Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Holiness vs Perfectionism

I want to be perfect.  I'm really not kidding.  I expect perfection.  Of myself.  In. All. Areas.

The area I expect perfection in the most is in the way I follow God.  My path toward God and with him is often a meandering one.  I'm okay with that.  As long as I'm meandering in a way that means I'm intently focused on him.  I'm not devout in areas that other Christians are.  I'm much harder on myself on areas that most people totally ignore.  

The problem with this is that I'm suffocating myself.  I'm smothering my own spirit.  Because along the way I have forgotten about my own humanity.  I want so much to follow Christ that I forgot that I am a person doing so.  I am not Jesus, although he was fully man, he was also fully God.  I clearly am not fully god.  I am a person, and the thing about being a person is that God created people, in His image.  He doesn't want me to be him (to be a god), he just wants me to be like him (who already is God).  And since he already did the work of making me like himself, I just need to do the letting go of leaning into who that is.  

I'm so stubbornly determined to do "it" right that I have lost all forgiveness for myself. I begin to believe that because I can't forgive myself that God doesn't either.  Watch out, there's some heresy.

None of it is true folks and the rest from my perfectionism comes at the feet of Jesus, when I say "I can't do this."  I want to sin.  I want to make justice happen.  I want force my will and control my situation.  I want to be the perfect scone baking, house cleaning, seminary studying, working, never yelling, impeccably writing, always praying, pillar of a mom. Thereby making an idol out of myself and who I want to be.  I want my kids to not struggle with the transition back and forth from their father's house every week.  I don't want to be angry at anyone ever, except myself for failing, that's allowed.

But I don't know where I got the idea that any of this was possible?  Where did I get the notion that being angry is always unholy?  God says repeatedly that he was angry.  Where did I get the idea that perfection was attainable? I'm not sure where I got those ideas but I will say that it is a slippery slope the one that says our emotions are bad, sinful and we should not feel them.  Silence your well deserved anger and you will find your ability to find happiness and contentment slipping away.  Squelch that notion inside you that let's go of perfection and you'll find yourself running constantly.  To silence the things that make us human is to lop off parts of us that make us like God.

Hear that again - To silence the things that make us human is to cut out the parts of you that make you like God.

Holiness comes in likeness and communion with God.  It is impossible to commune with God and others with as a false version of yourself.  When you aren't living in harmony with the reality of who you are, you are no longer yourself.  Have you ever tried to have a relationship with someone that lives behind a mask?  Those people that constantly talk about weather, sports, cars or what color they're painting their kitchen.  Those aren't people, they are polite versions of robots masquerading as people.  God has no desire for that kind of relationship.  It's not a relationship.  It's endless small talk.  Small talk makes me what to stab myself in the eye with a fork.

Cut out that part of you that feels angry with another?  Silence it, because you think it's not godly and you think it's bad that it's there.  You've just cut out a piece of yourself that God made.  How many slices do you think it will take before the lion's share of you is gone?  And then what is left of you?  A polite version of a socially acceptable, Christian robot. That's not what God wants.  He wants you.  All those broken parts.  The parts that scream at the top of your lungs at the injustice of life.  The part that eats ice cream instead of going running when you feel unattractive.  The part that harbors that emotion you're scared to admit you have.  Or really isn't sure at all what you believe.

There's not a mask that God will accept.  He's not being a jerk.  He wants the whole, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Once I begin thinking that I'm not handling life perfectly and that I'm not even handling my response to life perfectly I begin analyzing all of my responses, everything I'm doing or saying in life.  I begin thinking and over thinking and thinking some more about how I should or should not be responding, how I should or should not feel about what's going on, what I am or am not doing.  After that quickly comes the part of me that questions every decision I make, questions every decision I have made, losing the anchor of my life.  And then the steamroller that follows is depression.

No wonder I get depressed, I just systematically analyzed every part of my life, the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, relational and physical.  And based on my totally unrealistic analysis I found myself lacking in those areas.  And then the final nail in the coffin of my self assessment is that if I find myself falling this short, how much farther short am I really falling in the eyes of God.

This sucks people and I hate it.  But now I'm aware that I'm doing it.  I have barely slept last weekend.  I couldn't tell you want had me up at night.  Even when I felt safe I still was awake.  I call it haunting the house.  I feel like a ghost as I walk from room to room wondering what I'm doing there.  I know why am there but I imagine if ghosts were real they would wonder as they floated (assuming ghosts don't walk) why they were in someone's house? As I haunt, I wonder, why am I here God?  Why am I awake?  What am I allowing to haunt me?  Is there someone I need to pray for?   Or am I just hungry?  Sometimes it's just that simple.  Although often there's not enough clarity of thought in the middle of the night to get answers to any of those questions and I'm left exhausted, disillusioned and facing a long day in a busy life.

