Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Deep Thoughts on Perfection

I had been feeling a little guilty that most of my posts had come across as negative or complaining, and I didn't want anyone to have that impression. Then today, as I was reading a devotional magazine, God really used the following article to speak to me and I wanted to share it with you. It was written by Melinda Means and is titled "In Search of Perfection."
One day after a particularly challenging week of parenting. I was relating to a friend some of the week's misadventures and commenting how nice it would be to have naturally compliant children. She looked amused, smiled at me, and said, "They sound normal to me. What are you expecting - perfection?"

Ouch! What a word aptly spoken - and a sorely needed reminder! It is perilous to expect perfection from ourselves and perhaps even more hazardous to expect it from others. Perfectionism is a thief that robs us of victory. Have you ever had these thoughts? You'll never measure up. If you were a good mother/wife/Christian, you'd have it all together. You're a phony. I sure have, but I've begun to recognize them for what they are: lies from the enemy.

Even as God began to prompt me to write on this subject, I could hear Satan whispering, "You think you're some kind of expert?" Amazingly, God uses our brokenness and vulnerability for our good and His glory. In His abundant patience, God has shown me how few things can choke the life out of living like a person possessed by perfectionism.

The older I get, the more I learn to appreciate God's grace and faithfulness to me, yet I still struggle to give genuine grace to others. My kids love to get pizza on Fridays at school, but they know the only way to get it is to eat all their packed lunches throughout the week, and they usually do. One Friday morning, however, my daughter begged me to let her get pizza, even though she knew she really hadn't earned it. Being a wonderful gracious mother, I made an exception. However, I actually made her write down that I had given her "grace" on this day so I could remind her of it the next time she accused me of being unreasonable!

How many times have you said, "Someday, I'm going to write that book, start that Bible study, clean that closet...?" Do you put off projects until you can do them perfectly? God does not expect perfection from His servants (Psalm 103:8-10), but he does require action! Ephesians 2:10 says we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them." Making mistakes is inevitable. Missing God's calling because I'm focused on achieving perfection would be devastating.

I got a wake-up call a few years ago when I wrote our Christmas letter and talked about how much I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom. My husband read my letter and laughed. "It sure doesn't seem like it," he said, a little bemused. I was so offended! Eventually, I had to humbly admit that he was right. I searched to analyze why. It led me right to the room of perfectionism. My impatience and frustration with my shortcomings and everyone else's pretty much sucked all the fun out of my rooms!

Count your blessings. I have found a prayer journal to be a great record and reminder of answered prayer. When I regularly remember God's grace to me, I'm more apt to give it to others. In Deuteronomy 8:2, Moses encourages the Israelites to "Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart" (NIV).

Accept that life is messy - and lighten up! Years ago, I remember taking my then 3 -year-old daughter and 10-month-old son to have their Christmas pictures taken. I had found the perfect outfits. Their hair was perfectly styled. I timed it perfectly - right after nap time. Then life got messy. Halfway to the mall, my son spit up on his adorable outfit. Half a tub of baby wipes later, he sparkled. Triumphantly, I lifted him out of his car seat just as he had a diaper blowout of legendary proportions - and now I was out of baby wipes. Wrapping him in a blanket, I headed for the closest bathroom. On the way, my daughter fell, tearing a huge hole in her white tights. Once in the bathroom, I was faced with the reality that it had only hand dryers and not paper towels! With my 3-year-old handing me reams of toilet paper, we finally became presentable (if not fragrant) and actually got the photo taken! I smile every time I see that photo, but I was so upset at the time. How silly! Life would often be boring and joyless if everything went according to our plan.

Ask yourself daily what is most important. Jesus regularly withdrew from the crowds and demands of His earthly ministry to spend time with the Father (Matthew 14:22-23). He knew that despite all the legitimate needs vying for His attention, regular time with the Father had to be His top priority. It fueled His ability to prioritize and accomplish everything else God called Him to do in His earthly ministry. God set Jesus' agenda. We should allow Him to set ours as well. Prayerfully make a list of priorities - and consult it often.

Be flexible. A dear friend of mine calls it being "interruptible." Recently, this same friend called me to help out in the nursery one morning while a group of our young moms held Bible study. I had mounds of laundry and a messy house. Every fiber of my being wanted to say no. Yet, I felt led to say yes. I enjoyed it so much that I volunteer every week now! A completed to-do list might bring a measure of satisfaction, but it's a hollow victory if I've missed opportunities to bless and be blessed because I'm unwilling to veer from my agenda.

God wants to meet us in our messes. Ask God to help you view your inadequacies as opportunities for Him to shine. He can use our imperfections to fulfill His perfect plan for our lives.

Then, in like a little post note, the magazine went on to say:
Whether it's expecting perfect behavior from a child or expecting a husband to know our needs without being told, unrealistic expectations can lead to unresolved anger and resentment. The good news is that God is always available and can guide us in examining our attitudes to determine whether we're expecting too much from others or from ourselves. He can work in our willing hearts to replace perfectionism with patience and to match our expectations with our gifts, abilities, and realities.

Ouch! I have to admit that I could really see myself in that article. In my post "The Worst Day of My Life" I mentioned how this child expects perfection from themselves, now I'm beginning to see that they probably get that from me. Like the author of the article my hubby has said to me before that I don't seem happy to be a stay-at-home mom because I'm constantly complaining about something. Yes, it can be frustrating being a stay-at-home mom but it can also be very rewarding at times, and I don't want to pass this negativity on to my children. This is something that I struggle with daily and part of the reason I struggle with it is because I also struggle with spending time in prayer daily. I read my Bible and devotional magazine and maybe say a short prayer then mentally check it off my to-do list. But when do I ever spend quality time in prayer actually having two-way communication with God, not only pouring my heart out to Him but listening to Him as well?

I know this is probably something that most Christians struggle with because this is an area where Satan focuses on attacking us. If he can keep us from having a strong relationship with God, which can only come through prayer, then we become ineffective Christians, we're not filled with God's Spirit, therefore we have no spiritual power, no discernment and no joy. When I don't spend time with God every day I'm more apt to see flaws in others and not exercise grace.

In dealing with my children this is a very fine line, disciplining when needed, encouraging when needed or offering grace when needed. How am I supposed to have the wisdom to know what each child, whose individual needs are different, needs in any particular circumstance if I haven't been filled with God's Spirit that day by spending time with Him.

Here once again it's easy to fall into the trap of expecting perfection from myself in the area of prayer. I have to remember that yes, it is very important to every Christians health, but God also offers me grace when I mess up. God only wants what's best for me, and spending time with Him is always what's best. I also need to remember that He created me for fellowship, He loves me and misses talking to me. No relationship can be healthy without good communication.

Oh, how I want God to break me of my negativity, to use my imperfections to shine for His glory, to grow me and use me through them. How I want to be a good Godly mother, teaching my children not only through words but mainly by example the things of God.

God really spoke to me today through this article and I wanted to share it with you. Maybe it speaks to you too. Thanks for reading my ramblings once again. Love to all of you!

1 comment:

Steph said...

Wow. That was really good. Thanks for sharing. Obviously, you know that I needed that!!