“To err is human, to forgive divine. Neither of which is Marine Corps policy.”
This was a sticker sent to me several years ago. Aside from giving me a good laugh, there is something in that saying that speaks to our human inclination against making mistakes. If you think about it, we are penalized for making errors on tests in school and on driving tests. There are always consequences for making mistakes or not following directions. But what is often the real reason behind the fear of error? Perhaps it is the fear of not being in control, or perhaps being discovered as less than perfect? Although no one of us is perfect, many go to great lengths to avoid making mistakes. We do our best to look good. How about control? Do you know anyone who has to control every situation or has a rigid set of parameters to manage everyday events? I remember, as an undergraduate, one of my professors, a manufacturing engineer, stressed the importance of always thinking, managing and solving problems at all times. He even kept a notebook on his nightstand, so if he woke in the night he could write down his thoughts, in his uninhibited quest for control at all hours of the day. He told us; “while you lazy guys are sleeping, I’m already awake solving problems.” The lesson I learned from him was that a truly successful person is the one who manages and controls every aspect of their lives so that all things run smoothly. With modern gadgets and electronics, we are led to believe that this type of total control is within reach, with the right device. Do you see what is implied? In this process, we believe that we have the power to arrange all of the variables so that “everything is in the right place at the right time.” Is this possible?
In the late 1980’s, a required read for college students was entitled The Pursuit of Excellence, written by Terry Orlick, which profiled those “excellent” companies of the time. It’s ironic that some of those “excellent” companies are not doing well today. One recent marketing slogan by a luxury car manufacturer had to do with the “relentless pursuit of perfection.” There is nothing wrong with doing our best in all aspects of our lives. In fact, Paul encourages us to do this in the Epistle of Colossians. But excellence is often a euphemism for perfectionism. Excellence and perfectionism are worlds apart. What is the difference? Perfectionism allows us to manipulate things so that we are in charge. But often there is a deeper psychological reason that motivates perfectionism: a fear of being exposed as imperfect.
How does a perfectionist outlook impact our relationship with God? There are numerous things we cannot control in our lives despite our best efforts. Where or to whom do we turn to then? How about some biblical examples? Consider the stories of Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel, or Simon who tried to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit. Did they accomplish their desires? Think about the outcome based on perfectionism and control. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God, but they were banished from God’s presence. Cain sought the blessing of God, but was punished for murdering his brother. Simon sought the power of God, but was rebuked and labeled “simony” for the shamefulness of his actions. Wasn’t a “spirit” of control present in all of their failures and shortcomings? There was an old seminary joke that went as follows; “When all else fails, turn to God.” Jesting aside, that is how many people think and act. In theological jargon, control is often synonymous with sovereignty. We hear so much about God being sovereign, but what are we saying in our attempt at perfectionism and control? Are we trying to be masters of our own universe; to be like God?
To avoid shame, and its byproducts, perfectionism and control, we must grow in conformance and confidence with and in Christ. The good news is that God is in control and has provided us answers through Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Christianity is not “I’m ok, you’re ok.” or “come as you are and stay as you are.” We are told to grow into the image of Christ not by our efforts, but that is our mission or task at hand.
I encourage you to nail to the cross of Christ all the shame, guilt and baggage you carry and free yourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit.
Yours in Christ,