Mistakes & Mercies

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”   Isa. 43:18-19

I woke up this morning feeling pretty good: my joints weren’t as stiff as over the last few days, and I was somewhat rested. During my morning stretches, I felt led to thank God for His “new mercies”, so that I could really start the day fresh. Well, before I finished flexing my feet, I realized that I’d forgotten a family member’s birthday. Not by just a day or so, either.

A cold splash of embarrassment hit, followed quickly by shame, a familiar one-two punch for me. Then it wasn’t long before other goof ups I’d committed paraded in front of me. And I’m not sure which was worse – how I judged myself, or the judgement I assumed others have had about me.

If someone else were to share a struggle like this with me, I’d probably say something like: “Even if you did make a mistake, you’re being awfully hard on yourself. Beating yourself up isn’t going to change anything.  Make it right as best you can, then let it go.”

That sounds like pretty good advice. So why is it so hard for me to follow? Part of the reason may be low self esteem, or looking for worth in what i do. But I think another part of it is a lack of faith.

In many scripture passages, I can find God’s promises about this very type of situation:

  • He forgives our sins

he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness…” 1Jn 1:9

  • He removes our sins

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Ps 103:12  

  • He forgets our sins

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”      Is 43:25
It seems like God has a lot more mercy on me than I’ve had on myself. And as His child, I need to concentrate more on what He says than how I feel. Yes, I’ll send a card and maybe even make a  call to express belated birthday greetings. But then it’s time to move on to those new things He’s doing!

Christian Perfection

In my Bible study last night we talked about perfection – namely, how we will never be perfect here in this life. And then this morning I read a devotional by Oswald Chambers that said,

“Christian perfection is not, and never can be, human perfection.”

Being a recovering perfectionist myself, I find a lot of comfort in this idea. Because over the years I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to perform at the highest level in every area, all the time. As I’ve said before, I have a habit of making big plans that usually include a spectacular result.

The problem with goals like those, besides being exhausting, is that they are an illusion. For example, I based my dreams for housekeeping and physical attractiveness on pictures I saw in magazines. And those images have to be  airbrushed and enhanced themselves to look perfect!

And why was I trying so hard to be perfect, anyway? Well, honestly, a lot of my motivation was impressing other people. I wanted to earn their attention and praise – the struggle would be worthwhile if I heard “oohs” and “ahs.” The funny thing was, I never felt satisfied even if I got them.

That’s one of the terrible things about reaching for worldly perfection. No amount of achievement or positive feedback ever really feels like enough. There’s always another room to straighten up, or another workout to do. And the cheers that you hear from others fade pretty quickly.

I’ve tried many times to simply ignore the drive to be perfect. I’ve told myself to be content with doing “my best.” But I think the drive is just part of who I am. The cure is to change what I’m driving for. And that’s where my faith comes in.

Chambers goes on to clarify what perfectionism should be for believers:

“Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship to God…”

Do you see the shift? I need to give up striving to impress people (or myself), and reach for a deeper connection to God. And even that is not all up to me – God meets me where I am, and does the work to bring me closer to Him, to make me perfect in Christ. The more I take hold of that truth, the less my human perfection matters!

Thinking With My Heart

Do you ever wake up in a blue mood? I’ve been fighting one this morning myself. Why? Well, it’s Monday…and cloudy…the breeze has a late November chill to it…all the stuffing and pie has been eaten up… you get the idea.

The thing is, I can bring to mind lots of pretty decent reasons to be down without much effort. I’m sure you can, too. And one issue often leads to another if I’m not careful.

Yesterday I was wishing my husband and I could get more “fun” time together. Within a few hours, I was convinced he didn’t like being with me and that we had no romance in our relationship anymore. No wonder I woke up discouraged today!

Thankfully, this time I didn’t get too far down that road. And I’m sure it was the  Holy Spirit’s doing. I was sitting at the kitchen table on the verge of tears, when a scripture verse popped into my head:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?                                Jeremiah 17:9

The words brought my thoughts to a screeching halt. And it occurred to me to wonder if all those negative thoughts were from my brain or my heart. Because I have to admit that I’ve had a history of listening to my feelings first, using rational thought as a back-up. That habit has led to some bad decisions – words spoken and actions taken that were based on faulty beliefs.

