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Archive for the ‘Perfectionism’ Category

“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” – Psalm 42:4-6 (NIV)

As a boy living back in Fort Worth, Texas in the late 1950’s and 60’s I really loved Thanksgiving. Each Thanksgiving Day we usually had a family gathering with my father’s side of the family.

In attendance were two of my uncles who had attended the University of Texas at Austin. In those days, there was a traditional American college football rivalry each Thanksgiving between the UT Longhorns and the Texas A&M Aggies. If the game was televised, the meal couldn’t take place during the game! It WAS that important! In later years the Dallas Cowboys played a late afternoon game and the tradition continues to this day. My wife, who didn’t grow up in Texas and didn’t have brothers, isn’t sure this is a cause for giving thanks!

Not one Thanksgiving celebration went by that the food wasn’t spectacular.

The meal included traditional turkey, my mother’s cornbread dressing (or stuffing as we refer to it where I now live in Ireland) along with all the trimmings. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but my mother spent hours early in the week mixing up a huge batch of potato salad for the big event. I usually asked her to withhold the olives in mine as I thought they spoiled the flavor. My cousins now rave over that potato salad and one of them now sports his own version of “Aunt Blanche’s” potato salad. He tells me that his version of her recipe he copied from her years ago still isn’t as good as the original!

Each Thanksgiving weekend was a welcome break from the school routine which came as a relief from a little boy who wasn’t enamored with school at that point in life! Other priorities seemed so much more important.

As I grew older and Thanksgiving celebrations changed in my adult years, a funny thing happened. Life happened. The responsibilities and challenges of adulthood can spoil our fun if we let them. We now live in a much different environment than the one with which I was familiar.

In my years of innocence, the worst thing that might happen Thanksgiving week was that I might have to eat my potato salad WITH olives, or the UT Longhorns might lose to the Aggies. Now we are beset with much larger issues – the threat of terrorism, mass shootings, international political turmoil and the list goes on. Even though in my youth we were constantly exposed to the Viet Nam war and campus unrest it all seemed to come to a halt on Thanksgiving Day.

I’ve come to realize over the years that I’m not generally very satisfied with the blemishes that appear on every aspect of life. I would make life perfect for everyone if I had the power, which I obviously don’t. It’s a personal challenge and discipline to be grateful in a hostile, broken world.

I really resonate with the Psalmist, quoted above, as he ponders about the downcast state of his soul. He asks, “why are you so disturbed within me?”

Today my soul is downcast for the myriad of women who are coming forward to expose the brutality of thoughtless men who have groped, raped or abused them. My soul is downcast for the multitudes of children in the world who are orphans or living in poverty. My soul is downcast for numerous other reasons with which I’m relatively sure you are all too familiar.

The tendency for me is to withhold gratitude until a perfect world arises from the ashes of life. I now realize I simply cannot wait that long until I express gratitude to God for all that He is and for all He is doing to care for me and for His broken world.

If I’m really honest, I have far more to be grateful for than I realize and my attention needs to be far more focused on the One who is the source and giver of all good gifts.

The Palmist has a simple remedy for ingratitude and a perfectionist attitude, he simply says, “these things I remember as I pour out my soul.”

Whatever our circumstances this Thanksgiving season we can and must “remember” that for which we can be grateful and pour out our souls to our living God.

Remember who you are –  your family of origin, your past, the good and bad, the things that have shaped you are part of your personal story; you are who you are because there has been a personal God involved with you, whether you acknowledge Him or not

Remember whose you are – you belong to your Heavenly Father who is seeking out your heart every moment of every day

Remember what you have – your family and friends for starters – I know I have so many to be grateful for; for us who are followers of Jesus we have every spiritual blessing in Christ; even in material terms I know I have far more than I deserve and there are many in this world who are content with far less than what I possess

If you haven’t done so lately, this might be a good time to spend some quality time in solitude, pour out your soul to God, and gratefully remember that you are blessed far more than you ever imagined!

I know I am.

 

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Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  – Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but for many years I had the fear that people would really find out that I was much more of a mess than I appeared.

I’ll never forget the day that I had to sit down before my family and close friends and admit to a string of failures that had spanned a number of years. Sparing the gory details, just believe me when I say I was a train wreck. Without realizing it, I was missing out on major sources of wholeness in my life – for many reasons. Among them was the fact that I was trying to be “the hero” as I call it, moving through life like a knight in shining armor while neglecting key relationships with those around me.

