Perfectionism: Not Accepting Who and What We Are

May 7, 2018

Sometimes I come across a piece that I love and really want to share. My sister shared this with me today from Pastor Rob de Wetter of the Snowmass Chapel in Colorado, I hope it blesses you.  Pastor Rob Gibson

The Spirit Thread

Have you ever heard a voice in your head that is hard to ignore and lets you know that something is up.  The voice that says something is missing in your life or that things could be better? Well if you have, it means not only that you are part of the human race, but serves as a reminder that something is up and going on within.

Such a voice can mean a variety of things.  It can mean that God is trying to get our attention.  That we are not using our gifts to their potential or that our lives are out of balance in some way.  That we need to get healthy through what we eat and how we exercise. That we need to work on communicating with other people more effectively or constructively.  That we need to spend more time with our children or aging parents. That we have some unresolved stuff going on inside. It might even mean we would benefit from some therapy to work through some painful issue or struggle.

But when we hear that voice in our head that tells us that something is missing, we had better pay careful attention and be very cautious before taking action, because acting on such a feeling without checking it out can get us into a heap of trouble.  You see, sometimes when we feel that something is missing, there really is nothing missing at all. Sometimes we feel this way because we have caught a very nasty bug. And this bug will lead us astray and mess us up if we are not attentive. This bug has a name.  Perfectionism.

A quick caveat before continuing.  Having goals, seeking higher standards, going after success, striving for financial security, desiring to be more healthy, wanting more of something in some area of life are obviously not necessarily bad things and may not reflect perfectionism.  Such things may simply reflect we are motivated and reflect our knowledge we need to work on something to bring about a positive change. And I hope we each are motivated in various areas of our daily lives. But motivation and positive change is not what I am talking about.

With this caveat in mind, however, I do believe that some of the times when we think that something is missing in life it is because we are consumed by perfectionism in some area of our life.   We think we are not making enough money. We feel like our current partner is not the right one. We live in a bad climate and are certain that life in a warmer one would be naturally better. We begin to blame others or ourselves and then we act.

We switch jobs to make more money, change partners to obtain greater bliss, or move to the warmer place expecting that 15 degrees will make all the difference.  But often when we are in the new job, infatuated with the new partner, or basking in the sun, we discover that the nagging feeling that something is missing is still with us.  And the perfection seeking cycle repeats itself again and again.

As a result, take classes, read books, and chat with friends in the exercise class looking for ways to fix what seems out of whack, and our search continues.  And I believe that when we think something is missing, it may very well be the call to not change a thing, but rather to give others and ourselves a break and simply accept who and what we are.  Sometimes when we believe we are falling short in some way, it really means we need to lighten up. Brennan Manning in his book the “Ragamuffin Gospel,” says, “The trouble with our ideals is that if we live up to all of them, we become impossible to live with.”

Then there is another person who wrote, “We are not perfect, but neither is there anyone out there more perfect than we are.  What a pleasure this realization is. We are not more and no less than wonderfully ordinary, imperfect mortals. So why not give [others] and ourselves a break?  Why not celebrate our blemishes, our imperfections, as the very qualities that make us human?…We all have a fault line, and usually one with many branches…Instead of apologizing, we can choose to enjoy ourselves just as we are, no upgrades necessary.”

But there is another problem with perfectionism with other troubling consequences.  When we seek perfection, we not only diminish others, and ourselves, but we end up closing the door in God’s face.  When we go for perfection, we stop looking for God, because who needs God when we believe that ultimate power and perfection is to be found within.

When we seek our own perfection, we become blinded to what God can do in our lives, and cease entertaining the idea that God at times does amazingly new and creative things in unpredictable new ways.

I love what Brennan Manning writes.  He said, ““When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.’”

He goes onto write, “While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift.”

One person who came to understand all of this was St. Paul.  Paul was born into a Jewish family. He was sent to a famous rabbinical school in Jerusalem.  He was immersed in the deep study of scripture. By the year 35, Paul was a self-righteous Pharisee and he was rabidly anti-Christian.  Paul’s mission in life was to eliminate and punish his fellow Jews who were followers of Jesus. But one day Paul met the Risen Jesus and everything changed.

Paul then knew first hand that life is not about our perfection, but about God’s.  He was clear that faith has less to do with getting it right and everything to do with God’s grace.  Paul also understood that when people strive for perfection, it inhibits them from accepting their own weaknesses and their need for a power greater than themselves. Self-prescribed perfect people don’t understand the need for a savior.

And what often upset people about Paul, was when he told the people that if they would stop taking themselves so seriously, they might just start taking God more seriously.

Growing up in the desert Southwest, I was exposed to lots of Native American literature, art, and rugs. The Navajos are fascinating people and one of the most interesting characteristics of Navajos is that they frequently did not complete things, whether it was a basket, a blanket, a song, or a story.  It is not because they were lazy, it was because they never wanted anything to be too perfect.

