Tag Archives: hope

The Stars Speak Loudy, Wisely, in Silvery Silence

The yard mowing was finished. One more time. A personal best, by the way. Two hours. Mowing our 10,000 square foot yard usually requires almost three hours.

The last part of the job had pretty much been accomplished in Braille. It was a Wednesday evening. We’d gathered, as usual, with our church folks for a meal, etc., 6:00-7:00. (I am so very glad we meet that early.)

But Daylight Saving Time, a very mixed blessing, meant that I faced a decision at about 7:30. To mow or not to mow. That was the question. I did not want to. That was not in question. But this was the window I had for mowing for the next several days. If I waited, the yard would be, even this early in the season for us, a jungle.

So I mowed, figuring I’d get at least part of it done. I was amazed to finish the whole thing. (Only because I had trimmed pretty seriously on the previous mowing and got away with very little of that on Wednesday.) As I mentioned, darkness was coming on as I throttled down my mowing machine.

It really was a beautiful evening. So, once the rumble of the engine was silenced, I decided to sit out on the patio for a few minutes, partly to nurse my aching feet, and mostly to enjoy the quiet and the stillness.

The slivered moon was headed down behind my friend and neighbor’s workshop. Optical illusion, I know, but it surely seemed to head down faster the closer it got to the horizon. A lunar voyeur, I spied on it, lest it sneakily rebel and head back upward with no one watching. In the space of ten long breaths (I was counting), it slipped away, down for the count.

And, of course, as the moon went under, the stars, always there but needing the darkness to make their shimmering silvery presence known, began their sparkling dance.

The canopy of two huge trees in the backyard obscures part of the sky (blessed shade in the heat of the day), but the Big Dipper was shining through brightly. A very elementary knowledge of astronomy will reveal that drawing a line from the “pointer stars” (Merak and Dubhe), five times the distance between them (about twenty degrees), will land your eye on Polaris, the North Star, the anchor of the northern sky and friend of long generations of sailors.

The second star from the Dipper’s bowl is Mizar, and right beside it, if your eyes are good (this was an ancient eye test) you can make out Alcor.

The Big Dipper hasn’t changed recently. In about 50,000 years, I’m told, a bit of a shape change may be apparent. But on Wednesday night, I noticed what looked like another bright star in the pattern. What?!

And then the “star” moved. Jet airplanes do that. And that’s what it was. I had momentarily confused a few-years-old man-made object flying six miles high with God-made stars billions of years old, 51-123 light years away.

We should spend more time sitting in the darkness looking up at the stars. That night their silvery silence spoke loudly. My “airplane” difficulties may masquerade as stars, but they flit away, and God’s love-lit starlight remains.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Advertisements

When God Posts a Warning, It Pays to Pay Attention

It had to be a government production, the sign I saw. Only a glassy-eyed bean-counting bureaucrat with common sense completely and laboriously expunged by years of mind-numbing training could have produced it. (Your tax dollars at work.)

Posted above a busy tramway, the sign proclaimed in large letters: TOUCHING WIRES CAUSES INSTANT DEATH. Good information, that.

But then in smaller letters was posted this message: “$200 Fine.”

Well, fine indeed. But I’m not exactly sure what to make of that.

I’m always as willing as the next guy to avoid shelling out two hundred bucks, but if paying up is presented as the alternative to sudden and gruesome death, I’d likely shell out a couple of C-notes.

Does the second warning belie the truth of the first? “Touch these wires, moron, and you’ll surely be quick-fried to a crackly crunch! But maybe not. In which case, you’ll be fined, and that’ll teach you!”

Or maybe there’s no contradiction at all. Maybe the long arm of the bureaucracy involved will reach right past death. The dead dumbo, smoky and smelling a lot like an electrical fire, finds himself waiting almost eternally (in a long line, no doubt) in front of a desk in the afterlife. He waits forever to file the forms in triplicate needed to remove the $200 lien on his account that’s got his posthumous processing locked up in limbo.

