I recently reviewed Amy Baker's excellent book for the Biblical Counseling Coalition. You can read it and other book reviews at: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/books/review/picture-perfect
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
The Bondage of
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 im
perfections 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.
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.
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
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.
Labels: Book Review- Picture Perfect- Baker