September 27, 2010
"Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God." Romans 8:5-6 (MSG)
There's a moment I dread when going to the doctor for a check-up. It's not putting on that tissue paper rectangle they mistakenly call a "gown." It's not having my finger pricked for blood tests - though I'm really squeamish about that. It's the moment right after the nurse finishes her questions, grabs her clip board, and announces the doctor will be in to see me shortly. Pulling the door closed behind her, she leaves me alone with it.
I already know what it's going to say about me; I've read it before. It's going to say that I don't measure up. That I'm not reaching my potential. That I don't equal my ideal. It's the height/weight chart that declares the perfect weight for my height - and I'm several pounds away.
It extends no mercy. It offers no grace. It makes no allowances for how old I am, how many babies I've birthed, or the fact that my husband can eat three plates of food every night without gaining an ounce. It demands perfection.
A few years ago I heard a verse that seemed to be the scriptural equivalent of the height/weight chart. A single verse to measure my worth against, and feed my expectations for perfection: "But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matt 5:48, NIV)
I figured this verse justified dressing my family in matching sweaters, in the middle of July, to take the Christmas card photo because I'd just gotten the perfect haircut. I figured it warranted pricey tooth whitening treatments because I drink coffee and tea, and it shows. And I figured it would be my defense when I drove my family nuts about deep-cleaning the entire house because my new friend said she might stop by.
While the verse came in handy when I needed to justify my quest for perfect teeth, perfect photos or a perfectly clean house, it added to my disappointment, guilt and occasional loathing when my life, body or family didn't match the ideal notions in my head. Rather than fostering perfection, it fueled my self-criticism. Surely this is not what Jesus intended!
In the years since hearing that verse, I've embraced a core conviction that goes like this: If God created life, He alone gets to define it. This conviction drove me to find out what exactly Jesus meant by "be perfect."
Matthew wrote this verse. And the word he used in the ancient Greek language means something a little different than Mr. Webster's English definition. The Greek word here is teleos and it means "complete, full grown, developing."
The first two pieces of that definition indicate something already accomplished, while the third indicates an ongoing process. So this perfection Jesus prescribes for us is already complete and yet still developing. Complete in Him; still at work in us. We're allowed to be a work-in-progress!
All parts of this definition, however, refer to maturity of character, rather than a flawless figure, immaculate home, or the faultless execution of a task. Jesus just doesn't care so much if there's dust on our mantle, a stain on our teeth, or a scratch on our car. He isn't interested in how well our bedspread matches our curtains; He's interested in our spiritual maturity. Jesus teaches I will not find my worth in my ability to reach my perfect weight or accomplish my to-do list flawlessly, but in the fact that I am learning to reflect His character. To graciously give and receive love.
That's good news for a recovering perfectionist. Plus, as John writes in 1 John 3:18-19 of The Message: "My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it."
Dear Lord, thank You for grace! Thank You for mercy! Thank You for empowering me to be like You as I submit to Your Word. And thank You for not caring about dust bunnies or stained shirts. Help me to care less about those things as well and focus my heart more on You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
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Spend time reading through the gospels, noticing what concerned Jesus and what did not.
What surface-level thing(s) have you been worrying over lately?
If it's not about your character, let it go as imperfect and rest in God's grace today.
Phil 3: 8-9, "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith," (NASB)
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