As I interact with people on a personal level more and more I see that people, especially men, are much more alike than we are different, at least when it comes to opening up about our fears, failures and imperfections. I realize that I’m speaking in generalities but I do see some consistent trends.

We men, in general, don’t like to admit that we have needs.

We men, in general, work hard to cover up fears, failure and imperfections so that others will think the best of us.

We men, in general, think that vulnerability is a sign of weakness and if we go there will make us even more of a failure than we think we already are.

Several years ago, through a God-ordained and defining experience of personal failure and brokenness I discovered just the opposite.

When I started to shed the cloak of “perfection” and began to more openly confess and admit my sin, failure and imperfection I actually discovered that people can be forgiving. They can be loving and accepting too.

It’s fascinating to me that true confession is actually getting the bad stuff out in the open so everyone, including myself, can say, “Yes, that’s horrible! But I love and forgive you. I know the bad stuff is not the real you!”

One of my first experiences of confession outside of my closest family members came when I asked to see a couple with whom my wife and I had come to know very well. I was almost certain when I walked into their home that it might be the last time I would ever enter their door. After they heard what I had to say that might, in my thinking, be the last time they would ever talk to me. Confession was on my heart and rejection was my expectation.

To my amazement, after hearing my broken, heartfelt confession my friends embraced me in a way I had never experienced before. Their response was just the opposite of what I was expecting.

I stumbled reluctantly into the reality that humility and vulnerability hold the key to the door of forgiveness and restoration.

Really, we don’t relate well to people who are fake – trying to make others believe they are something other than who they are.

As I’ve lived with this new lease on life for some years now I see that I grew up with a perspective that some counselors call “splitting.” It’s the idea that internally we “split” ourselves, others and the world into “all good” or “all bad.” This perspective will not endure reality over time. The very best of us have badness and imperfection all mixed together and it’s reflected in our world as well.

Since we all have failings and imperfections, why not admit to them? I have found that to be healthy and whole I have to live this way.

The verse quoted above from the Apostle Paul is an instruction to people of faith in Jesus to be kind, compassionate and forgiving. It’s not a suggestion! It’s a command based on what Jesus has already done for all mankind. The perfect man gave His life for completely imperfect people. How can we follow Him without confessing our sin to others, asking for their forgiveness and forgiving them?

In order to pull this off we need to have communities of people who express faith in Jesus and follow Him to be modeling this – daily! That’s a challenge to me, but it’s a challenge to you as well. We need environments of grace and relationships of trust in order to make this work, but that’s another subject!

What are you hiding today and from whom? What do you fear that someone close to you might find out about you? What are you not disclosing to a friend or family member?

What I didn’t know was that what I was hiding with the greatest passion could actually lead to greater wholeness and happiness in my life if I only would admit to failure as a starting point.

When I started taking more steps toward vulnerability in my own life, carefully exposing my failures to trusted friends and family and dropping my “appearance” of arrogance and perfection, I found people to be much more forgiving and accepting than I realized.

Humility and vulnerability truly hold the key to the door labelled “forgiveness.”

I’m certainly never going get everything right and I’ll never be perfect in this life. But I can say that greater wholeness of life came home to my heart when my imaginary “knight in shining armor” got down off of his horse and started seeking grace and forgiveness. It’s freely available to the humble of heart.

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Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48 (NIV)

“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” – Saint Augustine

For most of my life I’ve had an ongoing battle with perfectionism but it took me over fifty years to see it as a hindrance rather than a help.

Daily we are bombarded with images of men and women who appear to be highly successful because they strive for perfection in their appearance and professional life. However, if you take a close look at anyone’s life, no matter how “together” they may appear, it won’t take long to discover that even among the best of us there is a much deeper longing for meaning in life and relationships.

Deep down I really know that I’m a deeply flawed individual but it would be nice to appear to “have my act together” to everyone around me so that my faults and failings don’t come out too often.

For those of us who have a personal faith in God it’s easy to quote chapter and verse either to justify our perfectionistic tendencies or excuse our shortcomings or both.

Jesus’ words above recorded by Matthew have often been quoted to me by some who say that God expects “perfection” from people, speaking mainly of the followers of Jesus. The implication is that perfection in this life is somehow attainable through whatever means are necessary to achieve it.

Honestly, that’s no way to live life with a heart for God and it’s not even realistic or even achievable if we stop to think about it.

