“Facing disappointment and failure? Don’t be surprised – you’re still flawed and your world is still fallen. For this, there’s grace.”
Paul David Tripp
In high school and university, I was the student who would get frustrated with myself if I received a perfect score on an exam, but it had been possible to get an even higher score with extra credit. I was that kid who would get into arguments with my parents or sisters when I knew they didn’t have all the details exactly right about something. I’m also that person who may start a sentence a few times before I get my thoughts out because I want to make sure I am getting all the facts straight. When I was younger, I don’t think I recognized that I was a perfectionist, though my mom said she started to recognize it when I was around ten. I don’t really know when it started nor when I finally realized it, but anyone who knows me well would tell you I’m a perfectionist.
A few months ago, as I was working through a Bible study the question was asked, “are you chasing after God or perfectionism?” I immediately stopped and without having to think much about it, knew there are times I allow my perfectionism to work its way into my relationship with God. It isn’t that I think I can be perfect. I am very aware of how ugly my heart is and how much I am in need of God’s forgiving, rescuing, transforming and delivering grace every single day. I also realize that on this earth I will never be perfect, that God doesn’t require perfection and that “[I] don’t have to fear exposure, because [my] struggle of faith has been more than adequately addressed by the grace of the cross of the Lord Jesus.” (Tripp)
Even though I know these things are true, I still don’t like failing God, making mistakes, hurting others or coming up short, so at times I find myself chasing perfectionism instead of running after God … and that can be exhausting and defeating. It isn’t that I think it is wrong to strive for holiness. We are actually commanded do so in 1 Peter 1:15 “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” However, I realized that sometimes I am too focused on making the next right decision instead of just running after God and keeping my eyes fixed on Him.
As I processed what it means to really chase after God, I was reminded of Colossians 3:1-2 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” and Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith…” God has used these verses from Hebrews in my life over the last several years, teaching me how I have no control over the race that is put before me, but how I can control the way I choose to run that race. There may be circumstances or people in my life that impact the course of this race. Things may happen that make the race enjoyable, exciting, encouraging, fun and make me feel like I am steadily moving in the right direction. Other times, things may happen that make the race difficult, discouraging, impossible and make me feel like I am running up hill in the sand in 105-degree temperatures (40.5 c for my non-American friends). However, no matter what race I find in front of me, no matter what difficulties I face or what others are doing to help/hinder me, I get to choose how I run the race. I can give up, choose to run my own course or allow the hurdles, obstacles and difficulties to help me grow and finish the race a stronger person. In Philippians Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own … forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (3:12-14)
The important thing I am learning about running this race is that it is imperative for me to fix my eyes on Christ. Paul Tripp says, “That which dominates your mediation shapes the way you view yourself, life, and God, and your view of those things shapes the choices you make and the actions you take.” Too often I find myself focusing on the things I need to be doing (making sure I think before I speak, putting others before myself, always choosing to show love, not responding in frustration, etc.) instead of fixing my eyes and mind on Christ. As I have been working through this, God has shown me that I need to be chasing after Him instead of obsessing about the next right reactions, words or decisions. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that God is the perfecter of our faith. This means that as I chase after God, allowing Him to change my heart, He will guide my reactions, words and decisions. Not only that, but He will also give me the grace needed to be the person He has called me to be. Even as I think about the challenge of doing this, I am reminded of the encouragement we receive in Philippians 1:6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” I also love and am encouraged by these words from Tim Keller, “The great basis of Christian assurance is not how much our hearts are set on God, but how unshakably His heart is set on us.” It is freeing to know that even when I get distracted and take my eyes off Christ or start running in the wrong direction, He never quits loving me, forgiving me or pursuing me.
So, on those days when I am feeling beaten up and defeated as a result of focusing too much on what I can and cannot do, I need to remember these words from Paul Tripp: “We tend to live with the anxiety and drivenness that come when we believe that all we have is this moment. Here’s the real-life, street-level issue: if you don’t keep the eyes of your heart focused on the paradise that is to come, you will try to turn this poor fallen world into the paradise it will never be … If your God’s child, paradise has been guaranteed for you, but it will not be right here, right now. All the things that disappoint you now are to remind you that this is not all there is and to cause you to long for the paradise that is to come.”