Months ago I listened to a sermon and took notes furiously. It was a topic that just struck a chord with me and had my husband and I basking in God’s grace and goodness. It was about how we are not expected to be perfect, never once has God laid that expectation upon us… yet, somehow, we fell victim to the idea that in order to be accepted by God we needed to be “better,” perfect even. Perfection first, God’s love second.
Even though we (individually, as a couple, and as a family) have moved well past what “perfect” looks like, our eyes will still flood when we realize God loves us despite our imperfections.
In order for us to feel REAL life, we need to know what that is. REAL, tangible life is not found in work, degrees, the second home hundreds of miles away, or belonging to those professional organizations with people of the same “class.” REAL life is in letting go of all of that stuff. REAL life is laying it all down for Him. REAL life is when we face a choice between two “gods” we choose the actual one. Finally, REAL life is not just doing all of that but feeling the grace from it. It’s feeling freedom in Him. REAL life is IN Christ. So how does this relate to the “Perfect Family?”
If we care a lot about what others think about our family or our performance as a family then we’ve lost sight of the whole thing. If we are fronting perfection to our friends and family, or only allowing them to “see” a very tiny amount of REAL, then they cannot see God’s redemption and miracles in our lives. To believe in the idea of the picture perfect family is a rejection of the Bible. If we are fronting perfection (or almost perfection) then we don’t believe that God can make things right. If we are fronting, then we don’t believe in the TRUTH that God has allowed whatever is happening to our family so everyone can see His glory. Let me show you how this works…
Say a family had an adult child who was on a streak. The man was without a home and was sleeping on strangers’ couches… strangers’ that likely sold him his “highs.” Now say the family was so mortified and embarrassed by this that whenever someone asked about him they would lie and say he was fine. Then, say years later the man recovered. He quit drugs, got stable, got a house and was a productive member of society… a miracle in and of itself for anyone who has witnessed anyone struggle with addiction. Now that family can’t reveal any of the good story either because, again, it’s revealing the warts. God’s glory cannot be shown nor expressed in this situation. You might disagree and say you absolutely can tell the story after the ending is perfect but people won’t see your dedication to trust in God. People won’t see your pain and your prayers and then God’s redemption.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8
The opposite side of this scenario, which I have witnessed personally, is when a family is carefully open with the topic. They share the information in trusted friendships and between trusted family members, honoring the sacred space. This widens the circle of prayer for the man as well. This allows more shoulders for tears and hugs for the grieving and more opportunities for those surrounding the loved one to express love and compassion. Then, when the man turns his life around, so many can rejoice together as they have witnessed God’s power. They all have also experienced TRUE connection beyond skin depth.
Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20
Something I wrote verbatim from the sermon was this: Let your relationships be built out of grace, not performance. This one is easy for me to do with pretty much anyone. Even with boundaries I can extend grace. I can understand why people are the way they are and react they way they do. I may not agree but I understand. I have friends that sometimes I want to just grab by the shoulders and shake because they’ve unknowingly injured me or someone else in a variety of ways but I understand how they missed it… I see that they still have some old coping mechanism holding them back or a character defect that needs to disappear. But with my children, ugh…
As much as watching children play sports is cute, it can also send some parents into convulsions and I think it’s an excellent exercise for grace. We have found ourselves in an excellent basketball league where the children learn a lot and the parents are (typically) cool as cucumbers at the games, not focusing only on the children’s playing abilities but also on their sportsmanship and continued knowledge and growth in the sport. Parents will cheer for good plays done by both sides. Heck, at my son’s last game parents on both sides cheered for two of my son’s ATTEMPTS at the basket because he’s a timid player. The parents were happy at his improvement. Improvement, not perfection. Last year my son played defense the entire time… even when he should have been playing offense. Yet, after every game he was so excited for his teammates that scored points and would ask us if we saw him do something special, sometimes involving helping a kid (teammate or opponent) off of the floor. We try not to coach him from the sidelines or on the car ride home. We simply ask him if he had a good time after games and comment on something good he did. It is the MOST relaxed and supportive sporting club we’ve been involved with.
In contrast was our soccer experience this past fall. Our daughter was on a soccer team and one dad was VERY into his son’s (and everyone else’s) performance… so much so that the coach sent an email to all of the parents reminding them that this was a RECREATION league, not a competitive one and laid some ground rules for parent behavior on his team (you can bet we are asking to be on this coach’s team again!).
For whatever reason, some parents struggle with children in sports. All eyes are on the children on the playing field and some parents feel as though those eyes are equally on them… as if their judgement as parents are in the balance while their kids throw a football or shoot a hoop. It’s a very strange phenomenon… we expect perfection in sports when these littles are just learning the rules and also growing into their bodies (and if you have an oversized kid, or an ungraceful one, this is learning experience in itself. We’ve been blessed with one of each.).
