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Working Towards, Striving For, or Living From?

. . . He said to me, “My grace elevates you to be fully content.” And now, instead of being overwhelmed with a sense of my own weakness, he overwhelms me with an awareness of his strength!  O, what bliss to rejoice in the fact that in the midst of my frailties, I encounter the dynamic of the grace of God to be my habitation.

2 Corinthians 12:9 The MIRROR

Hello.  My name is Deborah, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

Seems most of my life, I have found myself striving to be perfect—not Wonder Woman perfect and definitely not Stepford Wives perfect.  More like Mary Poppins.  You know . . . “practically perfect in every way” (because everyone knows that practically perfect is more attainable than perfectly perfect).

And while I recognize in the sane, rational part of my mind that perfection is an illusion, that it is, as Anne Lamott writes, “. . . the voice of the oppressor,” that it imprisons us, I still found myself striving for, at best, the illusion.

Strived to be the perfect daughter, the perfect sister, the perfect friend. Worked hard to be the perfect student, the perfect teacher, the perfect Christian.  It mattered to me how I measured up in the eyes of my parents, in the eyes of my friends, in the eyes of my teachers, in the eyes of God!   Color within the lines.  Follow the rules. Get the A’s.  Do it flawlessly. Be the best.

And in many cases, the striving and working paid off.   I made the Honor Roll and the Dean’s List (let’s just overlook the semester I was forced to take trigonometry).  Hit that A above high C effortlessly when singing.  Completed both Spanish I and II in one year. Got through a day, a week without thinking or doing anything that would cause God enough displeasure to cast me into utter darkness.

But when my flaws, my imperfections burst through, when I didn’t make the grade, when I made the simplest mistake, failed, disappointed someone, when my humanness seeped through the cracks, and I gave in to temptation, it was sackcloth and ashes for me.  And it could take days to recover. I’d berate myself and then promise not merely to do better but to be better.

It was all so exhausting, especially in my relationship with God. Religion had taught me well.  Strive to be holy, to be righteous, to be more faithful, to be more selfless, to be more devoted, to be more giving, more loving, more forgiving.  Strive to… just be more.

One day, in the midst of all the striving and working, I heard the gentle whisper of Holy Spirit: “Stop it!  I AM not seeking perfectionism from you.  The finished work of Christ brings your striving and work to an end.  Simply allow Me to perfect you. I AM maturing you, completing you, putting on all the finishing touches.”

God has moved me from the place of working toward or striving for to living from.  Each word He speaks to me declares, “Deborah, this is who you are!! This is the way I’ve always seen you. This is the person I’ve always known you to be.  It is so! So be!  Live from My life in you, live from My grace, live from the finished work of Christ.”

In the book The Art of Possibility, co-author Benjamin Zanders discusses a practice he adopted with students at the New England Conservatory that transformed their lives.  As I read the chapter entitled “The Practice of Giving an A,”  God spoke to me. I believe this illustrates how God desires us all to live our lives in Him.

Zanders, a world-renown orchestral conductor, teaches a class on Interpretation at the New England Conservatory. Each September, he promised his students that if they gave themselves to master the principles in the class, not only would their musical performance be greatly enhanced, they’d find themselves different individuals by the end of the course.  But the students were so focused on how their performances would be measured that they were afraid to take risks; there was little transformation.  So, after 25 years, Zanders decided to take a different approach.  On the first day of the year-long course, he announced to the students that they all had A’s.  All they had to do to keep the A was write a letter to their professor—a letter written in the past tense and dated the last day of class—explaining what they had done to get the A.  They had to see themselves in the future, and that future self, that “prophetic” self, wrote the letter.  The result was so far beyond enhanced musical performance.  The students changed!

You see, there is a difference between living from and working towards something.  As the students came to see themselves as A students, they were free and empowered to explore possibility.  It freed them to take risks, to make mistakes.  It freed them to tap into the deep recesses of their souls to discover what was in them all along.  They were treated as A students.  They believed they were A students.  They produced as A students.

Hear Holy Spirit ask: “What would your life look like if you simply lived from the reality of who you are in Christ rather than working towards that which has already been accomplished through Him? What might you do differently, knowing that in Christ, the pressure is off and there is nothing to prove?   How might you impact the world if you lived all of life knowing that, through Christ’s finished work, God has given you an A, and at this moment, He is well pleased with you?”  

I am learning to live fully, knowing I have been given an A that cannot be taken away.  Learning to see myself as God truly sees me and just be. Learning to step into the waves of grace He has provided and allow them to carry me.  Learning to embrace my perfectly imperfect self and allow His glory to shine through the imperfections.   Learning to rest in His ability to perfect, to complete the work He has begun in me.  I am learning it’s OK to make mistakes and grow from them rather than feel condemned by them.   I am tapping into His treasure deposited in this earthen vessel and exploring the possibilities.

I’m coloring outside the lines, kicking perfectionism to the curb, and I feel magnificently free and content.

“There is nothing to prove, and there is nothing to protect.  I am who I am, and it’s enough.”    Richard Rohr



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