I don’t like to-do lists … and I’m starting to realise why …
There are perfectionists who are list writers and those who are not … I’m not a list writer. I don’t like the finality of ticking that box that says the task has been completed.
For the task to be complete then I must have finished it to my satisfaction. This becomes a bit of a burden, because let’s be honest, there is always more to be done and things can always be done better.
Is there a point where it stops being about the job and becomes entirely about me again? I’d say that the answer here is a resounding yes.
I think this relentless pursuit of perfectionism stems from a number of places. There is one that I have spiritualised and so have allowed myself to make perfectionism into a virtue. It is a misguided understanding of “whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord”.
I’ve often felt this is another of the paradoxes of the Christian walk, like having joy in sorrow, strength in weakness.
The issue is that I’ve been applying this scripture to the standard of work to be reached rather than to what would be more worthwhile and accurate, and indeed the purpose of the verse, to the motives of the heart at work. It turns out, that is actually what it’s about – because the verse actually says “to work heartily for the Lord and not for men”. It is about motives – but it seems I’ve misremembered it and in doing so, I’ve changed the whole message.
Has it ever been a paradox? Or has it always been about doing a good job of something simply because it’s for God? I think the verse is pretty clear now that I look at it properly. It’s not even about how well I do it.. it’s about how I do it. Have you ever tried to work heartily while trying to impress people? Have you ever tried to work heartily while aiming for perfection?
One look at our Father’s day gifts here will show you that one person enjoyed the process a whole lot more than the other.. (Judging by the facial expressions one golf ball had a better time than the other too!)
One person might have been freaking out about glue on the table..assessing arm lengths, head-to-body ratio, balance of hat brim from the front to the back … would the patty paper hat in fact provide ample shade for the wearer if he was to go out into the sun …
When the obvious question would be – why on earth is my father taking his Father’s day present out in to the sun at all???
To do something heartily rather than perfectly sounds like a kind of freeing prospect… no longer worrying about what this will be in the end … no longer secretly hoping for such a great level of success that people will end up commenting on how lucky God is to have a person like me on his team!! (I jest, though maybe that thought has run through my head once or twice…)
If it is about the heart and working in a hearty manner then what does that look like? How does that work for those of the perfectionist ilk who turn their criticism inward. Does it bring God pleasure that I expect more of me that He does? Sounds kind of proud, doesn’t it? So who am I trying to impress? Myself? Or am I in fact still trying to earn the free gift I’ve been given?
My battle has always been to consistently view God as a loving father and not as a judge. Probably since becoming a parent its been something I’ve been better able to grasp.
When it comes to my boy I don’t get annoyed when he doesn’t know the right answer. I never get annoyed at him for doing his best. I do get annoyed when he judges himself harshly.
Is God any different? In fact, is God not going to do parenting infinitely better than I am? Umm…yes!! Does he expect perfection from me? No. Is He happy to see me doing things for the right reasons?
I’m trying to work my way through this – perfectionists REALLY need the gospel. I still need the gospel as a Christian – it is an ongoing work. …. My need for the gospel didn’t vanish the moment I was converted. In fact I think my need grows greater each and every day. My understanding of the gospel needs to deepen and grow as I grow in grace and in the knowledge of my Lord and Saviour, and it needs to alter my view of the Author of this good news. I need to stop hovering between God as father and God as a judge. He is both, but there are times when I view my efforts for Him as efforts and actions that need to impress a judge rather than a father. You would think after 25 or so years on the kingdom road I’d have a better grip on this but I guess this is what it means to “work out your salvation”.
But the mum in me will always overpower the English teacher. Why? Because I can see the motivation behind the action, my boy’s not aiming for perfection, he’s aiming to express his love for me and his opinion of me. I’m certain this is what God wants from us, evidence that we are working heartily, He knows there are going to be mistakes.
The gospel is the good news of freedom … I don’t believe that God freed me from the impossible demands of the law to then place me under a new set of impossible expectations. To do everything as heartily for the Lord I think means to enjoy the service, to do things in order to bring him pleasure, not not in order to attempt to gain his praise. Otherwise it’s all about me being wonderful again and if it’s all about me then I’m not doing it for God and even more horrifyingly I might be subscribing to the Victoria Osteen school of thought …eeekk!!
Maybe we Christians pursuing perfection, have taken our eyes off the perfect example. Maybe in some not so hidden place all I want to hear is what a great example of Christ I am. While I absolutely should be aiming for this, the issue arises when I believe this Christ-likeness to be as a result of my own actions rather than a result of the work of the spirit within me. Ultimately it becomes an issue of pride again. It’s not possible for me to please God and be puffed up with pride, it’s not possible for me to be Christ-like and puffed up with pride. It’s not possible for me to be doing everything in word or deed as unto the Lord and be puffed up with pride.
And there it is – at the heart of my perfectionism is pride, coupled with lashings of false modesty.
C.S Lewis in his book Mere Christianity says,
Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense… Pleasure in being praised is not pride … the trouble begins when you pass from thinking, ‘I have pleased him; all is well,’ to thinking, ‘What a fine person I must be to have done it.’ The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise the worse you are becoming.
In Christ we see the perfect example of one who was able to bring pleasure to the Father’s heart. He is the perfect model of doing the things that pleased the Father and the perfect picture of humility – when if anyone in the history of the world who could boast of their ability to please God…
There is a big difference between doing something well and needing to impress. The perfect one did things well and he impressed – for what reason? So that people would turn from their sin. How many of my actions are about being impressive rather than drawing attention to the perfect one?
Do everything heartily for the Lord – as your Father – not as your judge.
Father’s day is tomorrow (not last Sunday) and I can guarantee that tomorrow, fathers all over our country are going to be waking up to an assortment of gifts. I’d also suggest that the vast majority of the homemade creations will be a little short of perfection. I can’t imagine any of the drawings of fathers are going to be worthy of receiving an Archibald Prize, but I doubt any of us will be able to question whether or not these things were made heartily.
Whatever you do – work heartily as unto the Lord and not for men. Yes make it good, but make sure it’s all about Him and not about you. Some final thoughts from CS Lewis.
He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And you and he are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact be humble — delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are. I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself: if I had, I could probably tell you about the relief, the comfort, of taking the fancy-dress off — getting rid of the false self, with all its ‘look at me’ and ‘aren’t I a good boy?’ and all of its posing and posturing….
If you do meet a really humble man…probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him… he will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
I guess it’s hard to be a perfectionist if you aren’t thinking about yourself…
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord (and not for me)