Are you a perfectionist?

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How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?       Galatians 3:3 NLT

As a teacher, I always had those students who were self-acclaimed perfectionists and proud of it.  Usually girls. If they came to trust me as an older mentor, I would try to have at least one conversation about the burden and futility of striving for perfection.  The way I see it, striving for perfection is a self-chosen ball and chain.

I often think about perfection on Mondays when I clean house. Showers gross me out the most.  No matter how much I would like, there is absolutely no way on earth to keep a shower as pristine as it appears when new.

I’ve learned to accept this reality and relax.  In fact, I often think of my sin like that shower stall. No matter how much I scrub the shower or my soul, I can’t eliminate sin. Knowing this fact really helps.  My rule for cleaning is always, ‘good enough’. Striving for a higher standard would eat up time I’d rather spend reading.

What does the Bible say about perfection?  Isn’t there a verse that goes, ‘Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect’? Yes!  Matthew records Jesus in 5:48 exhorting his listeners to do that very thing.

It’s only when we look at the Greek meaning of our English word ‘perfect’, do we understand what God means. Here are two synonyms:  complete, mature.

In fact, other verses that use this word ‘teleios’ employ it to describe divine things such as:

  • ‘God’s perfect law’
  • ‘when the perfect comes’ (obliquely, referring to Jesus)
  • ‘perfect tabernacle’
  • ‘perfect gift’
  • ‘perfect love’

“Okay,” you say, “so most of the references are about God and his perfect creation and gifting.  But what are we to do about that pesky Matthew verse about being as perfect as God?” 

Look back up to what Paul told the Galatians.  He was chastising them for trying to make THEMSELVES perfect.  To the contrary, our transformation or ‘perfection’ in Christ will not come by our own effort, but through the Spirit working in us. 

Paul gives us an example or picture of the Spirit at work as he exhorts us to desire the fruits of the spirit that simply emerge as we stay connected to Jesus, our Vine.  Although we don’t see ‘perfection or completion’ among the nine qualities, I think they describe Jesus, who is perfect.

If you’re not yet convinced of the futility for striving for perfection in everyday life AND/OR in your Christian character, I’ll leave the last word to Oswald Chambers:

“The one marvelous secret of a holy life lies not in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfections of Jesus manifest themselves in my mortal flesh. Sanctification is “Christ in you.”… Sanctification is not drawing from Jesus the power to be holy; it is drawing from Jesus the holiness that was manifested in Him, and He manifests it in me.”

So, you think you know her?

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Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

‘Ouch!’ her bracing remark pierced a wound I thought had healed.

I focused mostly on my hurt feelings that first day or two as I mulled over her words and what had prompted them.

Eventually, I saw them as part of a pattern in our past interactions.  From there, it was easy to conclude that her particular childhood environment and behaviors she had absorbed from family members had made her like this.  And so, I viewed my ‘analysis’ as conclusive.

Fast forward a couple of weeks.  God graciously brought new information from a different source. I learned about some of the pressures she’d been under. Compassion welled up in my heart.  How would I feel carrying around all ‘that’ on top of regular responsibilities?

Then just to make sure I didn’t let that perspective fade, God made sure to affirm it with Paul’s truth I read the other morning in his first letter to the Corinthians.

The fact is, I tend to judge people’s actions and assign them motives that I make up.  I know I’m probably wrong most of the time.

For example, a couple of months ago while shopping at Kroger I judged a man to be a thief.  His little child was eating a banana. I then saw him THROW AWAY the peel, right there in the produce section.  ‘Come on, Dad, that’s pure theft!  And what kind of example are you setting for your son?’

A few minutes later I rounded an aisle and saw a big Kroger sign offering free fruit to children as part as their corporate commitment to helping teach little ones good health habits. 

Humility and embarrassment set in.  So glad I didn’t open my mouth to that dad!

We NEVER know the complete story about someone.  Besides, who are we to judge their hearts?  Who are we even to assume we have the entire story?

As Oswald Chambers says – Stop having a measuring stick for other people. There is always at least one more fact, which we know nothing about, in every person’s situation. The first thing God does is to give us a thorough spiritual cleaning. After that, there is no possibility of pride remaining in us.”

Do you trust your eyes?

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My yoke or his yoke?

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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 NIV

I visited the bathroom too near early morning so that I couldn’t fall back asleep.  Instead, I lay awake thinking.

