Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Perfection vs. Holiness

Most people take four years to finish high school and at least another four years to finish college. I started high school in August of 1999 and graduated college in May 2005. You can do the math.

As I read, I pay attention to grammar and spelling mistakes…even if it’s just a Facebook status update.

You will never catch me giving 99.9%. I am all…and then some - or nothing.

I have actually referred to second place as “first loser” on a consistent basis.

I insist on mopping my kitchen floor on my hands and knees with a rag. Mops make too much of a mess.

Every shirt in my closet is organized by color and sleeve-length.

Sometimes, I rewrite my to-do list because when I begin crossing things off, it looks too messy.

Other times, if I forget to write something down on my list, but it’s something I’ve done, I’ll write it down and mark it off at the same time.

You get the point…I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

Sure, it’s comical. My Type B husband makes fun of my Type A+ personality whenever he gets the chance. But it’s also serious.

Sometimes, I run myself into the ground trying to keep up with the expectations I have for myself and the ones that I think others have for me (even if they don’t.)

Nine times out of ten, I would rather make myself sick than tell someone “no.”

Though I’ve come a long way since my four-year struggle with anorexia, I still have bad days.

I’m not alone. Researchers have divide perfectionists into three categories:

Self-oriented perfectionists, who expect perfection of themselves.
o Risk factor: Depression
Other-oriented perfectionists, who demand perfection from other people.
o Risk factor: Ruined personal relationships
Socially prescribed perfectionists, who think others expect perfection from them.
o Risk factors: Eating disorders or suicide

I’ve been all three at various points in my life, and I know I don’t want to live like that.

My strive for perfection began with good intentions. I must have been in middle school when I highlighted Matthew 5:48 in my Bible: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

That became my life standard. I was going to be perfect. Perfect student. Perfect church member. Perfect community volunteer. Perfect employee. Perfect body. The pattern continued as I got older. Perfect seminary student. Perfect wife - perfect pastor’s wife, at that. As more roles were piled on my plate, the less perfect I was becoming in every area.

I noticed it in my blogs – particularly the last few. Not that God wasn’t teaching me and that those weren’t good lessons, but I’m never satisfied. I never think that what I have is good enough. I’ll never be one of those people who counts on getting into heaven because I think I’m a “good person.” I know that my salvation is because of God’s grace through my faith in Jesus Christ and NOTHING else.

As James and I began our “Read the Bible in a Year” plan on January 1, it didn’t take but a few days for me to get to Matthew 5:48. I wanted to skip it. But this year was different. I looked at the footnotes in my new ESV Study Bible and read:

As Christians seek to live in conformity to Scripture, they are in fact pursuing the very perfection of God…all of the Law and the Prophets find their perfect fulfillment in the perfection of the Father, which is what all Jesus' disciples are called to pursue.

It hit me that I had been striving for not only what God defines as perfect, but I wanted to fit the world’s definition of perfect too. I began praying for a perspective change – but it was honestly half-hearted because I didn’t really expect anything to change. After all, I’m pretty sure I was high strung by age six.

God didn’t let go.

The next day, I was reading in Matthew 6 when I stumbled across, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6 19-21; 24)

Now, I was starting to feel convicted. I began evaluating decisions I made with questions like: What am I trying to prove anyway? Whom am I really trying to please? What is my real motivation?

I’ve been very fortunate to have some extremely godly women in my life. During a conversation with Elizabeth Parks, she summed up everything I had been struggling with in just a few simple words:

“Michelle, perfection is not the same thing as holiness.”

Wow. That was two weeks ago, and I’ve been unpacking that statement ever since. The realizations have gotten more humbling as more time as passed.

It’s not enough just to know that I need to strive for holiness instead of perfection. But becoming more holy is not a quick fix – it’s a process. And as if that’s not enough, It’s not something I can do on my own. It’s something God has to do in me.

Sammy Tippit in Fire In Your Heart wrote, “An insight into the holiness of God will always produce a life-style of repentance. When one enters upon this highway called holiness, it does not mean that he is perfect. It does mean that he is walking down a road of change. Repentance means a change of heart or a change of mind. Throughout the Christian life we should be continually changed, or conformed, into the image of Jesus Christ.

The last two weeks, I’ve had a peace inside of me that I’m not sure I ever knew was possible. Leaps of faith that would have seemed impossible to me six months ago, have taken place with ease. Conversations that would have intimidated me just last month have been effortless.

And there’s just one secret. I’m not trying to be perfect in my own strength. I’m allowing God to make me more holy in His strength. (And you know that’s a feat that will take HIS strength!)

I found a new verse to be my life goal.

1 Peter 1:16: “Since it is written, “You should be holy, for I am holy.”


Stephanie said...

I love it! I sure hope you are planning on writing a devotional someday! I so wish we were closer, you are an amazing woman and I wish I had the privelege of being around you.

Michelle Myers said...

I wish we lived closer too. We didn't know how good we had it in middle school! In case we never get to live close again, we have eternity to look forward to. Love you, Steph! :) You will always be my psycho giraffe!