Tag Archives: Opening toward God

Never Going Back to Perfect

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.

opening-toward-god4But 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.

Not Holding On Anymore

This is Part 3 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.

I have an embarrassing confession. When I was in high school, I excelled at “running into” people I wanted to be around, most specifically, my crushes. At camp I’d wait just until that guy whose attention I wanted got into the food line and then I’d nonchalantly slip into line behind him with my friends and start being the life of the party, telling a great story, like about that amazing catch in ultimate football. If I got a look or a comment my mission was successful. Even better if we all ended up at the same table for lunch. Score.

I’ve always been pretty good at controlling things the way I want. It’s my personality and my firstborn status rolled into one. I used to feel pretty good about my skills. But when you say, “Lord, do whatever you want to in my life,” he says, “Okay. You can’t keep thinking you’re in control anymore. I am.” What follows is long and painful but so, so good.

We like to control life for so many reasons. Fear is a big one. Fear of being hurt, or let down. Fear of being triggered by past pain if things don’t go as we hope. Fear of the future not going the way we have planned. Pride is another. Believing that we know better than God or other people how things should go. Wanting to save face and not let other people see our vulnerability or brokenness.

Proverbs 16:20 says “The one who deals wisely in a matter will find success, [but] blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord” (NET). We can maneuver life with all our natural wisdom, but our success is more related to our trust than our actions.

Control has controlled much of my life. And often, when I think it’s something I’ve mastered, God takes me deeper to show me how I’m still hanging on and need to loosen my grip. So how do we recognize and let go of this deep-rooted way of living?

Evaluate your anxiety
Worry indicates lack of trust. Generally we try to control because we don’t fully trust. What are you anxious about? Make a list. (My recent list was so long I can’t even tell you.) What of those things are you personally responsible for? If you take care of your part, does the anxiety subside? Or do you do the thing, then worry about the outcome? Do you try to manipulate the results by arranging everything you can?

opening-toward-god3Check on your people-pleasing
Pride motivates us to go the extra mile to make people like us. For instance, maybe I email someone I don’t know well, and they don’t respond right away. I start second-guessing myself, and email them again to clarify what I said, or even apologize for something I’m worried may have offended them. The reality is that they are slow to respond to email. But I work myself up, afraid they didn’t like me or that I’ve offended them. We can really pay attention to what we do to get people’s approval. Those actions are often controlling.

Let people fail
Okay. This one still feels so “off” to me that it’s hard to write it. I’m a detailed, practical, responsible person. So I remember things most people forget. So of course, when people I love might be about to forget something, or not work hard enough to pass a test, or make some mistake, everything within me wants to fix them before they fail. Sometimes this is helpful. For real. But rescuing people is not my job. It’s God’s. And when I step in every time, I’m denying people the opportunity to learn from their mistakes or to take responsibility for their own lives. I’m being controlling. I was never entrusted with managing the lives of the people I love.

Exercise letting go
Make it a daily prayer, “God, today I let go of my control. I can’t make things happen according to my plan. Your plan is better. I choose to believe that today.” Choose not to text your spouse and remind them of that thing yet again. Choose to let people help you without monitoring their work. Choose to not replay that incident in your mind 350 times to see if there’s anything you should have done differently.

Once, in college, I took a walk with my camera and photographed my hands, open, stretched out, not hanging onto anything. Other times I’ve stood by a pond and thrown stones into the water as I named the things I want to control, figuratively letting go. We can open our hearts to the Lord’s leading us to release all that isn’t ours to hold.

This is a huge topic, really. Keep Your Love On, by Danny Silk, is a book I read recently that opened my eyes to even more truth on it. To give the Holy Spirit room to work in our lives we must let go of our need to feel in control and trust him, one small step at a time.