I’m not sure I get it. The sign’s message, I mean.

But I am sure I won’t be touching tramway wires if I should happen to run across any. I don’t like the sound of that stiff fine.

Some governmental signs and warnings can be a bit baffling. But it occurs to me that when God gives a warning, we do well to pay very close attention. Some things that we touch will hurt us worse than even an electrified tramway wire.

Touch adultery, God warns us, and we will get scorched. Count on it.

Grab hold of greed, and we’ll end up with some awfully bad burns. We can be sure of that.

Grasp bitterness and embrace an unforgiving and critical spirit, and, even if we’re sure we’ve been terribly mistreated and have a great excuse for the chip on our shoulder, we’ll still end up alone. Resentment is a very chilly friend.

Grip such tempting wires, and so many more like them, and we can end up with scorched souls and in deep pain. God knows it’s tempting; that’s why he gave us the warnings. And, thank God indeed, his grace and healing are real, available as often as we fail, as present as our next breath, as rich and deep and life-giving as our Father’s loving heart.

But the truth is that when we ignore his warning and choose to play with that which is deadly, pain is always the consequence. Worse, if we hang on to those hot wires long enough and are burned so badly that we refuse to ask for healing, death can come even before we die.

When God gives a warning, it pays to listen.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Shortest Distance in the World

The shortest distance in the world is the space between hero and heel.

On that first Palm Sunday the cheering crowd lay palm branches in Christ’s path as he entered Jerusalem. By that Friday we call “Good,” how many of those same voices were crying, “Crucify him!”?

Jesus was not surprised. The prophet had said long ago that God’s servant would be “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3). And we’re told that Jesus “knew what was in man” (John 2:24), that he knew humans “inside out” and “didn’t need any help seeing right through them” (The Message).

But it had to hurt. On Sunday, a crowd is praising; on Friday, a crowd is cursing.

On Sunday, they’re praising the one they hope will inaugurate an earthly kingdom and shed the blood of the hated Roman conquerors. On Friday, they’re screaming for the blood of the one whose spiritual kingdom seemed short of swords and firepower.

But Jesus was not surprised. Soon he will look out over the city (foreseeing her doom) and weep, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who bring you God’s news . . .” (Matthew 23:37).

Now Entering Jerusalem: Hometown of [Supply Prophet’s Name] read the signs put up by the Chamber of Commerce. No fine print mentions the names of the upstanding citizens who’d years ago put the prophets to death. “The shortest distance . . .” Short and selective memories, too.

But what if Jesus had just agreed to be the kind of king they wanted? Judas probably could have saved his blood money. James and John could have taken seats as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, though the Romans might not have let that “kingdom” last long.

Yes, but if Jesus had simply listened to Satan, agreeing to bow before the Prince of Darkness in exchange for worldly power, Rome would’ve gone down! I wonder how many despots today, not to mention their predecessors already moldering in history’s dust bin, would grab just such a deal? (Or name any size tyrant, any size venue.) What if Christ had chosen to call legions of angels to take him off the cross and destroy the world (he knew that he could), well, talk about power!

What if, like the crowd in Jerusalem, we prefer Jesus to be the kind of king who’ll give us everything we want—easy lives, health, wealth, success, political clout, etc.? And what if he doesn’t?

The crowd wants a revolution. Judas wants one, too. Right now! Peter pulls out a sword to fight. And Jesus, with power completely beyond the understanding of power players and blowhards, shakers and movers, fighters and king-makers, is so strong that he lays down his rights even as he lays down his life, and he dies to do the will of his Father and save weak and selfish rights-mongerers like . . . us.

We’re curse-hoarse from yelling “Crucify him!” as he quietly refuses to be the kind of king we want. Nailed to the cross, held not by spikes but by quiet love-filled might that puts the world’s “mighty” utterly to shame, he shows himself to be exactly the kind of King we need.

“Therefore, God has exalted him to the highest place . . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . .” (Philippians 2:9-10).

