January 13, 2012
"Don't live under the control of your sinful nature. If you do, you will think about what your sinful nature wants. Live under the control of the Holy Spirit. If you do, you will think about what the Spirit wants. The way a sinful person thinks leads to death. But the mind controlled by the Spirit brings life and peace." Romans 8:5-6 (NIRV)
There's a moment I dread at the doctor's office. It's not putting on that tissue paper mistakenly called a "gown." It's not having my finger pricked - though I'm squeamish about blood. 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, 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 tell me I don't measure up. I'm not reaching my potential. I don't equal my ideal. It's the chart that declares the perfect weight for my height - and I'm several pounds away.
It extends no mercy, offers no grace. It makes no allowances for how old I am, how many babies I've birthed, or 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: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48, NIV 1984)
I figured this verse justified dressing my family in matching sweaters, in the middle of July, to take our Christmas card photo because I'd just gotten the perfect haircut. I figured it warranted pricey toothpaste because I drink coffee and tea, and it shows. And I figured it was my defense when I drove my family nuts about deep-cleaning the house because my new friend might stop by.
This verse helped me justify my quest for perfect photos, perfect teeth and a perfectly clean house. But it added to my disappointment, guilt and occasional loathing when my life, body or family didn't match my ideal notions. Rather than fostering contentment and satisfaction, it fueled 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."
'Perfect' used in the ancient Greek language in this verse means something a little different than Mr. Webster's definition. The Greek word here is teleos: "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 doesn't care so much if there's dust on our mantle, stains 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 that our worth is only found in reflecting His character. To graciously give and receive love. As John writes in 1 John 3:18-20, "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything" (NIV).
Now that's good news for a recovering perfectionist.
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 on You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Come to Rachel's blog and leave a prayer request for victory over perfectionism.
If you enjoyed this devotion, you'll want to get a copy of Rachel's book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know.
Spend time reading through the gospels, noticing what concerned Jesus and what did not.
What surface-level thing(s) have I been worrying over lately?
If it's not about my character, I'm going to let it go as imperfect and rest in God's grace today.
Philippians 3:8-9, "Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith." (NLT)
© 2012 by Rachel Olsen. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
616-G Matthews-Mint Hill Road
Matthews, NC 28105
Originally published Friday, 13 January 2012.