What are the disadvantages of holding tightly to unrealistic expectations of idealism and perfection?
1) We deny ourselves the ability to align ourselves with what God is doing in our life right now. If we set perfection and idealism as our ultimate goal, we will lack contentment for anything less. How can we be content with our little house, if our idealism wants us in a bigger house? How can we be content with our husband and our marriage, if our idealism wants a completely different picture of what marriage looks like so that we’re always trying to improve our spouse? How can we be content with our imperfect children if we are never happy with them because they continue to misbehave? How can we be content with our Savior’s sacrifice for us, if our idealism demands that our goodness should be perfect and sinless before God?
2) If we set perfection and idealism as our ultimate goal, we will miss the joy in the now. If we’re a mountain climber and our only joy is getting to the the top of Mt. Rainier as the ultimate fulfillment of our dream, we may very well miss the wildflowers along the way. We may miss the beautiful tranquil streams in the valleys. And so on. If we lack contentment with where God has us right now, we will miss the joy of a husband who may be imperfect but may deeply love us. We will miss the joy of being able to enjoy our little imperfect rugrats. We will miss the joy of the simplicity of a home that doesn’t require as much maintenance as a big house. You get the idea.
3) Do you know the phrase, “if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword?” It means that whatever standard you set for your life, will be the very standard that will one day condemn you or at least imprison you. If our standard is perfection, we will fail every time we aren’t perfect.
4) Perfectionism and idealism are exhausting. Are there things in life that we can set our mind to and achieve? Sure! But whatever ideals and perfections we set our hearts on achieving will require every last drop of your energy. We will end up enslaved to the chase of that ideal. So, we need to ask ourselves, is that worth giving our lives to? Is it worth the exhaustion? Is it worth the enslavement to continually chase that perfect goal? Do you feel that increases your freedom or enslaves you?
5) Another disadvantage of holding tightly to an unrealistic expectation of ourselves is that we ultimately refuse to agree with God about our current condition. Rather than embracing the thought, “You’re right about me, God. I really am an imperfect sinner who is desperate for You, God.” We claim instead that we CAN still perfect ourselves; we just always need one more chance to prove ourselves.
When you insist that we can do something OURSELVES, it pushes others away. So, in essence, if we are impatient with ourselves and become irritated when we aren’t spiritually perfect, we also push God away, denying Him being welcomed into our sin situation because we’ll refuse His help. We’ll refuse the mercy and grace God is trying to give us now. Humble contrite surrender throws open the door to His mercy and grace! “I can do it myself” pushes Him away! If we aren’t careful, our self-reliance will end up opposing God because self-reliance is prideful and God says He will oppose prideful ways.
6) The tighter we hold on to this need to perform, to do everything right, to do everything well, to achieve all our dreams and ideals, the less we’ll become dependent on Jesus. That chase will consume us. And the more we are consumed with the ideals, the less we’ll be satisfied with our life and our current situation. We’ll also be less satisfied with our relationship with Jesus because, ultimately, when we are consumed with this perfectionist drive, we’ll become less dependent on Jesus.
7) Here’s another really important point: If we aren’t careful, we will adamantly refuse to allow God to give our lives an alternate ending, a different calling for us which is by His design. Listen, if God does not want us to achieve our own goals, if He has something special He wants to accomplish with our weakness, (with our imperfection), He will oppose our plans so that He can use us how he wants to use us. This isn’t unkindness! In fact, this is great love and kindness. He has a special purpose for our lives! Are we willing to give Him control of that future?
I know! He gave me depression for 12 years. I have to stop and clarify here! God is always for YOU! You, the person. But He may throw a monkey wrench into your plans (He may oppose your ways) if they don’t please Him or glorify Him. There are endings in some of our lives that God deeply desires to come to pass because those frailties and those weaknesses will open the door to a way He has planned to glorify Himself with our lives.
What are the benefits of letting go of perfectionism and performancism?
- It lets us recognize and embrace the little wins typically insufficient for a perfectionist.
- It lets us breathe in a breath of contentment and breeds gratefulness for the life God has given us.
