Coming to Grips With Perfectionism

“I’m not perfect, you know.” She squinted her eyes a bit with exasperation in your voice. As if I thought she should be.

Often such a statement has to do with the mistaken belief that the spiritual life is a static state of moral and virtuous personal achievement. Claiming we are not perfect is a way of giving ourselves a break for not measuring up to this perceived standard of moral excellence. Of course, no one ever defines how you know when you’ve arrived. So we live with an elusive goal and a nagging voice that mocks us, “You should be better by now.” (Or… we judge others for not behaving as well as we do.)

Just as insidious is the notion that it’s up to us to get there; that the weight of our formation is on our shoulders. So we do all the right things….read the Bible (in hopes of attaining more information about God and mastering principles); we pray (when we need something), go to church, and faithfully serve…all with the hope of somehow making the Christina life “work.” Too often, unintentionally and unnoticeably, our sincere devotion collapses into meaningless rituals, lifeless duty, and external acts of worship. We love Jesus but our devotion to God has somehow become dry as bones and we are left with empty souls empty and exhausted lives. Perhaps at an unguarded moment, our heart whispers to us, “Is this all there is? There has to be more.” Indeed, there has to be something more redemptive than all our striving.

Perfection has never been the point of the spiritual life.

So what is the Christian life all about? What if it’s about staying focused and alive to what God is doing to keep us in relationship with him? What if it’s not so much about attaining as it is about remaining in a posture of receiving? What if it’s about paying attention and responding to the creative, dynamic, fresh, redemptive activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives? What if being a disciple is more than believing and trusting Jesus from the onset; and it’s a life-long, interactive, and engaging way of living with Jesus himself which allows us to daily live with a very real sense of his nearness, availability and fathomless love? What if being a Christian was never a matter of becoming a religious person but rather living with the awareness of Christ as an ever-present reality in our lives and allowing His presence to shape us? Perhaps that’s the real work of the Christian life.

How does this change our approach our devotion?

What if our devotional reading of the Bible becomes less about mastering a text but allowing the text master us? Perhaps to truly allow the text to come alive and connect with our lives, we need to put aside our agenda and be willing to come to the text with openness, vulnerability, and a sense of wonder. What if Scripture actually becomes holy ground on which to encounter God?

What if prayer becomes more than a venue to offer our requests (although that is part of it) and is just as much about listening, waiting, and responding…with confession, adoration, a simple breath prayer or lament? What if prayer is not only about particular prayers in a particular place but also about an ongoing attitude of prayerfulness all throughout our day?

What if the practice of silence and solitude invites us to make room in our overly-scheduled, distracted, anxious lives where we choose to unplug; not only from the constant stimulation of life, but also from our own addiction to noise, words, and activity to connect with God, in an unhurried, uninterrupted, deeper way? What if silence nurtures transformation by quieting all the other voices that threaten to define us? What if just being with Jesus is transformative?

What if practicing a Sabbath day is not about legalistic duty but about stopping, resting, delighting in God and in living in sync with the rhythms that match how we were created? What if Sabbath interrupts the break-neck speed of our lives and fosters an ability to bring something truer to the world than all of our doing? What if practicing Sabbath dissolves the artificial urgency and driveneness of our days and puts us in touch with something more real than what we are all able to produce on our own?

When the spiritual life is reduced to personal strategies for perfection, it can leave us frustrated and exhausted. At some point, we will realize all of our striving doesn’t satisfy our deepest desire for God. When the spiritual life, however, is about cultivating attentive and ever-increasing responsiveness to a fresh work of grace in our lives, only then do we release our expectations of what we think our lives should look like. Only then can we receive the life Jesus wants to give us. Only then do we embark on the life long journey of turning away from our own plans and strategies and lean into God’s creative, disruptive, mysterious, redemptive ways in our lives.










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