If something was too close ended or perfect, they believed it cramped the spirit of the creator and sapped the energy of life away.  When Navajos created anything, they often would leave little gaps or imperfections in their work. To them, perfection was suffocation.

It is amazing what Navajos did when they made beautiful blankets.  When creating them, they frequently left a slight imperfection in the weaving.  Often this took the form of a single thread that originated from the center of the blanket and extended all the way to the edge.  The Navajos called this imperfection in their blankets a spirit thread or spirit outlet. They believed such a thread gives the creator room to breathe and to create and serves as a reminder that only God is perfect.

Perhaps that is how God designed us.  Beautiful, yet imperfect. And maybe God made us this way so that we would have room for Him.  Room for Him to act in our lives. Room to create, to transform, to guide, to lead, and to heal. Room not so much for predictability, but surprise.

Maybe He created us as beautiful, yet imperfect beings so that we would hopefully come to the place that we realize that we need a savior.  And maybe He created us as beautiful, yet imperfect so that we would learn to give other people a break and to lighten up with our expectations.

As I wrap up today, I’d like to invite us each to do something.  And that is anytime we hear a voice in our head telling us that something is missing, perhaps we can pause for a moment and think about the fact that you and I both are like a Navajo blanket. Beautiful, yet imperfect, just as God made us.

Like those blankets, we too have a spirit thread coming from the center of who we are. A thread that reminds us not only of who we are, but who it is that put us together.  I pray that that that thread, our imperfections, help us remember that Jesus Christ is not finished with us yet, nor anyone else who annoys us with their imperfections.

And let us all remember as Brennan Manning wrote, “Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.”

Christ Died For Our Hidden Pride

by: Pastor Josh Harbin

This past Sunday I preached on humility and how it plays such an important role in the Christian life, especially as we begin to use our gifts of faith in the church (see Romans 12:1-8).

I touched on the idea that pride could be hidden in our lives. Most of the time when I think about pride my mind immediately moves to thinking more of my self than I should. However, what if pride could also be rooted in thinking too little of oneself?

Getting Personal

At many points in my life, I have allowed self-loathing thoughts to creep into my mind and wreak havoc. These thoughts include, but are not limited to: “These people don’t need me, they are just fine the way they are”, “I just have accepted that I can’t…and I’m ok with that”, “I’m fine on my own”, “No one understands”, “There is no sense in trying to do it again, I don’t need that kind of pain in my life”. There have been days that I was so worried about whether or not people thought I was enough, that I just wanted to stay in bed. These thoughts have been painful, and have even lead to depression.

How are these thoughts prideful though? I am certainly NOT thinking more highly of myself. In fact, I’m thinking just the opposite. I am thinking LESS of myself. But is that the point of humility?

The Rule of Opposites

You see, I think we often over-simplify life and follow the rule of opposites. For example, the antonym of kindness is mean-spirited, therefore if kindness is helping someone across the street, then tackling them to the curb would be mean. Right? UNLESS you were saving them from being hit by an oncoming car.

Same with pride, we often think that in order to combat pride (thinking more highly of ourselves) we should do the opposite (think less of ourselves). Now while this may seem like a good idea on the surface, it is predominately unhealthy. C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Screwtape Letters”, reminds us that this type of thinking is often the starting point for a more pride-filled life, “Self-contempt can be made the starting-point for contempt of other selves, and thus for gloom, cynicism, and cruelty.”

Pride hides in the shadows of self-contempt. This inward turning is not only unhealthy; it is sin against God. We were not created to worship ourselves; we were made to worship God. To do anything other than our intended purpose is against the creator’s plan. Our hearts are “idol factories” and they are always seeking something to idolize. When we become self-deprecating, self-loathing, or even generally inwardly focused, we begin the process of making an idol of self.

Worship is the Antidote.

Scripture calls us to idolize Christ (Exodus 20:3-5). He is worthy of our idolization (Psalm 145:3). God worship is the antidote to our desire problem. Pastor Louie Giglio states that “Worship is our response both personal and corporate, to God for who He is and what He has done; expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live”. The worship of God should be the sound track of our lives. We live, eat, breathe, sleep, work, and play for something every day, and that something is Jesus Christ. We find our value and our worth in him (Gen. 1:27; 1 Cor. 6:19-20). Worship isn’t just something we do (like singing); it’s a posture we have. In every activity we engage in we must be fully submitted to Christ. This posture is total dependence on God, seeing every moment as a gift from above. There is no room for self-loathing in from a position of sold out God-worship. Self-pride and worship of God cannot co-exist; one always trumps the other.

