Originally published Tuesday, 24 June 2014.
It has been said that "striving for excellence motivates you, yet striving for perfection demoralizes you." But the tricky part is knowing the difference between the two.
When I reached that phase of life when my girlfriends and I were all getting married, I made a lap quilt for my first friend who took her vows. I am not much of a seamstress, but the idea had an old-fashioned-romantic charm to it and so I took on the project. After much help from a woman who actually knew what she was doing (unlike me), many hours, and at least a few tears, the quilt was completed. The fabric matched her wedding colors and I had embroidered a daisy chain heart in the center patch with their names and wedding date inside the heart.
It was beautiful. But it wasn't perfect. The corners on the triangles weren't all aligned quite the same. I had taken it out so many times to get it right and finally had to let it be just the way it was. I was showing my soon-to-be husband the mistakes in it, and he asked me, "Did you expect it to be perfect?" Well, I certainly hadn't expected it to be imperfect! And so it began, this question that he regularly asked me when he found me picking apart my latest efforts. "Did you expect it to be perfect?"
So what does perfect look like? Each of us probably has a slightly different image of it. Take a moment and think about what perfect looks like to you. Does the perfect woman have a Barbie body, a Martha Stewart house, a Mother Theresa disposition, or the brains of the first woman president? Or maybe you imagine perfection as all of those traits rolled into one superhero? I tend to describe perfection with words like always, never, and 100%. Regardless of how we might imagine the perfect woman, man, family, job, church, etc., God has a view of perfection worth checking out.
The first time the word perfect is used in the Bible it is to describe Noah:
Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. Genesis 6:9 (NKJV).
There are 13 different words in Hebrew for our single English word perfect. And in this case the word also has to do with blamelessness, integrity, truth and sincerity. Now, Noah wasn't perfect like God because he got written up in God's records as having drunk and disorderly conduct. But the aspect of his life that was perfect in God's sight was that he "walked with God."
One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 26:3: You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you (NLT). We all want peace in our lives, but God's definition of peace doesn't depend on circumstances. His "perfect peace" is planted in our hearts and minds as we focus on Him.
God told Paul in the midst of his pain and weakness, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV). I don't know about you, but my culturally conditioned mind never naturally pairs weakness with perfection. That is something that God alone would think up -- and I love that about Him! His power perfected in weakness is a promise that gives this very weak woman hope! In all our weakness there is great opportunity for God's power to be perfected in us!
I imagine the person with the perfect attitude as someone who is always sweet, caring, and never in a hurry or upset. God gives us Paul's words to describe the perfect attitude in Philippians 3:12-15:
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you. (NAS)
He illustrates the person with the perfect mindset as someone who is consistently growing toward God. The individual is compared to no one else. She might stumble, sweat, get painfully out of breath and run the race with a funny gait, but she keeps going. That is all God asks for, that we keep striving, seeking and reaching for Him.
Time and time again, God and His plans are described as perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4, 2 Samuel 22:31, Psalms 19:7). Yet, in our human understanding we can look at His plans and wonder "How could this be perfect?"
I guess that's the whole point. The story isn't finished and we only have a view of the tapestry from our little corner of the world. Not only is our definition of perfection often far different from God's, but we don't even have the whole picture to make a clear judgment about our life or anyone else's.
Paul made this statement about judging things with our human perspective, "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God." 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 (NIV).
Today, I want to walk with God like Noah. I want to experience perfect peace because I have fixed my mind on my Lord. I want to invite God's power into my many weaknesses and keep pressing on toward the goal of Christ's high calling. While I am at it, I am going to pray over all my self-critical tendencies and ask God to replace my vision of perfection with His. May all of us ladies out there embrace God's definition of perfection and let ourselves (and each other) off the hook for those super-human expectations of excellence.