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Some Questions as We Sail into a New Year

Well, we’ve done it again. Managed to blunder on into another new year.

Hmm. I wonder why just now I said “blunder”? Amazing how just a few letters carelessly tossed together can affect the taste of the whole word’s salad.

I could just as easily have said “wander” or “stumble” or even “stagger.” None of the above would have been much nicer or more optimistic, I’m afraid, and I apologize for that. The flavor of those words is rather pointed out by that word “optimistic” which is precisely what they are not.

If the captain of the vessel upon which you are sailing is heard early in the morning to grouchily exhort the helmsman, “See to it, Smythe, that you don’t blunder onto any rocks near the shore today,” well, that’s not a very inspirational thought for passengers who’d on the whole prefer to face the voyage with higher hopes than avoiding a bone-crushing fatal wreck on unseen reefs and a cold gruesome death by drowning.

Whether your journey is by train, plane, or automobile, you’d generally hope, I’m sure, that the engineer or pilot or driver referring to the day’s travel would be judicious in his or her use of such uninspiring words and sentiments. You’d generally like to think that the journey had some sort of plan to it and that those charged with its execution had at least a modicum of expertise and skill with which to execute the plan and conduct a pleasant, rewarding, and eventually successful trip.

Oh, yes, you’d like to think so. But therein, I suppose, lies the question. Is this journey we’re all on actually going somewhere? Is there a point to it? Are we on course or just adrift? And who, pray tell, is doing the steering?

I’m wondering a bit right now about the course of this column and where it’s tending. It’s possible that in the next few paragraphs I may completely answer the questions just raised, queries that have found their way into human minds ever since our ancestors had leisure to quit running from saber-toothed tigers and pause in the breath-catching to think loftier and more complicated thoughts. If I do blunder, wander, or stagger into profound answers, I’ll be surprised. I will say, though, that I think the answers center on the nature of the journey, the passengers, and, most important, the Captain.

For my part, I believe that the journey has a point and a destination. That the Captain has given us such freedom to make real and consequential course decisions along the way is sobering. (Entering this year with two loud out-sized “characters” bantering about the size of their nuclear buttons is not particularly encouraging.)

I think the Captain—the best and wisest of all—has given us a “seaman’s manual” to help us in plotting a wise course and to show us how other travelers have sailed. The whole point of the manual is to point us to his best gift, an ever-present Guide who sails with us, for whom no storm has ever been a match, and in whose strength a wonderful destination is sure and secure.

I, for one, need to be reminded to sail with much more real confidence, joy, and hope than might be my natural inclination or warranted if I were my own master. My Captain can steer me past all blunders and through all sorts of seas safe into Port, and that’s a hope-filled truth to shine a warm light on the whole voyage.

By the way, may I suggest that you turn to the manual and read Psalm 121? Great words for travelers all along the journey!

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


God Comes to Us Not As We Wish We Were But As We Are

 

 

At first the quotation I’m about to share may sound a bit cynical, but when you have a little time to think about it, I think you’ll agree with me that it is not only realistic and true, it is filled with hope.

You see, when God came into this world “in the flesh,” he was laid in a manger, a feed trough, in a stable surrounded by everything anyone in first century Palestine would expect to find in such a place—including the very thing you can find in ample supply in almost all stables today—a serious and almost unending supply of manure.

So a gentleman named Morse has written, “That the treasure of God’s grace reaches us surrounded by garbage will not seem surprising to anyone who is personally familiar with life in the church. . . . Grace comes to us, so Martin Luther argues, hidden sub contrario, beneath its opposite. From this perspective, any idealized view of the church as only treasure is as faulty a vision of reality as any cynical view that the church is only garbage. Mangers, by definition, are found where there is manure.”

You see, God comes to us “while we were yet sinners”—while we are as we always are—not what we wish we were, but what we are.

God comes to us as the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest!”