What was Jesus saying here and does the Bible teach us that striving for perfection is a motivating factor in our lives? Before drawing any quick conclusions just take a closer look at the Biblical language, especially in the case of Jesus’ words.

The Bible speaks of God’s “perfection” as in Deuteronomy 32:4, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.” (NIV)

The Hebrew word for “perfect” here carries the idea of “blameless” or “without fault.” I think most people with a faith in God and particularly Jesus-followers would have no problem with the concept that God is perfect and unblemished.

However, when it comes to the way the Bible speaks of humans in relation to “perfect” a different word is used. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus uses the Greek word “teleios” meaning “perfect” in the sense of “having reached its end,”  “complete” or even “mature.”  In other words God is perfect and can’t be “matured” any more than He already is but we humans are far from mature. The good news of the Gospel is that God is in the process of “growing” us up as we trust His perfect Son Jesus and live by faith.

In my battle with perfectionism I’ve found that there’s a world of difference between striving for excellence as opposed to perfectionism as a “soul-condition.”  Human perfectionism no matter how well-intentioned is rooted and grounded in pride while the Gospel message of Jesus is one of humility.

Striving for excellence can be very much about serving God and others if our motives are to glorify God in everything we do. Perfectionism on the other hand is a mindset that seeks to avoid being judged or criticized by others. The malady is one of obsession with what others think, or may think of us.

Researcher and author Brene Brown defines perfectionism as “a cognitive, behavioral process, a way of thinking and feeling that says this ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, and live perfect I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’”

The peril of perfectionism is that we can actually become callous to our own humanity so that we don’t have to face our failings and imperfections head on.

The alternative to prideful perfectionism is humility and vulnerability which breaks down pride in our lives and gives us a healthier appreciation of God and true freedom to trust Him with the reality of who we are – warts and all.

Ms. Brown expresses it well when she says, Why, when we know that there’s no such thing as perfect, do most of us spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be everything to everyone? Is it that we really admire perfection? No – the truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.”

I think our Lord and Maker is more interested in enabling us to serve Him out of faith and love rather than approving of our efforts to create a false image of ourselves. He provided a very humble, gentle and vulnerable Savior to show us the way to do just that.

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“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” – Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)

The contrast between pride and humility couldn’t be more distinct. We don’t often see our own pride until it’s exposed for what it is.

The word “humble” comes from the Latin word “humilis” which means lowly, insignificant, or “on the ground.” We think of a humble person as one who doesn’t have an exalted view of themselves in relation to others.

I think humility is easier observed than it is defined. Humility becomes a larger slice of our character when we see a picture of reality that shows us we aren’t the perfect people we hoped we would be.

It’s easy to be blind to our own pride and to observe humility in others. We would probably admit to being proud before we would consider ourselves “humble.”

If you’ve been following the professional golf news lately you will be aware that there’s been a changing of the guard at the number one position in the world rankings. In recent years we have witnessed the demotion of Tiger Woods and the rise of Rory McIlroy at the highest level of the sport.

Even though Tiger won five PGA tour events in 2013 this year has been one of injury, frustration and  disappointment while Rory, winner of several events and two majors this season, has recaptured the ranking of World Number one and is going from strength to strength.

The comparison and contrast between these two child prodigies turned professional have been noteworthy. Both have been in the media spotlight for some time now and observations and conclusions drawn concerning both of them are clear to see.

One of the most striking differences between these two men is how they conduct themselves with the media. When interviewed Tiger is cautious, mysterious and most often closed. He’s a classic example of pride and perfection. Rory is open, honest, unassuming, and vulnerable and dare I say, humble for a young man of such accomplishment at his young age. The broadcasters know this quite well. They love Rory – so do his many fans. Draw your own conclusions as to how they view Tiger Woods.

We live in a world where pride and “getting to the top” in one’s area of expertise is a highly valued. We love our sports stars but we seem to appreciate the ones like Rory who have a sense of humility about them despite their huge success.

The wisdom of the ancient Proverb quoted above teaches us that without a sense of brokenness in our lives we tend to become proud and think that we are above the faults and failings of others.

As Tiger Woods discovered almost five years ago now life’s catastrophes come along at various stages. The proud man or woman falls. Those who are humble are honored in success or failure.