- This will give us more energy for the ones we love and more patience with them.
- Letting go, although frightening at first, actually gives us the freedom we really want.
- Finally, letting go of our control makes us more dependent on God, which makes HIM rejoice because HE gets to be the good, good Father and the gentle, Good Shepherd. He gets to please Himself with His own good character.
- And, for most of us, our desire to be “good” probably was birthed out of our ultimate purpose to please God anyway, right? So, why do we then deny God the right to change His desired outcome in our lives?
Spiritual Benefits of Letting Go Of Our Self Righteousness
Because our value is now based on God’s unconditional love, we will always feel loved. Because our value is based on God’s unconditional acceptance of us, we will never feel unacceptable. Guilt and shame won’t cripple us anymore. We choose contentment in Jesus making us enough, not our own efforts to make ourselves enough. We believe the gospel! We embrace grace! We embrace freedom in Christ. God means more to us!
As we lean into our confidence that no matter how imperfect we are, no matter how far we fall short of the standard, no matter how many times we have fail to achieve and no matter how many mistakes we make, we realized we will never surprise God. So we can never disappoint God. We will never be unacceptable to God because God’s wrath is forever appeased. His holiness has been satisfied. Our guilty consciences have been cleansed. Our crippling shame is denied a foothold because our guilt has been erased.
When we believe the truth of the gospel, we learn to trust that we are still accepted by God in spite of our unacceptability. We learn to trust that our deeds no longer condemn us anymore because they have been pardoned by our Savior. We learn to trust that we are loved in spite of our unlovability. We believe that we are bestowed grace and mercy when we come to Him in our honesty, humility and brokenness. We learn to accept God grace for ourselves because what God says is good cannot be evil.
We learn to embrace God’s plan for our lives rather than chase our tails trying to achieve all our hopes and dreams, even our spiritual ideals. We learn to rest in God’s finished work on the cross for our sins. And we learn to rest in His grace for all the rest of our imperfections, all the ideals we fail to meet, and all the perceived failures that we feel.
We learn to choose to not be defined by our imperfections. We learn to embrace grace for the person that we truly are. We learn to choose freedom from being chained to and defined by what we do and don’t do. We learn to choose contentment with where we are, who we are and where we are going. We learn to choose to be okay with where God has us and choose to remain humble and surrendered to His future which He will, by the way, complete in His way and in his timing.
So how can we posture ourselves in a way that God has promised He will respond to with tenderness, compassion, mercy and grace?
God opposes the ways of the proud self-reliant but gives grace to the HUMBLE God-reliant. Remember, He promises that a broken and contrite heart He will never despise. We can either posture ourselves / align ourselves with what God opposes by pushing relentlessly to be the best we can be at all costs (self-reliance and self-fulfilling idealism) OR we can posture ourselves in a humble, contrite manner which God says He will always accept.
You see, when we humbly acknowledge we are weak and often broken, and embrace a contrite heart and a life surrendered to God’s will for us, no matter what that is, our heart is demonstrating its desperateness for God in all areas of our life (God-reliance and a God-desired outcome whatever His will asks of us). I mean, admit it. If you achieved every perfection you ever dreamed of, wouldn’t that just decrease your desperate need of God?
A Greek Lesson about Perseverance and Endurance
James 5:10 tells us “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
Who doesn’t want to be known for their incredible endurance and perseverance? But when we read that word (endure or persevere), we think of an athlete who victoriously crosses the finish line and wins, right? Or we envision a mountain climber getting to the top of some mountain and planting his flag… right? He persevered, and with that perseverance he won the prize, right?
Endurance “hypomo-ne” literally means to “REMAIN UNDER.” Which means to exist in the tension of a difficult situation. Like with Job. He existed in the tension of a difficult situation. It does not necessarily mean patience but it means persevering (remaining, waiting, staying) in a difficult situation.