Over the past 10 days, I’ve been obsessing a bit on an old matter I thought I had already dealt with. It started like this.  The day after Christmas I met with a local Hispanic pastor whose church wants to offer ESL (English as a second language) classes as a ministry.  I’m very excited about this project since I know I can make a difference in some local women’s lives.  The Lord has given me years of experience teaching French and now English on line since I’ve been retired. I use the best method available, one that is based on research about how people acquire language. I don’t use the traditional tools of grammar pronunciation drills, but employ the intuitive approach of teaching with comprehensible input.  I describe it simply as ‘Mommy Talk’.  Nothing intellectual there.

It wasn’t the idea of starting up this ministry that kept me awake.  No.  But what happened, given this new endeavor, is that I resurrected the issue of creating content for my YouTube channel ‘English without Fear’. 

I initially began creating simple videos for English language learners in 2018, with the idea of turning it into a business after leaving the classroom.  Later, I realized I didn’t want to make this a money venture, but continued producing content as a way to ‘bless’ the language-learning community. Unfortunately, I started to feel ‘obligated’ to keep producing a weekly video. 

Throughout 2020 and 2021, I wavered back and forth about letting it go, because it felt burdensome, like a self-imposed ‘should’. Through counseling and much prayer, I closed the door on that project, producing my last video in early October of this past fall.

That is until I uploaded another one last week, the final week of 2021.  I justified going back to this activity by linking it with the forthcoming ESL classes. ‘My videos might be useful to my future ESL students!’, I reasoned.

But it’s been too much for me.  Not in terms of time or energy, but in emotional space.  Like a magnet, I have felt the irresistible pull to think about it, to plan the next episode. But my thoughts have gone back to being irrational. ‘My YouTube followers expect new content!’  

When I am honest with myself, creating these videos still feels like a task, a ‘half to’.  Not only do I not like feeling obsessed, I don’t like thinking about anything more than Jesus.  When other matters crowd out my meditations on the Lord, I feel drained.

So, this morning I journaled to Jesus: ‘I’m exhausted still struggling and debating ‘do I’ or ‘do I not’ make more videos? I feel my mental energy being sucked away from you, Lord. What do you want me to know?’

I then continued with Bible reading.  A few minutes later, I remembered something I had recently read in Oswald Chambers. He had advised waiting and not ‘doing’ whenever you felt doubt about a proposed course of action. That thought felt like a strong suggestion from Jesus.  So, I took it seriously and committed to wait, at least another week, before thinking about this question again.

Then came another thought.  Trevin Wax had quoted John Stott in a piece, “Go wherever your gifts will be most exploited for the Kingdom of God.”  That certainly affirmed my involvement teaching ESL to local Hispanic women in a church setting.

Finally, advice from my friend Mabel made its encore appearance in my conscious thoughts.  She had shared a two-fold very useful way for deciding where next to invest one’s energy. Ask yourself:

  • What do you love doing?
  • What can you do that no one else is doing?

That’s easy.  I DO enjoy helping people acquire language the natural and best way.  And no one else that I know of in Huntsville is teaching ESL this way to Hispanic gals.

But plenty of people around the world make video content in simple and slow English.  I think Jesus wants to keep me walking with him, bound closely by his lighter, tailor-made, energy-providing yoke, rather than the one I tend to craft for myself.

Incoming artillery barrage from Satan: You’re not doing enough!

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There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set you free. Romans 8:1-2 Berean Study Bible

Oh, the places we have lived and the friends we have made.  England, Virginia and North Carolina enriched us the most. We now live in Alabama. My former school colleagues, church friends, neighbors with whom I WANT to stay in contact now number in the 20s, I would imagine.  These are people for whom I still pray and feel close, but in different degrees. Deciding who is in my ‘inner circle’ has been challenging.  I have limited emotional energy and time to invest. I imagine that’s the same for you.

Add to those different groups of friends from our past, God has planted us in yet another community with new neighbors, church friends and colleagues at Mike’s office.

How have I organized those in whom I invest? There’s my mother-in-law with whom I spend 30 minutes twice weekly on a Zoom call, keeping up with her. Two grandkids I occasionally (depending on their schedules) teach either French or Spanish by Zoom. Then there are two close friends I’ve chosen to invest in. With one gal, I connect daily through Voxer, an asynchronous audio messaging platform.  My other regular friend and I leave lengthy video messages for each other once a week, using Marco Polo. They are the gals who are closest to my heart. 

