"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."


~C.S. Lewis




Sunday, February 5, 2012

On living in pagan perfectionism


Perfectionism is one of the most destructive forces I know. Sometimes I wonder if it is so much of my identity that I wouldn’t know what life would be like without it. I don’t even realize I have it until suddenly, somehow, I take a stumbling step back and rub my eyes and look at my life and gasp in horror that what I thought was a glorious sunlit meadow is actually a prison cell.

Perfectionism is, for me, is a frozen death to expression. I don’t express, I don’t try, because I’m afraid. What is everything I’d do if I weren’t a perfectionist, wasn’t concerned about doing it right, didn’t think about how I was perceived or judged?

I would cry and laugh more often and would get a lot more angry a lot more often at a lot more things and would love doing new things because it wouldn’t matter if I was horrible at them and would love hanging out with non-Christians because I wouldn’t have to be a perfect witness when I’m around them and so it wouldn’t be all stressful and would ask a million more questions because who cares if I look stupid and would do lots more daring, fun, silly, or nice things, because if they don’t work out or the person didn’t like it, well, whatever, better luck next time, and would stop thinking about missed opportunities and just glory in the million more opportunities that are coming my way, and on and on and on.

But do you know what has stopped me from doing all this, what has stopped me for months and weeks and years and only now is loosening its hold? Paganism.

I would say Christianity. But it’s not Christianity that is keeping me there. People think it is. “That Jesus, He’s locking you in with all of those rules.” Make your own morality and be free, they say.

They’re wrong.

No. No, He’s not. It’s me. In fact, the more I get to know Jesus, the more I find that Christianity is the faith perfect for the perfectionist. It’s when I treat Jesus like a pagan god or like Allah or Buddha or any other false name, that suddenly, I am dying inside.

Because it’s my desire to live well for Jesus that shuts down so much of my expression and life, and how sad that is. It’s because I don’t want to fail Him, because I don’t want to do something others will think reflects badly on Him, because I don’t want people to look at me and say, “That heretic, that isn’t Christlike at all.” I am not truly vulnerable nor wildly passionate because I’m afraid—always questioning myself, always wondering if what I’m doing is right.

I want so desperately to be Light that I don’t let myself open up to shine.

It’s the questioning that would get so tiring. Constant questions. Was that the best—was that right—is this okay—should you be doing this—should you do that instead—what about this—what is this saying—on and on, second guessing everything and being confident of nothing. Even if it was not a matter of sin, I would always wonder if I was doing the best thing. I would do one and I would question it, I would do the other and I would question it, always asking, was that right, was that responsible, was that okay.

And did I ever once consider, that maybe, just maybe, such stilted perfection will never bring a person to Christ? Did I ever even let myself believe that perhaps pure, unashamed, wild, expressive Humanness will be what draws people to my King? Total life, total living. Going all out even if it means sometimes my sin is vast—for that also means my life is vast as well.

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits
in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Christianity is all about people who sin passionately; it is the Christian who is the most expressive of all. Did I learn nothing from David’s furious rants in Psalms or Song of Song’s blatant portrayals of sexuality or Jesus’ obvious confrontations or Esther’s breaking all the rules?

Christ gives us permission to live at 100%—that’s the only way to live—and when we fail and screw up and sin, and least we did it passionately. Sin passionately. Jesus’ grace covers our sin; unlike every other religion, we are not in the least required to be perfect. The whole point is that we’re not and won’t be, and kingdom living is messy, and that’s why Jesus doesn’t require us to be perfect.

In fact, Christianity is the one religion that is the absolute breath of grace to perfectionists; it is the only place we can truly be free. Everywhere else, it is all about rules and earning salvation. As soon as we become perfectionists and become afraid of sinning, afraid of failing, we ignore what Christ did on the cross and in His resurrection—He freed us from law, from rules, and from all that is perfectionism. When we become perfectionists, we treat Christianity into just another religion. We treat Christ like Allah—a scorekeeper who is waiting for you to slip. We treat Christ like karma—a judgmental force keeping track of every failure.

But that is not Christianity. Christianity is the only place perfectionists can be free. In Christ, He gives us the absolute freedom to fail. To be wrong and make mistakes and to be forgiven for them. Not because we try to fail, but because we are finally freed to live. Because perfectionists do not live. We fear. We censor. Because if we make a mistake, err in our judgment, we have failed, and that is unpardonable, that is the greatest sin of all.

But not to Jesus. That’s not how Jesus works. He came because we were not perfect and He was making a way for us to live beautifully and at peace in the midst of our endless imperfection. In perfectionism, we ignore the work of Christ. A pagan-perfectionist Christianity is so works-based it might as well not even be Christianity. In Jesus, we have the freedom to live a wildly beautiful life of living and sinning boldly—and rejoicing in our God.

Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin.
~Martin Luther