Being Perfect

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence." 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV)

There's a moment I dread when going to the doctor for a check-up. It's not putting on that tissue paper rectangle they mistakenly call a "gown." It's not having my finger pricked for blood tests - though I'm really squeamish about that. It's the moment right after the nurse finishes her questions, grabs her clip board, and announces the doctor will be in to see me shortly. Pulling the door closed behind her, she leaves me alone with it.

I already know what it's going to say about me; I've read it before. It's going to say that I don't measure up. That I'm not reaching my potential. That I don't equal my ideal. It's the height/weight chart that declares the perfect weight for my height – and I'm several pounds away.

It extends no mercy. It offers no grace. It makes no allowances for how old I am, how many babies I've birthed, or the fact that my husband can eat three plates of food every night without gaining an ounce. It demands perfection.

A few years ago I heard a verse that seemed to be the scriptural equivalent of the height/weight chart. A single verse to measure my worth against, and feed my expectations for perfection: "But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48, NIV)

I figured this verse justified dressing my family in matching sweaters, in the middle of July, to take the Christmas card photo because I'd just gotten the perfect haircut. I figured it warranted pricey tooth whitening treatments because I drink coffee and tea, and it shows. And I figured it would be my defense when I drove my family nuts about deep-cleaning the entire house because my new friend said she might stop by.

While the verse came in handy when I needed to justify my quest for perfect teeth, perfect photos or a perfectly clean house, it added to my disappointment, guilt and occasional loathing when my life, body or family didn't match the ideal notions in my head. Rather than fostering perfection, it fueled my self-criticism. Surely this is not what Jesus intended!

In the years since hearing that verse, I've embraced a core conviction that goes like this: If God created life, He alone gets to define it. This conviction drove me to find out what exactly Jesus meant by "be perfect."

Matthew wrote this verse. And the word he used in the ancient Greek language means something a little different than Mr. Webster's English definition. The Greek word here is teleos and it means "complete, full grown, developing."

The first two pieces of that definition indicate something already accomplished, while the third indicates an ongoing process. So this perfection Jesus prescribes for us is already complete and yet still developing. Complete in Him; still at work in us. We're allowed to be a work-in-progress!

All parts of this definition, however, refer to maturity of character, rather than a flawless figure, immaculate home, or the faultless execution of a task. Jesus just doesn't care so much if there's dust on our mantle, a stain on our teeth, or a scratch on our car. He isn't interested in how well our bedspread matches our curtains; He's interested in our spiritual maturity. Jesus teaches I will not find my worth in my ability to reach my perfect weight or accomplish my to-do list flawlessly, but in the fact that I am learning to reflect His character. To graciously give and receive love.

That's good news for a recovering perfectionist. Plus, as John writes in 1 John 3:18-19 of The Message: "My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it."

Dear Lord, thank You for grace! Thank You for mercy! Thank You for empowering me to be like You as I submit to Your Word. And thank You for not caring about dust bunnies or stained shirts. Help me to care less about those things as well and focus my heart more on You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:

For a chance to win an Amazon Kindle e-reader, and gain some tips on overcoming perfectionism, come by Rachel’s blog this week. And if you enjoyed this devotion, you’ll want to get a copy of Rachel’s new book It’s No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know.
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Application Steps:
Spend time reading through the gospels, noticing what concerned Jesus and what did not.

What surface-level thing(s) have you been worrying over lately?

If it's not about your character, let it go as imperfect and rest in God's grace today.

Power Verses:
Philippians 3:8-9, "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith," (NASB)

© 2010 by Rachel Olsen. All rights reserved.

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Anonymous Harriett said...

Blessings from above continue to flow through you Rachel. What a mighty God we serve.

Blogger Allison said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This is just what I needed today. I love that He always provides just what we need. He is amazing:)

Anonymous Carmen said...

May our God of mercy and grace help us all overcome all those little things in our lives so that we can focus in the Big, which is He. I have to work on not working so much (I am a homemaker) and I am continually busy trying to fix something or someone (kids and husband). This devotional was what I needed to hear today. Thank you for letting God use you through your experience. 2 Corinthians 1:12.

Anonymous Sara said...

This is SO true!! Thank you for this today! May we all know it's not about what's outside but what's inside! (Don't we tell our little girls that all the time?! Shouldn't we believe it!?!) THANK YOU and may the Lord bless you all today!!

Blogger Unknown said...

Didn't think I really had a "perfectionism" problem, but then I realized how spastic I am over the 20 pounds I gained (and am trying to loose) after the birth of my second child. So maybe I do...timely words Rachel!

Blogger Unknown said...

Rather than fostering perfection, it fueled my self-criticism. Surely this is not what Jesus intended!
In the years since hearing that verse, I've embraced a core conviction that goes like this: If God created life, He alone gets to define it. This conviction drove me to find out what exactly Jesus meant by "be perfect." I know for me perfectionism also stems for the desire to control everything. and then the self loathing when I find chaos because, I'm as a created being, am incapable of "perfect. God doesn't require perfection-He calls to pursue excellence when leaves room for mistake, growing and becoming.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you so much, rachel. i don't normally leave comments on the p31 blog but i read them daily. i have just returned from a brief check-up only to discover i weigh the most today i have ever weighed in. my. life. i have no idea how i got here! (which is, of course, not true.) i'm not so discouraged as i am surprised. my sister was quick to point out that she has seen me lose weight before when i am determined to do so.

anyway, i needed the reminder that jesus loves me just as i am - that he doesn't see my weight or even whether or not i washed my hair today (which i may or may not have done). he only sees me, perfected in his image because of his image. that's grace enough for me.


Blogger Wander said...

It stinks trying to be perfect!
Thank you Jesus that I don't have to be that!

Help more like YOU!! That's the perfect I long for.

Great post!

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