Sleeplessness and perfectionism aren't things I'm alone in.  I remember waking up as a child to my mother having been up all night making bread and scrubbing floors.  But I am perhaps alone in my condemnation of myself at such an unattainable standard.  Perhaps if I can find some grace today for myself I will find some sleep tonight.  Perhaps while holding the reality of my anger, in balance with my less than perfectly svelte self, who is serving fish sticks tonight for dinner, I can find the beauty in my imperfection.  I can stand back and instead of analyzing my shortcomings I can see how those fish sticks gave me more time to help my eldest with homework, allowed me to get a bedroom clean or that my motherly curves are just that, curves and not an indictment on my character.

As I come to peace with my imperfections I see that they are part of the image of God within me.  If I can accept them God is free to work through me as a whole person, not just the whitewashed parts of me I think he wants.   He rejoices in my acceptance of myself, because I am honoring his creation.  I cannot pick out of the parts of me I hate, insult them and call myself names without insulting a creation of God's.

"God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Gen 1:27

I'm going to rest in my likeness to God, as far fetched as that seems.  He created us, to be like him.  He says so, I believe that.  And because I've staked my life on following him, I must think he's pretty cool.  Therefore, I can't be all that bad either.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Restoring my faith.

Restoring my faith.

There is little that men can do that will restore my faith in their half of our species.  I've held a pretty low opinion of men as a whole for quite some time now.  That coupled with my reentry into singlehood hasn't done much to bolster my opinion.  I knew this about myself and wasn't sure quite what do with it.  After all I'm raising two men to be.  Simply saying I wasn't going to raise boys to become men like a lot of men I know isn't enough.  I needed a more solid foundation.

As I am known to do I started observing, trying to see what I can that is good in the men around me.  Watching for men that I knew that who were faithful partners, strong shoulders for the loved ones and worked hard to ethically provide for the families.  Not looking for perfection, just consistent good character.

Oddly enough I didn't have to look far.  My love recently said to me 'your father, he's a good man'.  I will confess to you that my step-dad and I have had our share of rough spots.  We didn't talk for a solid year and once we began talking again, it took another solid year until we were on stable ground.  I'll cop to most of that breakdown being my fault.  Although he could have handled my words differently, I started the riff and I own that.  He could have continued it much longer but once the opportunity presented to heal our relationship, he began working on it with me.  I'm sure neither one of us have done much looking back now that we are in relationship again.

Often now my ex has a habit of throwing that riff in my father's face, pointing to it and accusing me of all kinds of horrible things, as if he was totally uninvolved, uh huh sure.  My dad stays calm, he knows we're on solid ground now.  He knows that my ex is just operating as the enemy is known to do, he's being an accuser.  That doesn't come from a place that benefits any of us.  So dad once again shows his character pushes those hurtful words aside and comes to a place of peace with it.

Dad has been there with me for every single court date that I asked him to be there.  He gets up at the crack of dawn is at my house/apartment or wherever I need him to be by 7 am and drives us there.  He pays for parking, doesn't say much and stands by my side.  Dad and I might not have deep conversations while this is happening, but he's with me.  He's showing that he loves me, he's showing his character.  He's being a great dad.  I appreciate it much more than he can know and we joke about needing to have better father daughter dates.

Reflecting on this has bolstered my opinion of one man but what does it do for me in regards to the rest of the male population?  To be honest, not much, he's my dad, he's supposed to be good me.  Of course lots of dads aren't but he is and that's great.  This lead me to more observation and more introspection on my part.  Outside of my dad and men his age, what about men my age?  Are there guys out there that stand by their families at age 26 or 36 or 46?  Are there men in those age categories that stand by their spouses and partners, are faithful, love God and others and work hard for their families?  Are there men that have been with their partners for 5 or 10 years and still love their wives?  Still enjoy them and don't regret having married them?  Maybe a part of me believes that it gets easier if you've stuck it out for 20 or 30 years not to regret having married your spouse.  But how do you feel after 5 or 10 when the kids are still little and there's mess and noise and no alone time and sex has to be scheduled to actually happen?

Again more looking, and again I didn't need to look far.  I found my next door neighbor up early in the morning loving his wife and family well.  They're having a birthday party for their 5 year old.  He was up early scrubbing down lawn chairs and doing whatever else was on the to do list.  Pulling his weight in the family, not leaving the burden solely on the shoulders of his beautiful Brazilian wife.  Yet in the middle of him doing that he had time to say hello and was not grumbling as he served those he loves.  His attitude was simple, this was what had to be done for the party, so I'm going to help because this is for someone I love.