Our worship of God is magnified by the reality that Christ died for our pride. God did not want to be separated from us. He knew that our self-critical, self-deprecating, self-exalting, self-focused souls needed renewal. He knows that we will never find joy by looking inward, but gave us a way to look upward. But first, Christ would take all of our pride upon himself, and carry it to the cross, dying with the weight of our sin on him. This act of love is the representation of true humility. It is now by the blessing of the Holy Spirit that our minds can be renewed, our boasting can turn to the cross, and our joy can be found in Christ. God is the author of all good things, and He loved and valued us so much that he calls us his sons and daughters. We are made in the image of the most high God. As beloved creatures of an almighty God, we have access to forgiveness and glory through the cross. Christ died for your hidden pride. Lay it down and recognize your value. 

Practical Application:

Meditate this week: Isaiah 26:8 “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

Sing to Lord this week: Find a quiet place and sing to the Lord the song of your heart. Don’t think about anyone but him. Give it all you got!

Pray & Remember this week: Remember that Christ died for your pride. He died so that your pride could never separate you from God. Get on your knees and spend time thanking God for this mercy that you get to live out.

Share this week: When God is doing something in your heart, don’t hide it. Find someone to share it with this week. Strike up a conversation with a co-worker, a friend, a teammate, or even a stranger. Let your love for Christ pour out fearlessly. He is why we live. To God be the glory!



Part 2 – The Patience to know myself

by Rob Gibson   May 19, 2016

Post #5 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical… and daily life.

Inward Discovery: Illusive Patience part 2  … The Patience to know myself and God, deeply. 

So I’m not fixed and that tests my patience. I want to have it all together, not be broken, make mistakes, hurt others, sin, feel like an idiot, need to apologize and, basically, experience my humanity. Pride is at the root of my impatience, but it’s not so easy to unroot pride. It is coy and often covered in false humility, especially as we learn appropriate Christian behavior.

The question for me is deeper than pride. Where is my pride anchored? The anchor I believe is a distorted sense of value and worth – a worth tied to “getting it right,” getting everything right!

Intellectually I know it’s impossible, but the heart is not easily convinced. I know my value and worth is rooted and anchored in Christ, because we are made in His image, made new in Christ, claimed as His own and given His glory (Gen. 1:26, Eph. 1:3-14, 2 Cor. 5:17, John 17:22). I get it and I don’t. I’m better at explaining it to others than living out of this truth myself, because I want to prove my worth by getting it right!

If I did get it right, I wouldn’t need Jesus. I’d be independently OK, not dependent on Jesus forgiveness, love or the sustaining power of the Spirit. The strange blessing is my brokenness cries out, becomes too obvious to conceal, and the elephant in the room is revealed.

I bumped into one of the elephants this week. Our Elders were together planning a worship service. I offered a part. It was thoughtfully received, and given a massage in order to improve it. The idea was supported, I was supported, and offered helpful enhancement. This is beautiful collaboration, unless subconsciously my pride, my sense of worth is perceived to be under attacked.

The false-self appears, the “right one” who must get it right (I’d call it the “prideful one” but it is deeper and more nuanced than pride alone). The “right one” screams “your value is at stake, you must be right Rob.” This unconscious voice was playing. So very subtly, with good behavior as a cover, the false self was fighting for worth, my way. I was fighting for acceptance and value, because the story in my head is I’m not acceptable or worthy if I don’t “get it right.”

The reality is these men do accept me, not as a perfect man, but as a broken man who gives it a good go. It’s the false self, the lies within, that say otherwise. But the false self is never satisfied, never accepting of our humanity and brokenness and consequently, will never get for me (or you) what I really want.

Others joined our discussion and agreed with the modifications, so now it’s obvious, the changes are good, the fight must be forfeited for the moment, externally. I kindly agree and it’s resolved, right? No, the false-self isn’t satisfied. I leave disturbed, unaware the false self has been so impatiently active. I also sensed a dividing wall coming up between me and these men. I hate barriers, especially with brothers I deeply value and love.

So I leave to participate in a prayer meeting with 40 other pastors, feeling this dis-ease, feeling some conviction of internal hypocrisy and a disconnection from my brothers. So I ask, “God why am I feeling crappy about that meeting?” The inaudible answer comes, “you’re fighting to be right, you’re fighting for your value and worth, you’re fighting for something I’ve already given you.”

Unbelievable, an unnecessary fight! An internal fight had not gotten what it demanded, but rather had distanced me from trusted friends and constructed a relational wall. That’s what false selves do, they build walls that too easily become prisons to die in. There is a way out.

A way out is patience with my humanity. That means the patience to be wrong, patience to be a man with limits, patience to be in process, patience to be molded by the voice of the Spirit and God’s goodness to me from others. Patience to know and accept myself, and accept God’s redeeming love in my brokenness.

Next week, a few more thoughts on the imprisoning false self, the way out, and the really redeeming way the walls came down in this story.