So I dared to ask this morning:

  • What do I think is true right now?

My marriage is struggling – we’re falling out of love, etc…

  • Is that based on feelings or reality?

Well

I reminded myself that we’ve both been in a busy, demanding season, which is both a blessing and a challenge. There’s work, of course. And we’re trying to be available for our kids to help them navigate life as older teens. New opportunities have opened up for both of us in ministry. We’re tired and a bit stressed by life. But that doesn’t mean we’re in trouble – it means we need some sleep and a good date night!

For me, emotions can have a lot of power. So when they come on especially strong, I need to take a step back and do a reality check. It sure worked for me today – my outlook has improved a lot already.

The Answer To Self Condemnation

As a young Christian, I dealt with a lot of guilty feelings. Accepting Jesus when I was 30 years old meant I entered my new life having made a lot of mistakes and bad choices. And each one left a sense of remorse behind, like a layer of sticky residue.

I’d only been to church a few times over the years, and had never read the Bible. Once I got settled into a congregation, I began to be tutored and discipled. And that’s where my struggle with guilt really kicked in.

You see, up until then I’d “gotten away” with sinning. I might have felt bad about hurting someone, or regret that I’d gotten myself into a bad situation. But I’d find all sorts of ways to avoid and ignore facing my responsibility head-on. The result was temporary relief, followed by a lingering feeling of “wrongness”.

The more I started to learn about God, the worse I felt about me. All I could see was how far I’d fallen short of His commands. The memory of every faulty thing I’d done came to haunt me, each a reminder of how hopeless I was. But I wasn’t hopeless – I was being misled.

The truth is that guilt can serve a very useful purpose. God uses it as a tool to help me realize when I’ve sinned. But I always took “good guilt” to the next step, into self-condemnation. And that is a favorite tool the enemy uses to discourage us.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”                          Romans 8:1

I think Paul understood the temptation to fall into self-condemnation. Earlier in Romans chapter 7, he lays out the ongoing battle we all face with our sinful nature. He ends up exclaiming “What a wretched man I am!” But Paul doesn’t stay there. He goes on to give us the way out – “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ…”

Do you ever feel weighed down by guilt? Go to God. When you confess your sins, He not only forgives them, but removes them from you. Because of what Jesus’ death on the cross, our sins are gone, separated from you forever. And when He’s done, you are clean – no sticky residue left behind!

When It’s Hard To Just Be Myself

I read a great post on the TheSeeds4Life blog, “Use What Talent You Possess” (November 7, 2015). It challenged us to “imagine a world where only the best in a certain area of interest were allowed to contribute.”  The post went on to argue that we all really do have a right to add our voices to the mix, whatever the level of ability or polish.

The blog also talked about our tendency to compare our work to someone else’s best work, and how we often hold ourselves back out of fear of being judged as inferior. The author encourages us to stop worrying about impressing the world, and to try and impact it for the better instead.

When I pictured that world of limiting thoughts, my first reaction was how discouraging it sounded. Negative beliefs like those lead us to immediately discount ourselves. We’ll always see our own unique talents, perspectives and ideas as less important than others. And what are we left with then? Trying to copy whatever has been named “the best”, working hard to reach some external ideal.

My second reaction was to recognize these beliefs in my own heart. I’ve not only had them, but for many years lived by them. For most of my life, I had a push-pull inside me of wanting to both express and hide my true self. The desire to embrace who I am warred with the wish to be just like everyone else.

As a result, I felt an odd mix of shame and frustration.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me looking at the accomplishments of others as a source of inspiration, or a way to learn more about an area of interest. It’s when I expect myself to measure up to anyone else, especially if they are more skilled than I am, that I dismiss the special contribution I could make as I am right now.

I want to be free to create and offer my best to the world, whatever that is. Are you with me?