Monday, April 28, 2008

Thoughts on Earthly Perfection, Part Two

Part One

I have struggled a great deal in my life with perfectionism and trying to achieve its illusion by my own efforts. After all, it wasn’t so hard to be an overachiever in school or in the workplace—all it took was a little extra effort on my part to get the perfect score or leave the office with a clean desk.

But God really shook my perfection-seeking soul to the core when He sent me six imperfect children and—wonderful as Papa Rooster is—an imperfect spouse. Somehow, in family life, increasing my efforts didn't equal overachievement in my children or spouse. These other souls often seemed profoundly uninterested in my goals and plans or in putting forth the effort required to accomplish them. That’s when the control freak in me showed up. And what a freak she was (and is): angry, impatient, unloving, self-absorbed.

By this unhappy circumstance, my own imperfections became glaringly obvious. At school, at work, at church, it had always been easy to maintain my fa├žade of niceness and capability; but in family life, it all came crashing down. Though I could look good in public and when things were going my way, I couldn’t be good when they weren’t.

A turning point came when I realized that my perfectionism had a spiritual component as well. Deep down I had a problem with pride. I thought I could get my act together--overachieve spiritually even--by my own efforts and willpower. I didn't want to need God; instead I held Him off at arm’s length. It was as if I was saying, “Hold on, Lord, while I try to be good enough on my own. I’m sure that I try hard enough, I can come close to perfect by my own efforts. Maybe You can just sort of...fill in the cracks when I'm done.” As with a house, one is never finished. There was always more work I needed to do before I could feel good enough for God.

It was only when we began attending a church that practiced corporate confession every Sunday that I began to let God come near. As I began to honestly admit my faults and sins every week, I confessed not only my guilt, but my need of God. I needed his forgiveness; I needed his help to do better; I needed his salvation. It began to sink in that I could never become good enough--holy and righteous--by my own efforts. My soul could only be made perfect by the grace and the love of God, extended to me through Christ’s blood, and the only response to that was to receive it.

Though I’d known these truths since I was a child, with my head, it was this heart encounter through confession that began to change me. I began to truly grasp and be grateful that, “Apart from You, I can do nothing…I am weak, You are strong…Not I, but Christ...You are the vine, I am just a branch; apart from You I can bear not a single fruit.”

My grasp on these truths continues to be elusive. I often forget to rely on Him instead of on my own strength. I am easily deceived into thinking that I can produce fruit on my own. I can achieve near-perfection in certain areas with enough effort; I am a very capable person. I get great satisfaction from accomplishing goals—and by and large, my goals are in line with what I believe God wants. But it’s like I Corinthians 13 says: If I do all these good things, but have not love, what is it worth?

For that is the kind of fruit God wants this branch to bear—the fruits of faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control and the other virtues. My perfect house isn’t fruit to him, if it took anger and impatience with my kids to get it looking that way. A perfect day of school—all subjects completed in a timely manner—is a sour fruit indeed, if I was a ruthless slavedriver all day to make it happen. Scripture memory, intercessory prayer and a daily quiet time may be no real fruit at all if I'm not completely relying on the Lord for righteousness and strength.

(To be continued....)

Part Three

5 comments:

Megan (FriedOkra) said...

SO what I need to hear right now. Thank you and keep writing, sistah!

troubling stars said...

I have only in the past month or so begun to really care about keeping my home clean and beautiful. Its been a process both internally and externally. Your post reminds me of a moment about a month ago when Ben and I were getting ready to go to our marriage communication small group.I had spent all day cleaning up after my toddler; scrubbing food off the floors, wiping up muddy tracks in the bathroom etc, and I was quickly tidying up for dinner when I asked Ben to get Rowan in a diaper and ready for bed for our babysitter. I even got them out for him. Five minutes later I looked up to see little guy running the house in his birthday suit ( he's a notorious little fountain when naked if you know what I mean and I did not want pee on my clean floors!) So, I yelled in my sweetest (fake) voice, Ben while I clean in here couldn't you please just get him dressed? "One minute!" Ok, ok, I'll be patient... Three minutes later I looked up to see little guy still running naked laps, and at that point I just melted down and screamed at Ben, and it turned into a big fight. I, who think of myself as being so laid back. I, who was only cleaning in the first place bc it made my husband feel safe, loved, and at peace! I, who am usually the messy/ lazy one in our home. And it turned out he was trying to get directions to our meeting.
Its amazing how quickly that inner nastiness can takeover and all of our hard work to love our kids and husband goes out the window with one mean word.
It did give us something good to work through at the Millers that night though!

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

This is beautiful and is also ministering to my areas of weakness. Thanks.

Emily said...

Preach it, sister!

Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience said...

Jeanne,
This speaks of so much our mothering experience...

Thank you, friend...