God comes to us as as those shining and mighty heralds proclaim the amazing message that the Savior has been born—and with that wonderful news comes the accompanying note that is almost as surprising—that we common mortals whom God’s Son has been born to save are those “on whom his favor rests.”

When the God of the universe comes to us, the amazing paradox is most fitting: He comes as the heavenly hosts sing, as heavens lit up with splendor declare the glory of God, but he comes in a tiny helpless form, lying in a manger, God in a most unlikely situation and shape, but having entered that situation and taken that shape, most likely crying just like any other of a thousand little babies, even those lying in far more appropriate cribs. And he comes surrounded by manure that smells, I think you can be sure, just like the manure in any of a thousand other stables.

In that manner of coming, we see God’s grace shining even more brightly than the Christmas star, and in that paradox of his coming, we find our best, our truest, our only, our highest hope.

God comes to us not as we wish we were, but as we are.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Christmas Seems to Come Around Once a Week”

Years ago, when a friend and church member who was well into his eighties told me that for him Christmas seemed to come around about once a week, I believed him.

But now, having tasted life at sixty, I’m getting Jay Butler’s point even more clearly. I might not say that Christmases seem to flit by “once a week,” but they surely do seem to come around far more quickly than they did when I was a child (or even, say, 25 or so).

You don’t have to tell me that the rate of m.p.h. (minutes per hour) really doesn’t change. Or that the whole thing is an illusion.

I understand that, though the moon certainly looks a lot bigger when it’s right above the horizon, it’s actually the same size always. I’m a very scientifically-oriented person. I realize that lunar green cheese doesn’t really expand or contract nearly as much as a quick glance might lead us to believe.

And, no matter how “slow the moments go,” or seem to, when you’re in love “for sentimental reasons” (says that sweet old song), minutes are minutes made up of sixty seconds strung along at exactly the same rate whether you’re gazing in eternal bliss into the eyes of your sweetie or gripping chair arms in unending agony as your dentist performs a root canal.

The reality, of course, is that the blissful moment only seems eternal and the cursed agony only seems unending. The sands of time actually drop through the glass at a fixed rate.

We know the reality, but we also know that it doesn’t feel real. Of course, if we trusted our feelings—the unhappiest and most dangerously unstable people in the world always do, and I hope you know better than to make that mistake—we’d swear that our fun/happy times fly by while our sad/painful times drag on forever.

An Internet search regarding this phenomenon led me to an article in The Observer which pointed me to psychologist and journalist Claudia Hammond’s intriguing book, Time Warped. I’d thought that the perception of the frequency of the Christmas season’s arrival had to do mostly with the varied frames of reference, the obviously different chronological perspectives, of, say, a four-year-old and an eighty-year-old. Yes, in part.

But Hammond points to a “holiday paradox.” As they’re being lived, special times seem to fly by, but their memories last much longer than the “ordinary” times that seem to drag endlessly but whose memories fade in a heartbeat. The ordinary times we zip through on autopilot. The special times in which we do new things and create new experiences are rich in lasting memories. For good reasons, your memory of a sweet event one Christmas will last a lot longer than what seemed like an eternal bout with your last cold, even though Christmases seem to fly by. (I’m not doing the book justice. It’s a good read.)

How long did God’s people of faith wait for that first Christmas? Almost forever, it seemed. But at just the right moment, “when the time had fully come,” God sent his Son and hope that will truly last forever.

I love Christmas. I’m okay with Christmases coming around very quickly. But I want to squeeze the juice out of every moment. I know now that I shouldn’t waste a single moment of Advent expectation/preparation and deep Christmas joy.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Some Clues That the Holidays Are on the Way

Well, it’s official! The holidays are on the way. The calendar says so, of course, but other clues abound.

I just spent a day singing Christmas songs for folks at a great Christmas craft bazaar. I’ve often fussed about “rushing the season” and worried that Halloween goblins and Thanksgiving turkeys are increasingly at risk of being run down by out of control and out of season Christmas sleighs, but a Christmas bazaar in early November is not rushing the season; it’s right on time.