For other parents it’s other things like grades, jobs, titles, and positions. I worked for a man once, in his mid-40’s and he STILL struggled with his dad’s expectations of him. My boss was the worst perfectionist I have ever encountered and it bled into his expectations of everyone else and, as much as he tried to hide it, it also revealed his insecurity. Because he would never be “perfect” he felt like he was less than, and he projected his anger on everyone around him.
This man told me about his father and he said that it wasn’t until his dad came to visit him in recent years, that he said “Wow, son. I had no idea that you actually were able to do all of this!” On one hand, it pleased my boss to finally have received recognition for all of his dedication and hard work (at the expense of his marriage, liver and social network) but on the other hand it again revealed his dad’s distrust of son’s abilities. It revealed his very high expectation as well. It also reveals the side-affects of having perfectionism as a measuring stick. … it’s no wonder my boss moved halfway across the country to live (and I sometimes wonder how I got so many people, superiors, to reveal so much to me about their lives… I think missed a calling somewhere.).
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, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
What’s the antidote for these problems? I think we have to look to our father and see how He treats us.
Being a Christian isn’t the same as being a citizen or a member of a club. We are accepted into His family regardless of our performance. In a true FAMILY people are “in” regardless of what they do. You have the blood flowing in your veins, you’re in! Yet, many churches (most I would say), tell their congregation that unless they follow a bunch of rules they are not “in,” or at least are not as good as others who follow the rules better … and the children in our families feel the same way if we operate under a club membership.
A week ago my daughter messed up in a social setting. She had a guest and made a significant misstep. After her guest left my husband and I sat her down and discussed what she did wrong, in addition to the ignoring of our direction to correct it. The problem was my expectation of her social interaction was quite a bit higher than her abilities… thus, my irritation by her actions were pretty high. Throughout the day I kept revisiting the topic with her and by nightfall I could tell she was exasperated. She wasn’t responding the way I needed so I kept going back. My words were fine, not hurtful, but I know my tone was not the best.
Parents, do not anger your children, but rear them in the discipline and in the teaching of Our Lord. – Ephesians 6:4
I was frustrated and angry and it took my quiet prayer time before bed to take a huge step back and look at the bigger picture. The next morning, I snuggled with my girl in bed and told her how much I loved her and that we don’t expect perfection and I apologized for my belaboring on her imperfection. In phrasing she could understand, I tried to convey how I want our home to feel like a TRUE “family” membership, not a “club” membership. There’s no performance required to feel love from her dad and me.
This seems elementary, that it doesn’t need explaining… but for some of us, we didn’t feel like this in our homes growing up. Whether it was intentional or not we felt like our parents’ love depended on our performance. I’m sure parents felt like if they shamed kids for bad behavior or made them feel like the child’s bad behavior affected their mood that the child would perform better. The problem is that IF this works for a child’s performance, it creates little people pleasers or worse… it causes a child to feel like their performance is tied to their parents’ love and their membership in the family.
If we quit focusing on expectations that bend toward perfectionism and/or performance then we exude the kind of family that is God’s family. It’s not easy, I know. Let’s not lose sight of the goal here. The most impactful people we have in our midst are our children. How we parent them will affect them for life, seriously. We won’t be perfect (we aren’t expected to be, awesome isn’t it?). We WILL make mistakes. Our children will need to put on their big girl and big boy pants and overcome whatever challenges we may have unknowingly placed before them. HOWEVER, the biggest goal in our lives is to get them to the eternal place where we will see them again. In order to do this effectively, we need to model God for our kids.
This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. – 2 Samuel 22:31
Throughout the bible our God is referred to as our “father.” Jesus taught us this in the Lord’s Prayer. So, if we give our children very flawed parenting they may have issues trying to understand their relationship with God. They will think that love from God is dependent on perfectionism or on not breaking any rules or on not having any questions about anything religious. NOWHERE does God expect this from us. Not once. The bible speaks of GOD’S WAY being perfect and if we follow it our lives will be easier but God made us with our flaws… perfectionism was never the expectation.
If perfectionism WAS the expectation He wouldn’t have made beautiful lives and/or done beautiful things out of imperfect people in the bible. Noah drank too much, Samson and David loved their women, Peter denied Christ, and Paul persecuted and had Christians killed. We shouldn’t confused righteousness with rightness. We can be righteous but still mess up. We can be right but not be at all righteous. We need to be clear in our understanding of the two and ensure we convey the truth to our children.
Being a human in this world is hard work, it truly is. We need to give our children a leg up by giving them a solid foundation both in their families of origin but also in their family with Christ.