the stories of several fellow perfectionists like “Harmony” the daughter who is never good enough for her dad, and “Randy” who lives his life paralyzed by fear of failure. Amy has created realistic portraits of people who are seeking freedom from a life of slavery to their own lopsided and unbiblical expectations.

The Bondage of Perfection

According to the book, many perfectionists are seeking to be flawless for all the wrong reasons. They think they can earn God’s favor by “being good” as though somehow that will appease God or add to the sacrifice of Christ. In addition, the perfectionist may desire power, control, the approval of others, and in some cases to be their own god.  Amy says there is only one reason to strive for perfection, and that is because it glorifies God. 

“Broken is a very good thing if it drives us to God, if it causes us to cry out to Jesus in repentance and trust and receive the gift of his perfection.” [p. 67]

Amy skillfully exposes the heart of the perfectionist throughout the second part of the book. She uses the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount to illustrate that our imperfections are designed by God to drive us to Christ- our perfect sacrifice.  The perfectionist must also realize that external perfection does not mean internal holiness.

Many perfectionists think trials are evidence of their failure to be perfect.  “Trent’s” story helps the reader comprehend how God uses suffering as a means of internal change. Amy reminds us that God is near to those who suffer, and that suffering exposes the places we need heart-work.  Therefore, trials and suffering can be received with joy.

Encouraging and Practical Help

This book is full of Scripture that exhorts, corrects, encourages, and comforts the reader.  I found Amy’s use of both Old and New Testament verses thought provoking and convicting.  The process of biblical change in Ephesians 4 is clearly laid out for the reader to follow.

In addition to being a thoroughly biblical approach to this topic, Amy offers practical help for change in several areas in which perfectionistic people struggle.  She covers pride, fear, guilt and shame through the stories set in the present day, and heroes of the faith such as David and Moses.  

For example, through the story of Moses, Amy illustrates how someone who could have exalted himself as a son of the house of Pharaoh chose to humble himself and identify with the Hebrew slaves.  God raised Moses up and eventually he led them out of Egypt to freedom.  She points out how Moses frequently faced criticism (which cripples the perfectionist) from the Hebrews as they journeyed to the Promised Land.  Each time God used Moses to provide a need in a miraculous way Moses denied the temptation to make himself look better in the eyes of the Hebrews by accepting praise for what God had done. Instead, he reflected all praise, honor and glory back to God.  Amy reminds us that the goal of the perfectionist must become as Moses’ goal was: honoring God and bringing Him glory rather than seeking to bring it upon ourselves by trying to look perfect.
Amy reminds us many times in the book that change is a process. The person who wants to change is going to fail along the way, and for a person who is overcoming perfectionism, failure is a great reminder of how far they have come and how far they still need to go.  She once again takes the reader to the Scriptures and encourages us with Psalm 145:15: The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. [pg189)].

Appropriate for Individual or Small Group Use

In the back of the book are questions for each chapter that a single reader can answer as a part of devotional or study time. I found the questions to be thoughtful and aimed straight at the heart and suitable for personal journaling or as a homework assignment for a counselee.  They are also applicable for small group discussion.  

Picture Perfect is an excellent treatment of a difficult subject. It is intensely practical and biblical. I learned a lot about some areas where I personally need to grow and change to be more like Christ. This book is recommended for anyone who is a perfectionist, and for those who want to help them change.