Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Pit of Perfectionism

I am a closet perfectionist. Those who have been to my home or my former classroom might raise their eyebrows at this statement. They have observed my constant battle with clutter. Dust tends to gather when I am not paying attention. Details elude me. But while I might never pass a white glove test, I am a perfectionist in many other ways.

When I sew on a quilt or scrapbook a page, I want it done exactly right. I agonize over my writing, trying to make each word meaningful and well-said. As I prepare for a speaking opportunity, I struggle for weeks over the content. Nothing outside of perfection will do.

Excellence is the battle cry for many Christians. While this desire is well-intended, we must be cautious. Because trying to live out "perfection" can lead to a performance mentality: making our accomplishments the focus in our relationship with God.

Saul was all about performance. When Samuel confronted him on his disobedience to a specific command from the Lord, at first he denied any wrong doing. Then he tried blaming it on the men in his command and justified his actions with a spiritual motive. Finally, Saul admitted he had sinned. But the next words out of his mouth belied the true attitude of his heart: "I have sinned... because I feared the people and listened to their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the Lord." (1 Samuel 15)

Samuel responded to Saul's disingenuous confession with a stinging retort: "I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel." God saw through the performance right to his hard heart.

We are tempted to think God's opinion of us rests on what we do or do not do. This is probably because many of our earthly relationships are performance-based. Others judge who we are by things like how well we perform our job, the behavior of our children, or how involved we are in ministry. And our perception of what they think of us determines how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to them. Unfortunately, we try the same tactics with God.

It's not what God wants from us.

"You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it," David wrote after confessing his sin. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17)

God never has nor ever will base our relationship with Him on our performance. The relationship began when we first trusted in the grace of God for our salvation-a gift we could never deserve or earn. Yet, ironically, as we continue in that relationship, we tend to sink back into relying on our accomplishments. What we are doing for Him quickly becomes the focus. This can be a dangerous place to be. It can become all about us and puts the burden for winning God's approval back on our shoulders. No longer is the relationship about God's grace and mercy.

What He wants from us is not our performance. A performance merely hints that we are self-sufficient and deserving of His love. Instead, He wants us to acknowledge our weaknesses and confess our sin. He wants us to approach Him in brokenness. He never loved us because of what we have accomplished. He loved us and continues to love us because of who He is.

When we quit trying to impress God and embrace our helplessness, we are drawn back to the original relationship with Him. We are needy. He is sufficient. That's when the miraculous starts to happen: his power is displayed through our very deficiencies. We are ultimately more usable to Him. We have climbed out of the pit of performance mode. And the air at the top is clean and sweet.

God created out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.
- Martin Luther

This is the latest version of my weekly newsletter, The Dogwood Digest. To receive this devotional email, please use the link on the right of this page. Thanks!

No comments: