weakness, not perfection

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I have a hard time with vulnerability. Like, real vulnerability. The kind of vulnerability that sheds light on my deepest weaknesses, heaviest burdens, and darkest sins. It takes the right time, place, and person for me to really open up about those things, and even when I do it’s likely weeks, months, or maybe years, after I’ve already been dealing with the weight of it.

You see, somewhere along the line I started to believe the perception that a mature Christian should be able to get through the tough stuff – that someone who is following Jesus shouldn’t be so easily tripped up by the little things. I believe this lie that I should be able to handle things on my own. Most of the things I have dealt with, or do deal with, in life do not seem that big compared to the people I know (& don’t know) that go through so much hardship and struggle, so much pain and heartbreak, so much heaviness. And so I don’t want to burden people with the things that I’m facing.

At the root of it, my natural tendencies towards perfectionism lead me to believe that as a Christian I’m supposed to be all put together. I’m supposed to live a life unlike those of this world. I’m supposed to live a life redeemed by Jesus and so I should show how I rise above it. But a problem enters in when I don’t have it all put together. When I’m hurting or feeling weak. When I’m dealing with my own sins. And I’m too prideful to ask for help. Because then I hold it all in. And it piles up and entangles. And then I can’t even make sense of it when it does comes bursting out. So my persona of perfection is shattered, and I’m left feeling broken and confused.

I wrote about all of this in my journal back when we first arrived to North Dakota in October. I was flipping through the other night and re-read the words that I wrote, and they still resonate. I added some additional thoughts in the margins, and out of nowhere I was reminded of the concept that God is made perfect in my weakness. So I opened my Bible and found the Scripture that went along with this. This is what I read:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecution, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 12:9-10]

This is Paul speaking to the Corinthians in response to some people within their community that were boasting of their accomplishments, their heritage, and their experiences. Paul was so agitated that the only way he knew to get through to the people who were hearing these things was to boast back. So he told of the hardship he has faced while following Jesus. Then he started to speak of this heavenly vision or experience (he said himself he’s not sure what it was) that he had. But he stopped himself and explained that he was not allowed to share the details of it so that no one may think more of him. And a thorn was put in his flesh to keep him from becoming conceited. He pleaded with God to remove it three times, and God’s response was what I read in verse 9. And Paul went on to explain his understanding in verse 10. [You can check out the entire context in 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10]. I dug deeper into these words and looked into our study bible and found this explanation:

“Paul was not allowed to speak about his heavenly revelations, but he quotes Christ’s declaration to underscore that his earthy weaknesses (not his revelations) would be the platform for perfecting and demonstrating the Lord’s power.”

So I began to think about if I don’t boast of my weaknesses, how will people know my need for Jesus? And if I don’t boast of my weaknesses, how will people know God’s grace in my life? If I don’t speak of the things that are messy and hard, people won’t know God’s transformative work in my life. They will only see that I’m put together and maybe that I’m a “good person.” And He is therefore robbed of that glory that He deserves.

If we boast of ourselves, we ask for eyes to be on us. If I emphasize all that I have done, I’m not pointing to Jesus, I’m pointing to myself. And in comparison to Jesus, who the heck cares what I do? I am nothing without Christ. I accomplish nothing of worth apart from Jesus. My greatest triumphs in this world are meaningless and worthless unless they give complete glory to God. My grades in school, my past accomplishments in sports, the job that I have, the amount of my salary, the size of my house, the quality of things that I own, the health of my marriage, the car that I drive, the number that shows up on the scale – none of it means anything a part from Jesus. There’s a reason God never really permitted for me to be number one at anything. Yes, I’ve finished at the top of the line up in many things, but never quite first place. And I understand why now. If I had done so, I would find all the more reason to boast in myself. Any bit of seniority I’ve ever had has gone to my head. And it has ultimately seeped through the fingers of my grip. Leaving me empty, with nothing. Because the only thing worth holding onto is Jesus. When I do that, I might receive blessing alongside of it (or maybe not), but regardless both of my hands should be gripped on him. Both of my eyes should be focused on Him. The words that I speak should speak of Him. Because nothing else matters. Period.

Folks, I’m a mess. I make mistakes. A lot. I have so many flaws and quirks that still need refining. I choose to reach for things that steal my affections from Jesus. Daily. And all with the knowledge of the things that stir my affections for Him. I turn my back on Him even when I know that nothing is sweeter than throwing myself into His arms. I hurt people with my words. Sometimes to their face. Most times behind their backs. Sometimes unintentionally, sometimes unconsciously, but the scary part is many times on purpose. Only Jesus and I are aware of just how much, and how quickly, my mind and heart turn towards judging and criticizing others, but you can trust me when I say it’s a lot. I fight my natural tendencies towards pride on a daily basis. And then when I recognize the pride, I fight the tendencies to lean into insecurities. I hold grudges, especially against those that hurt me in ways that I hurt others. I expect perfection of others, but then don’t hold myself to the same standards. I’m a walking contradiction. At the root of it all, I’m terribly selfishness. Terribly, terribly selfish. Who I am on my own taints the picture of Jesus that I claim to represent. And to be honest guys, all of this doesn’t even begin to cover it.

So the moral of the story: I need Jesus. Desperately. And that is why I get chills and my eyes fill with tears every time I sing of his amazing grace in my life. I need that grace. Daily. Hourly. Minutely. And it is ONLY by that grace that I have been redeemed and washed cleaned. I’ve been purchased and my sins have been pardoned by the blood of Christ and His resurrection. It has nothing to do with who I am or what I have done. So I need to stop holding onto my idea of my own perfection and embrace my mess so that God may be glorified, not me. It has everything to do with Jesus. And so it is HIM that I praise. It is only in HIM that I can boast. And so I boast of Him today to you, in the hopes that you may know that He is capable of doing the same thing in you that He has done in me.

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