Thoughts on Perfectionism


Gem and me in front of the Treasury in the ancient stone city of Petra (Jordan) last year.

I’ve shared here in the past about my being a recovering perfectionist (in “The Deadly Disease of Perfectionism,” “Perfectionism Paralyzes” and “Good Enough?” for example). One of the ways this sneaks up behind me is in the common Christian question about what is the best decision in a particular situation? For me, that question often become paralyzing. I usually end up doing nothing.

For example, if I have ten ways that I could meet with God, but can’t figure out which is best, then I sometimes end up doing none of them. Even if I did the poorest fitting one (whatever that would be), it would have been more than the nothing I ended up doing.

Whatever “holy perfection” is, it’s about completeness or maturity, not flawlessness. Satan wants perfect to mean flawless. That is humanly impossible and a great trap. I have found that sometimes, my way out of such stuckness is make the free choice to do nothing. I own that choice. I take responsibility for it. And, then, I find myself free to change my mind to choose a good that just might not be perfect (or even necessarily the best).

Satan uses my perfectionism as a way of making me into a victim, rather than a son of God with power and authority in Christ.

I must not allow perfectionism to enslave me. I think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “And I will be mastered by nothing (including perfectionism).” Paul says that all things are permissible or legal. I could make any choice I might want to make. But I don’t want to be mastered by anything. I don’t want to be stuck in legalism, nor through exercise of freedom. Not every free choice is necessarily beneficial.

And I cannot overcome perfectionism perfectly! Freedom from perfectionism comes in relationship with a God of mercy and grace. I need His help.

Perfectionism felt valuable in my twenties and thirties, questionable in my forties, and now diabolical in my fifties.

For Reflection:

  • Do you recognize any patterns of perfectionism in your own ways of thinking? How are you coming to see it as more liability than asset?

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Paul’s Idea of Maturity (Part Two)


by Jeanne Davis

by Jeanne Davis

Continued from Part One:

Why not take a moment again to read Philippians 3:7-17 slowly and reflectively. Here are a few further insights I recently enjoyed about maturity.

We grow more mature in Christ as…

We acknowledge that the Christian life is an ongoing journey we are all still on (12-14). When we measure ourselves by outward advantages or achievements, we can end up either puffed up or beaten down. Either way, our lives can become more about our successes and failures than about Christ’s life and our living and walking in Him. The Christian life is always a journey. Maturity realizes this.

We recognize the primacy of God’s initiative and action in our spiritual lives (12, 15). Whatever it is that I am striving to take hold of in my journey with Christ, I come to more and more acknowledge that He has taken hold of me first. Whatever progress I may make in my journey with Him is a fruit of His calling and His teaching me. If there is anything in my thinking that isn’t in keeping with God’s thoughts or God’s ways, He is graciously committed to making that clear to me. If I am willing to be guided, He is more willing to guide me.

We remember that no one becomes whole and holy alone (17). All of the counsel we’re reading in Philippians 3 is written to a church, not just one Christian. Each of us can gain a great deal of individual benefit from what Paul says, but he’s ultimately talking to a community living a way of life together. We need to see those who have walked a little further than we have. We need to see what faithfulness in the face of great hardship actually looks like in the real life of a more seasoned follower of Jesus. This is what the Philippians had in Paul.

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Paul’s Idea of Maturity (Part One)


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A quick good morning from The Journey. It’s been a beautiful week in Orange county to enjoy Jesus in community. I wish you could see His good work among us here.

As for today’s post, I encourage you to take a moment to read Philippians 3:7-17 slowly and reflectively. The insights that follow will make more sense…

We grow more mature in Christ as…

He Himself fills more and more of the horizon of my life (7-8). Paul looks at the advantages of his Hebrew heritage, his religious family, his zeal for God and the rest, and increasingly sees it as nothing next to the “everything” of Christ Himself. First, gains are seen as losses (7). Then, everything is seen as loss (8a). Finally, he sees everything he once treasured apart from Christ as nasty garbage next to the overwhelming treasure of being in communion with Christ (8b). Everything that catches my eye in God’s creation becomes a little less captivating in the golden light of Christ’s radiant presence. Paul’s “knowing” Christ Jesus his Lord is more than “Jesus data,” but interactive, conversational, faithful relationship.

