This is Part 4 of a 4-part series on Opening Toward God: our part in letting God work. Go here to read the intro and find links to the additional posts.
We all have times of wrestling with God. One of my most profound began when I sat in my first Bible study class in Bible college, trying to find out the meaning in an Old Testament book, desperately seeking the “right” answers to my questions about the words written there. A classmate looked at me across the library table and said, “You really think there’s a black and white, right and wrong answer to everything in life, don’t you? Well there’s not! You’d better get used to it!”
Those words shook my perfection-seeking soul down to its core. That day God began to wrestle perfectionism and legalism out of my heart.
As an oldest child who loves to make people happy, you’d better believe I love perfectionism. To prove my point, I was one college class grade away from a perfect 4.0 on my college graduation day. I should probably be proud of that but the memory also reminds me of how stressed I was as I pursued that almost-perfect status.
God did not create us to be enslaved to getting everything right in life. In fact, sometimes the very things that he calls one person to do he may lead another person away from. Why? Because we are all living, moving beings in individual relationships with him.
Paul wrote about this. Read these excerpts from Galatians 5 and breathe in the freedom:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [following the letter of the law] counts for anything, but only faith working through love. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
There are black and white commands from God. Those are in place to protect us and help us to live in harmony with others. They remind me of the black and whites I give my children: Don’t hit your brother. Don’t play in the street. Lay down and sleep. Eat your dinner. We need to know how life works best for us.
But in our daily lives we can try so hard to make everything black and white. To find some perfect balance or rhythm to our days so we feel like we have it all together. That feeling leads to a sense of control or security. Instead God brings us toward intimacy with himself, so that he can lead us with his voice, and grow his fruit in our hearts. Our souls are not an office or a gym where we accomplish great things, but a garden of rich soil where he can make beautiful things grow.
I only have two practical points today. To overcome the habit of perfectionism in my daily life, I have learned these practices.
Let go of the expectations
Does the nagging inner voice of guilt make you feel like a failure? We can either let it keep eating at us, or we can evaluate it and shut it up. For instance, I’m not the housekeeper I wish I was. But I can either walk by the piles of stuff every day and let them scream at me, or I can make a list of what needs to be done and do it when I can. I can choose not to worry about what others think, or what my inner June Cleaver tells me. I have a perfect wife, mom, friend, employee, Christ-follower, etc, image in my head. But am I really letting others down when I fall short of my self-made ideals? What do people actually need from me? What am I realistically capable of? What does my calling really look like? We have such a load of expectations we can let roll off our backs.
Grow in relationship with God
“Acknowledge him in all your ways and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6). “All your ways” is the Hebrew way of saying “everything in your life.” So in other words, know God, recognize him daily in everything you do and he will guide you. We are following Jesus, a person. We aren’t checking off a list of assignments for a grade from our heavenly Professor. That would seem simpler to me, but God wants more than a teacher-student relationship with us. He wants a dynamic, growing relationship that covers every aspect of our lives: friend, parent, lover, rescuer, teacher, protector, brother, leader, and more. Following and loving a person causes you to grow more than keeping the rules does. So God calls us to walk with him daily and as we get to know him more, the easier it becomes to hear his voice and understand where he’s leading us. This protects us from falling into legalistic perfectionism.
Our initial verse from Ephesians said
Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
Each day we get to choose to take off our old habits and make room for the Spirit to work in our lives. We take our hands off the wheel and say, “Here I am, Lord. What do you have for me today?” Then we can walk in that real life relationship with an amazing God who never stops working in us and for us.