Yet, I feel overwhelmed with how to ‘handle’ other friends. ‘Shoulds’ distract me and cause me guilt:  

  • I need to schedule a catch-up call with Jane
  • We should reach out to neighbors and get to know them over a meal
  • Martha is a young mom at church with whom I click, I should schedule a walk and talk.
  • I haven’t talked with my sister-in-law in a while; I should find a time soon to connect.

So, what’s the problem?  There is not enough time to schedule in all these people, given my other responsibilities. Plus, I feel guilty in admitting that these ‘shoulds’ feel like a burden.  The background music in my mind keeps playing the same-ole refrain, “Something is wrong with me that I don’t want to stay in touch with everyone; that’s selfish!”

This morning I woke up heavy with, “I don’t do enough to stay connected to people, past and present.”

Journaling my raw thoughts during my morning time with Jesus and my Bible always help me process what I’m feeling and thinking. The Holy Spirit always helps me sort through the yuk and bring me out into the light.

Here’s how once again, he came to my rescue. 

With relief, I wrote down exactly how I was feeling condemned and distracted.  Having finished reading the appointed scriptures for the day, I then opened up my Oswald Chambers app on my phone. The first whiff of freedom emerged. ‘Don’t worry anymore about yourself….’

Copying Oswald’s exhortation, I then wrote this conclusion: ‘Every time I start to think I’m not enough, recognize that I am focused on the wrong issue. Leave it alone and hop over to the most important issue: ‘Jesus, YOU did enough for me.  I am enough IN you.’

That triggered this idea: ‘What if I focused and meditated on your ‘enufness’, Jesus? Oh! Didn’t I recently read something about being sprung from prison?  Yes!  Here it is, from yesterday’s scripture:  Psalm 116:16 You threw open my prison door.

That truth set me to considering a daring suggestion that seemed to spring up from inside.  ‘What if I DIDN’T initiate contacts with my other old friends and new acquaintances here?  What if I just trusted the Holy Spirit to lead people to contact me if they want to catch up?  Could I DARE give that a try?  That would feel SO freeing!

But what about all the exhortations to ‘one another’ and love brothers and neighbors?’

God encouraged me by bringing Philippians 2:13 to mind. You know that statement Paul makes where he writes that it is God himself who gives us the desire to work for his good pleasure.

I looked up ‘desire’ in the Greek.  Glancing down at the various meanings, I dared to hope that this was the answer.  Desire can also be expressed as:

  • being gladly inclined toward something
  • taking delight and pleasure in doing XYZ

With mounting energy, I asked, ‘What excites me?’ I didn’t have to think.  The answer flooded my heart:

  • Writing! Having time each day to write energizes me.
  • Learning Spanish fills me with joy

You know, that line in Philippians clearly teaches that it is God who plants desires in us that conform to his purposes and good pleasure. ‘Could it be that simple? To follow my God-given desires, especially this urge to write?  Is my craft, my calling to express myself beautifully in order to connect and encourage others? Is that why the Holy Spirit daily brings me fresh ideas that link his word with my life?

And the Spanish, well that’s clear. The absolute joy and pleasure of growing more proficient. For years, I taught French to adolescents. Now, I get to expand my areas of fluency, giving me entrée into a different world with fascinating people. Describing my language acquisition process and what I feel inside as a second-language learner thrills me.’

I put my pen down and closed my journal to get ready for my exercise class. Throughout the day, I have been letting these ideas sink in.  I think I’m on the right track, for not even three weeks ago one of my friends reminded me that the Holy Spirit corrects with gentleness.  He doesn’t condemn.

More than just a solution to ‘what do I do with all the people from my past’, God confirmed what he has called me to do.  Satan apparently likes to suck away our joy and burden us with duties that God maybe hasn’t appointed. I’m quicker to recognize Satan’s ploys, that shame-producing condemnation together with distracting thoughts.

Return to your rest, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you! Psalm 116:7 Berean Study Bible.

I’ll let you know what happens, as I leave to the Lord my other friends and acquaintances. I believe I can trust him to let me know when I should engage.

Jesus really wants us to be care-free!

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I have gone back to reading Oswald Chambers’ devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.  A few years ago, someone gifted me with Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. So, I put Chambers’ book aside.  But a friend quoted him a few months ago. I dug out a copy and have so enjoyed and been challenged rereading his thoughts.