We see righteousness increasingly as relational more than religious (9). This is the essence of Paul’s contrast of the righteousness-by-the-rules he sought before Christ, and the righteousness-in-trusting-Christ that grew to be his settled perspective. He no longer compared himself favorably (or unfavorably) with others, but saw himself as a beneficiary of Christ’s own love and generosity. Rather than focusing on “to do’s” and “to don’ts,” spiritual maturity comes to focus on the life, the work, the person of Jesus Christ, and learning to live and work with and in Him.

Evidenced in a willingness to share in Christ’s sufferings as well as in His resurrection (8, 10-11). Spiritual children are happy to follow Jesus when they like what He’s doing and where He’s going. They like His blessings, but they don’t want much to do being close to Him in his hardships, losses or sacrifices. They don’t want to have the same attitude as Jesus in Philippians 2:5-8. Mature faith is able to endure when faith doesn’t feel immediately rewarded

Click for “Paul’s Ideas of Maturity (Part Two)”

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Praying for a Lifetime


www.gemhelen.com“I do not find as life goes on that the principle of putting prayer first in daily life becomes any easier to keep. It is true that long habit makes it natural to keep the Rule of Prayer, but, on the other hand, decreasing vitality makes it harder to use times which were formerly easy. I have had, like many others, to use the early morning because the struggle against wandering thoughts was too hard in the evening. I feel sure that the constant warfare which is necessary to keep prayer in the first place must go on as long as life lasts.” (Morgan, Edmund R. Reginald Somerset Ward: His Life and Letters. London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd, 1963, p. 78.)

Beginning with prayer did not somehow become easy as Ward aged. It isn’t happening that way for me either. He actually found that the diminished energy of aging made it harder to engage in a regular habit of prayer. But harder isn’t impossible. Harder is just harder.

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Always a Beginner With God


IMG_7184After we’ve been Christians a while, we may be tempted to think we’ve got the Christian life figured out. Simon Tugwell speaks to this temptation well:

“Often we shall be tempted to think that at last we have begun to see the pattern, at last we are beginning to find our way around, or at last we have mastered whatever lesson was being taught us. And then, without warning, we shall be moved into the next class and have to start all over again at the bottom.” (Tugwell, Simon. Prayer: Living With God. Springfield: Templegate Publishers, 1975, p. 115.)

This is so true of growth in the spiritual life. Just when we think we’ve mastered the little neighborhood within which we’re tempted to see ourselves as masters or experts, God widens the circle a bit and we realize how little we really knew. We are always beginners in relation to God. Wherever it is that we feel we’ve become experts is actually a very small and confining space.

As we prepare to enter a New Year, where might Jesus be expanding your horizons? Where do you feel stretched and a little uncomfortable? How might that actually be an invitation into a deeper, richer experience of Jesus in your life?

Spiritual Honeymoon


From our Thanksgiving 2010 trip to the Dominican Republic

I remember the very warm fuzzies of my first few dates or first few days of marriage with Gem. Those kinds of “firsts” are very fun. It’s often the same in the early stages of the spiritual life. Here is the way Carlo Carretto put it:

“But here too, it is the same as with love. Words pour out to begin with. Then they get rarer and deeper. In the end they are reduced to some monosyllable which none the less contains everything. Mostly a soul speaks a great deal at the time of its conversion, during the period of its novitiate, that is, the first years of its discovery of God. It is the easiest time for the soul. Prayer has a certain novelty, it seizes the imagination. And God, for his part, encourages the soul; everything pours out as in the beginning of a happy marriage.” (Carretto, Carlo. Letters from the Desert. Trans. Rose Mary Hancock. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1972, p. 43.)

Having just come through Black Friday where many are looking for life and joy in a new toy, in a culture that celebrates the new thing and grows quickly tired with the old thing, it is hard to help people understand that an element of maturity is a kind of “reduction of devotion” in the sense of felt and verbalized love. We say more as beginners in prayer than we do down the road in a more mature stage.

 

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Community is Indispensable


IMG_8089“It is a matter of experience that we cannot go on indefinitely, nor can we witness effectively, without fellowship, God often brings the most spiritually mature people up against a blank wall in order to teach them this. They reach an impasse, something they cannot deal with alone. Then they discover the absolute necessity of fellowship with others in Christ, and learn the practical values of the corporate life. But when once this is known there is a new fruitfulness.” (Watchman Nee. Changed Into His Likeness. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1967, 1978, p. 55)

Think about places in your journey where you may have felt stuck, frustrated, or less fruitful than you had hoped. How might this be a place where God is inviting you to enter more deeply into supportive community and a more shared work of God? Why not take a few moments to talk this over with the Lord?

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