We are talking perfection this week thanks to a thorough question from my dear friend, S.
I feel like the desire for perfectionism seeps out in just about every area in my own life. Once I ward it off in the way I eat, I begin craving it in my friendships, house upkeep, appearance, or even in my relationship with the Lord.
I too have lived life as the good girl, even winning a “goody-goody” award in high school. My desire to please others, especially authority, has made living life in outward obedience relatively easy. But as you said, just because I’m rule following on the outside doesn’t mean I’m cultivating holiness on the inside. (The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Isaiah 29:13, NIV)
I believe that the pursuit of perfection can easily eclipse our pursuit of God.
The Pharisees were the perfect example of this dilemma. Jesus continually challenged them on the state of their hearts. They spent so much time being self-righteous that they forgot to live righteously.
“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You are like tombs that are painted white. Outside, those tombs look fine, but inside, they are full of the bones of dead people and all kinds of unclean things.” Matthew 23:27 (NCV)
So how do we refrain from living as whitewashed tombs?
- Recognize that Jesus insists that we must be more concerned for our inward reality than our outward appearance.
- Be willing to readily and humbly admit our mistakes.
- Acknowledge that any success or perfection comes from God alone and that He deserves the glory.
The truth is that NONE of us have it all together. If that were the case, we wouldn’t need grace. The drug of perfectionism can lead us down painful paths. My own struggle to maintain the perfect image wreaked havoc in my life through lies, dependence upon others, and a battle with an eating disorder. I’ve watched the pursuit of perfection lead friends into detrimental relationships, bouts of depression, and other self-destructive behaviors.
“Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived.” -Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
We must remember that we have been given time, energy, resources, passion and life to make much of Him. Fortunately for us He is even able to receive glory in the midst of our mess.
But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me. For this reason I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles for Christ. Because when I am weak, then I am truly strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NCV
Like I mentioned yesterday, and as you pointed out – the perfection we are to pursue is a perfect love that drives out fear! How do I obey all the commands, all of the law? We take our lead from Jesus.
“Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?” Jesus answered, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:26-40, NCV
We follow Him when we love extravagantly.
Following (rather imperfectly),
P.S. I honestly don’t know that I’ve done this topic justice. Please feel free to chime in with thoughts and further questions!