It certainly does NOT mean overcome! It does not mean win! It does not mean become victorious! It means that people who were identified in Scripture as those who persevered with endurance were the ones who surrendered to steadfastly “remaining under the oppression.” What James 5 tells us about Job was that in the storm, Job just held on. When the weight of his trials pressed down on him, he released his control and surrendered to God’s plan for his life. Then, He cried out to God for relief.
But what Scripture is saying is that what God found acceptable in Job was NOT his strength to overcome. It was his embracing his weakness. It was Job’s choice to submit to the will of God for Him and “remain under” this oppression, something that he found incredibly difficult. The suffering was excruciating. But Job “remained under” (persevered, endured) thru great tragedy to find God’s compassion and mercy on the other side.
Are WE willing to “remain under” our difficult life situations to experience that degree of compassion and mercy from the Lord? Job didn’t receive that by winning or overcoming. He found it in losing his way and ultimately his control over his own life. Job didn’t find mercy and grace by leaning away from his pain. He found it by owning it and leaning into it. That is where he found the Lord. That’s when we find Job summarizing his suffering by saying, “I only thought I knew God, but now I’ve seen Him face to face.”
Great Need Precedes Great Compassion
You see, mercy must always be preceded by recognizing our great need of mercy, and it is received by LEANING INTO our NEED. If we refuse to embrace the authenticity and desperation of the way things are right now (the life God has given us right now), we will never find mercy in it. It cheapens mercy when we don’t want it, because we don’t feel we need it.
The more desperate our authentic confession that we desperately need it, the wider the door is to finding it IN the Lord. You see, God often pulls us into a desperate, broken, unfulfilled life to force us to interact with Him because He wants to display His kindness and His grace. Danielle Strickland (from the Salvation Army) said that it is in the chaos of life where she finds the Spirit of God hovering over us. I agree with her. Because in the chaos of MY life is where my need for Him was the greatest!
It’s also true that if we hide our brokenness from our brothers and sisters in Christ or our spouses or even our children, we shut the door to them showing us compassion and mercy IN it. Nobody will know! We’ll give the illusion that we’re strong already. Nobody will be given the opportunity to show us mercy.
What do we perfectionists (what I call performancists) hate more than anything? OUR NEED! NEEDINESS! INSUFFICIENCY! Not being able to do it OURSELVES? But what does God desire more than anything of our hearts, the recognition of our NEED!!! Owning up to our imperfection and our recognizing our inability to ever achieve true perfection!
Here’s a really good check of our dreams and aspirations:
Are the dreams for your life causing you to be more self-reliant or more God-reliant? Does your picture of success increase your need for God or attempt to prove yourself to God, thus decreasing your need for God? If your goals in life don’t cause you to become more God-reliant, you’re chasing your own tail. You’ll never find contentment. You’ll never recognize mercy and compassion when God tries to give it.
So, how can we align ourselves with what GOD’S will is for our life?
Start with where you are— right now (all your circumstances… even the messy ones). I know it is hard, but I challenge you to release your death grip on how YOU want your life to look. Start with being honest with God and agreeing with God about the truth about you (you are imperfect, you can’t be righteous no matter how hard you try, you can’t fulfill all your ideals, you can’t fulfill yourself by remaking yourself perfect), because you need Him desperately!
Recognize that God in His sovereignty has allowed everything that has happened in your life to happen and He has kept from happening everything that hasn’t happened. Lean into the way life is RIGHT NOW (even the negative things), drinking in your life as a result of His perfect sovereignty. Lean into the imperfection that you hate because in doing so, it acknowledges your great need. I’m NOT saying to rejoice over any sin and imperfections and unrecognized dreams but embrace them in that you own up to your shortcomings, which means aligning yourself with how God sees things and sees you.
A biblical truth you can take to the bank: Even if you are imperfect and, in fact sinful, as a child of God, are you despised or rejected by Him? No! You are still loved and still forgiven! So, as you seek to align yourself with how God sees you, don’t be afraid to see yourself as an imperfect sinner because you are still loved and forgiven (if you have asked Jesus to save you). Drink in the truth of both of these tensions!
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how we can experience freedom in Christ in spite of being imperfect! (To be continued)