Perhaps it's sad that simple things like helping with a child's birthday party is what it takes to restore my faith in men, because women throw parties like that for their kids all the time.  I know I did it, without the help of my ex.  He actually preferred to 'pay' other people to help with our children's birthday parties then to show up and scrub a lawn chair or two himself.  It's sad that a little thing like that is so noticed by me, but it's noticed because of my story.  Where going to get a gallon of milk was too much of an inconvenience for my ex or grabbing diapers was not his job or going to the ER with me as I was miscarrying was a burden and made me his cross to bear.  He always showed up in time to take the credit for it happening, but for us he was a day late and a dollar short.  As a man he was weighed, measured and found wanting.

But I am learning, there are lots of men out there that do these things and much more for their loved ones.  There are men that will be measured and be able to stand tall, knowing that them being there for their families is a treasure.  Not a burden.  Some of them do these things because they believe that it is their job as a member of their family.  And some do it just because they love the people that they share a house with, whether it's their job or not.  As I type this, my love is outside cutting my grass, not because it's his job, this isn't his house, just because he loves me and it needs to be done and he's able to do it.

Little by little I'm allowing my heart to open up to the possibility that men of character exist, that the men that appear to have character can maintain it over the long haul.  That's the zenith of trust for me.  But in my heart I still have trouble believing that people can maintain their character in the long range.  In the battle ground of my heart I'm always looking, waiting for those who I think may be good to prove that they really are not.

But I'm trying to remind myself that my dad has been going to court with me for over a year. That's a pretty long time.  Chances are if he were going to bail on me, he'd have done it by now.  Chances are if my neighbor Rob was going to stop loving his family he'd have stopped before now.  Their oldest just celebrated his 5th birthday, I bet he's scrubbed a lot of lawn chairs in that time.

In God's Word there are a lot of stories of people who start out in strong faith and character but fail to finish well.  Think about David, his downfall with Bathsheba and the glossing over the rape of his daughter by his son. Not a well finished life.  Not character that lasted right up until the last breath.  Or how about Abraham passing off Sarah as his sister, harloting her out so to speak just to save his own neck.  Again, not character and faith that lasted when tested.

I just want to know where are the people in this life that can hold to a strong moral foundation till the end of their time here on earth.  There are those who never start with a moral foundation of an substance, but of those of us who do, how many of us finish with it still in tact?  Not perfection mind you.  Just a consistent striving to do what is right, to be faithful and loving, and honorable, to find good work and to do it.

I have faith in God that those of us who screw up are allowed to repent and redeem our lives at any point, but I also believe that we pay for those screw ups, whether on this side of heaven or the next.  The thing about Character is that generally it is consistent.  I am not usually surprised when someone I know 'fails' again, because it's the same thing they've done in the past.  I'm more than likely not going to make it through a week of eating well because I rarely make it through a week of eating well.  My character is consistent, and lacking in that area.  So the challenge, the faith that I'm lacking is that the good parts of our character are just as consistent as the bad.  We can hold onto those, we don't all degenerate and if we do it's by choice.

I'm thankful to be able to choose to surround myself with people who make the choice to have good character. And to know it's a choice for them as it is a choice for me.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Prayer Request.

Two of my classmates are in the hospital.  One is there with a heart attack, and is recovering.  The other was in a motorcycle accident over the weekend and had a leg amputated this morning, he's still in ICU.  I have nothing to ask for but prayer for them, their recovery and their families.

Attending seminary is a little different than any school I have gone to before, we love each other, we know each other's stories and share connection.  My heart is grieved by their pain and wants to help.  But I feel immobilized, like I don't know what to do next, so I pray and ask you to do the same.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Will God Give you more than you can handle?

Quite possibly.  This guy nails it.

Morning Rush

Little peak into my morning today:

1) an early morning brisk walk, I enjoyed it; my recently sprained ankle tolerated it.

2) make breakfast, lunches, dress children, down coffee

3) a theology lesson with my middle about the fact that God doesn't take sides

4) dress Nina argue with her about wearing three shirts at once. Go to brush her teeth and find out she has locked the bathroom door and pulled it closed. 

5) give up on the teeth and put everyone in the car. 

6) drive to school when one of my children informs me Jesus told them that Eowyn locked the bedroom door. Another theology conversation about Jesus not usually informing us about other peoples errors rather he talks to us about our own

Good thing I'm going to seminary. Seize the day people :-)