The heavy topic of perfection once again sucked all of the oxygen from the air surrounding one of my kids the other night. I watched as the lure, the expectation and the absolute inability-to-be-perfect weighed heavy and locked in like a heat-seeking missile to its target. I guess with five kids, this topic was sure to be on deck—often.
Perfection. Best. Winner. Top. Words that, though not always spoken outright, inform so much of what we do. It probably enters the conversation so often because perfection/aspiration is the side-kick of doing, the action steps in life. And with it comes performance tension, since it’s hard to know how to do things without some sense of measurement.
And if/when these words are applied to a life of faith, they can be all the heavier. Especially as it relates to obedience—another word for doing.
The topic came up the other day with a friend of mine—not as it relates to school/grades/college applications like it can to my kids, but to parenting.
“It’s funny,” she said. “My husband and I were talking about it just last night. We thought we could ‘plan’ our family. And that parenting would be so rewarding. Cute outfits. Sweet artwork. Cheering from the stands at a baseball game. Birds singing . . . And yet here I sit. Our family looks different than we thought it would. And we doubt ourselves every day. Then wallow in our inconsistencies and beat ourselves up.”
“And we want,” she continued, “—maybe even need—for our kids to be perfect. For so many reasons, for them and for ourselves since we can’t shake the reflection thing. Then, we stress obedience. Obey to be good.”
What is it about obedience? Why is obeying so important? It’s a theme we see often in Scripture. In the NIV, it shows up 223 times. And apparently, “(t)o obey is better than sacrifice” (NIV 1 Samuel 15:22). Which is saying a lot. (See also: the book of Leviticus]
But obedience can be a tricky thing. Especially when considering the world’s idea of obedience compared to the Lord’s standard of obedience (which can be a mind-bender to grasp – as if we can this side of heaven.) Though the word is the same—obey—the road to it and outcome are significantly different.
With one, the road is uphill both ways striving to hit an ever-moving target that never satisfies. With the other, the road travels more like a journey than an arrival at a destination that is paved with doing as an outflow of trust and surrender.
One track dangles perfection like an artificial lure set forever out of reach, circling a track like a greyhound in a catch-the-rabbit race. The other offers perfection as a gift wrapped in brown-paper packaging which can make it easy to misunderstand, to overlook and even to trade for the more logical work-to-be-perfect box.
As far as I can tell, taking it down to the studs, it looks to me that:
Obedience to perfection = the world’s standard. Maybe even religion’s standard. If I do x then y then z, I’m good. In which case, we baseline trust in the ways of the world.
We live in the world, so how can we think anything different. The ways of the world not only seem good and right, they pave every path and define our self-worth from almost the minute we breath our first breath. From the age we crawl and how long we crawl determining intellectual capacity to the number/names of college acceptances weighing in on our identity, the world’s ways can be fickle. The Top Ten’s change, as do styles, as do all standards of perfection—even body types. The path to perfection or even simple acceptance is one paved with doing, and doing, and a little more doing—according to standard to the day.
The perfection thing is a prison, heavy-burdened with shackles. It matches perfection to works rather than love.
But . . .
Obedience to faith = God’s standard.
As I think about it, I’m convinced God wants us to obey not to be perfect, but in order to increase our faith.
To obey his commands (genuinely obey from the heart, which is different than being compelled to perform or out of fear) is to trust him. Trust. Literally transferring my will and my way to the will/way of someone else.
The path to perfection for God is different than the world’s. In the strangest, counter-intuitive way it’s a path based on His perfection, not ours. It looks less like doing and more like remaining—in his love. And it looks like trust. In fact, trust is kind of the linchpin. Because without trust, there sure aren’t any steps. But, I need to know Him and what He says in order to believe/trust. Which leads directly to faith, being sure of what I hope for and certain about what I don’t see. (Hebrews 11:1-2)
Obedience to faith: taking steps that put trust into action that on the other side of taking them lead to active faith. God’s standard is never obedience to perfection. He already took care of that. Maybe obedience is actually a gift that when accepted reveals the object of the faith required to open it.
Hmm . . . Thoughts on obedience—hard to put into words, fun to contemplate, lots more to be considered—of that I’m pretty sure.
Thanks for walking the road with me.