This morning I copied down a Chambers’ teaching: “Worrying means we don’t think God can look after the practical details of our lives and it is never anything else that worries us” (May 23)

That admonition ties together today’s reflections about worry and relying on Jesus.

**

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5 ESV

Being an ‘ezer’ to my husband is a serious responsibility.  Yet, I know God has assigned me to be Mike’s helpmate. I pray a lot, though still succumb to fretting over possible ‘wrong’ advice.

Mike had been experiencing frustration at work. So, I encouraged him to seek other local jobs in his field. Boeing had an opening.  He applied and Monday was offered the position at a salary way more than he even asked for. All along we prayed for God’s wisdom. But, when I suggested that he let his boss know about the offer, we moved out on a limb of faith, being unsure of the reaction the email would spark. Would he write back: ‘Good luck and in touch!’ or something worse like, ‘After all we have invested in you, you search out another job!!!!’

Brad did not respond the day Mike pushed ‘send’ on his email. It wasn’t until the following day that he connected with Mike. But Mike did not let me know until he came home.  In suspense that lasted until early afternoon, I wrestled with doubts and fears. “Father, did I ill-advise Mike?” Peace came only after throwing myself on God’s sovereign control of even my ‘wrong’ decisions.

Being a wife stretches my faith!

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Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Philippians 4:5 NET

I keep re-reading this teaching.  Like you, I am aware of the many cares and burdens that loved ones have. If God is sovereign, then these problems are planned for the good of His people. And He alone gets to define ‘good’!

How are we to handle suffering?  By casting our ‘unsolvable’ burdens on Him.  We specifically ask His help and then hand over the matters.  That means we are CARE-free.  Freed from cares that are too much for us, those situations for which we have no visible resources.

Our mental space then is freed up to reflect God’s desire: ‘Let your gentle carefreeness, which is due to Jesus’ nearness, be evident to all’ (my translation).

I can follow Jesus this day, serving others in love, doing my assigned tasks BECAUSE I know who this Jesus is. He is none other than the loving, faithful, sovereign Creator and Lord of the universe.

If He, the Almighty One, is handling my issues, no worries. But help me, Holy Spirit! It’s far easier to know how I am to handle life’s issues, than to follow through.

“Far as the curse is heard” – applying Oswald Chambers

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First – here is Oswald Chambers’ post for 13 December – I’ve cut just a few sentences to make it shorter.

“Men ought always to pray, and not to faint” Luke 18:1

You cannot intercede if you do not believe in the reality of the Redemption;  (otherwise – my word) you will turn intercession into futile sympathy with human beings…… In intercession you bring the person, or the circumstance that impinges on you before God until you are moved by His attitude towards that person or circumstance. ……..

Our work lies in coming into definite contact with God about everything, and we shirk it by becoming active workers. We do the things that can be tabulated but we will not intercede. ……

The thing to watch in intercession is that no soul is patched up, a soul must get through into contact with the life of God. Think of the number of souls God has brought about our path and we have dropped them! When we pray on the ground of Redemption, God creates something He can create in no other way than through intercessory prayer.

My application –

Reading this exhortation to pray on the basis of the redemption made me realize how SHALLOW are my prayers.  Normally I pray, “Dear God, please bless Sally and help her with her busy day.”

That’s a wimpy prayer.  Come on, Maria, you can do better. Put some muscle in that prayer! Pray like you mean it!  Here are the two options, depending on my friend’s status with God:

  • Lord, you have paid the price to rescue Sally from being under the curse of God’s justifiable wrath.  She now has peace with God and access to His throne and you as her heavenly intercessor. Awaken her awareness of all the spiritual blessings and promises of future grace at her disposal because of the work you did at the cross.  Help her to remember THIS TREASURE. Remind her of your promise to provide all the grace she needs for each need this busy day.

Or for a friend who is not yet a believer

  • Lord, thank you for the painful need (whatever the circumstances) in Sally’s life.  Continue to make her aware of her inability to handle life on her own.  Open her eyes to the real and present danger of living under the curse of God’s wrath.  May she SEE Jesus and realize that through his death on the cross, he absorbed the judgment due her.  May she embrace and receive that act on her behalf as the most amazing gift of all.  May she then treasure her new relationship with God and learn to come frequently and easily to your throne with each detail of her life.  May she learn EARLY that she is not meant to handle life on her own.  Thank you for this circumstance in her life that you are using to bless her.

Please pray that I may care enough about my friends and family members to invest this kind of time and energy in praying for them.  And pray for me this way!

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