Due to various humbling experiences over the past few years I’m realizing that in years past my own pride kept me from admitting failure and letting others close to me see who I really was. A lot of wasted energy went into hiding unsightly things about myself so that I could maintain an appearance of “having it all-together.” We are the last ones to see the evidence of pride in our lives.

Our pride leads us to believe that we’re strong and invincible. Humility tells us that it’s safe to be honest with who we are as fragile human beings because we’re made in the image of God who knows us intimately. It’s His opinion of us that holds the most weight.

One of the most profound examples of humility in history is that of Jesus Christ. Being equal with God the Father He humbled Himself in taking on humanity and subjecting Himself to death so that men and women might find forgiveness and connection with God (Philippians 2).

Not even the Son of God promoted Himself in the grand scheme of things so why should we?

Long term we may not see Rory McIlroy win as much in his prime as Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods did in theirs, but if his attitude doesn’t change and barring major meltdown he may be one of the most beloved stars in the history of golf.

We know a proud man or woman when we see one. We know a humble man or woman when we see one. We are fortunate when we are vulnerable enough to admit our weaknesses and failures as well as our strengths and to release any illusions of our own superiority over others.

In the end humility seems to carry its own rewards.

 

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Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:18-20 (NLT)

I’m not really a perfectionist . . . I only think like one.

As I write this essay it’s only appropriate that the table I’m sitting at is wobbling because its legs don’t rest evenly on the floor. It’s a struggle to be thankful because I wish I could be perfectly happy and satisfied with myself and everyone and everything around me – all the time!

As the annual Thanksgiving Holiday in the USA rapidly approaches I have been reflecting on the subject of perfectionism and how it so often robs us of joy and thankfulness that God intended us to have. He knows that this is a broken and imperfect world that can never meet or measure up to His holy standards. That is critical to why He sent His Son Jesus to redeem a lost, broken and imperfect world. I am part of that world. You are too.

I honestly don’t remember when the perfectionism bug bit me. I was probably very young. I’m sure if I explored it long enough and talked to any number of my friends who are very competent counsellors they could help me identify the roots of patterns that have come to be lifelong habits.

I’m learning that perfectionism is tied in with pride and has nothing to do with love. When I’m focused on my own desire to achieve perfection in my life and surroundings I’m basically playing a game of one-up-man-ship. Trying to outdo others to meet my own ego issues is completely selfish and unloving. Those are harsh words for someone who’s trying to be perfect!

Pride is a violation of love and perfectionism is pride.

In the verses referenced above the apostle Paul speaks of a Spirit-filled way of living. As redeemed people we can rest in joyful communion with God – singing, praising, and making melody – when alone or with others. In the process he says “give thanks for everything.” 

I think Paul is very intentional in saying that we give thanks to God the Father for everything. We direct our thanks to our Father in the name of Jesus His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. The PERFECT triune God is involved in every aspect of our lives. For this we should be continually thankful – all the time.

I admit that I often have difficulty accepting the Sovereignty and goodness of God. Thanking he triune God for “everything” can only come from a heart that is grateful for His constant, redeeming, all-encompassing love.

Our pride and perfectionism does not produce fruit in the eternal scheme of things. Heaven is not impressed when we perform on our own stage. We may think that we’re putting on a fine show by our good works, but if motivated by anything other than love for God and His reputation all our best efforts come to naught.

Some have taken me to task on this. “Isn’t a Christian supposed to STRIVE for perfection?”

It all depends on who is doing the striving. When you examine it closely, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are unable to bring ourselves to perfection with self-effort. It’s a faith journey that thrives on thanksgiving, joy and heaven-inspired music.

When I’m caught up in my own pride and perfectionism, I’m far from joyful and definitely not singing and making any music – with my voice or with my life.

Some years ago I was introduced to The Sonship Course. It was originally developed for burned out missionaries but was later adapted for a wider audience. One of the key questions it posed was, “If given the choice would you rather be right or would you rather be loving?” A perfectionist wants to be right. A devoted Jesus-follower wants to experience God’s love deeply and share it with others.

I must admit that most times I’d rather be right than loving when God desires my heart devotion to Him. Everything else, including a grateful heart, should flow from that. Our LORD Jesus is the only one who can be perfectly right and perfectly loving at the same time. Why compete with true perfection?

This year, as always, I’d like to enjoy the “perfect” Thanksgiving holiday – but I’ll settle for a grateful, joyful heart whatever the day might bring. Giving thanks is on God’s menu for us every day and perfectionism always leaves a bitter aftertaste.

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