So I got a chance to tune up, sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Thanksgiving” (just kidding), and get myself ready for the soon-to-come prime time Yuletide crooning. Fun!  (I could only, that early, bring myself to sing “Christmas Must Be Tonight” once, but I’ll be singing it with gusto a good many days before it becomes literal!)

You don’t need a calendar to see leaves turning. It seems to me that our area foliage has never been more deeply crimson and glittery gold. Do your leaf-looking early in the afternoon, though. Daylight Saving Time is gone again, and it’ll be getting dark ten minutes or so after lunch. (Still kidding, but DST’s demise is indeed another clue.)

Ah, and here’s a clue. The toughest flowers of all have arrived. When other plants retreat, seek shelter, and hide in the greenhouse, here come the pansies in full bloom, daring the frost and snow.

Not much fun, but a clue nonetheless . . . flies are relentlessly trying to become houseflies indeed. They can’t freeze fast enough to suit me, but the soon-to-be-deadsters are mounting a full-on autumn assault.

Yes, but the best clue of all at our house is that the candles have been banished from the fireplace, and we’ve just had the first fire of the season. I love it! I like living in an area and at an altitude where fireplaces are much more than decorative. I know that in lots of homes, the fireplace and the TV are battling for “focal point” status. My vote is firmly cast for the former, and it’s one of my favorite features of this time of year. It’s burning now! Big clue!

Along that line, my wife and I are like most couples thermostatically speaking—wired differently. She likes thin bed covers and a fast-moving ceiling fan; I like cover that’s six inches thick and right up to my nose, the better to help me seek refuge from the ever-present fan. I’ll wait another month (for an ice storm and/or snow) before my seasonal plea for the down comforter has any chance for a fair hearing. But, the annual comforter kerfuffle notwithstanding, I take comfort in the fact that life has a way of balancing out. She can turn on the fan; I can build a fire.

All of this—thermostatic skirmishes and all—is as predictable as the seasons themselves.

Calendars are fine. But I like these additional clues that, right around the chronological corner, seasons are coming in which we’ll thank Someone larger than our turkey-gorged selves and rejoice that a Heaven-filled manger proclaims that love and hope are always in season.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Short Words Are Best” and Three Are Best of All

“Short words are best,” asserted Winston Churchill, “and the old words when short are best of all.”

So may I suggest three—very short and very old which when lined up and strung together are the best three that could possibly be.

GOD IS LOVE.

These words are chiseled into the rock, woven into the fabric, of the universe. More than that, if anything could be more, they are living and implanted by the Author of life into its every cell, resonating in every breath and heartbeat. How could we not feel the life of those three short words pulsing all around us? Ah, perhaps in part because they are so much around us that we live in them and swim in them like fish enlivened by but largely oblivious to the very thing that gives them life.

God is love.

Note that in this short, old, and every morning new, equational sentence, the verb, the multiplier, and the fulcrum is IS, to BE. Yes, eternally. And, yes, of course, the “great I AM” will always be and will always be exactly what He always is, love.

Those three words mean that as long as our Father wills the universe to be, the stars to twinkle, the worlds to spin—if packed in every grain of sand on every sea-washed beach was a million years and all of those mini-mega-grains were stretched across creation at attention in single sand-soldier file—the dance of the cosmos, the symphony of space, and the music of the spheres, will still play on because God is GOD, and God always IS, and God will always be LOVE.

The order of the short word-cars on this magnificent train matters immensely. “God is love” is a breathtaking stream flowing with the life of the Creator and wash-singing, joy-splashing, over every rock and crevasse of the universe. “Love is god” is an idolatrous sludge defiling its worshipers and leaving a black trail of death, desolation, and the tears of despairing children in its sad and slimy wake. The first sings with the life of the Creator; the latter stagnates and festers in the stench of death-ridden darkness.

And, yes, in a fallen, sin-sick, and sadly twisted world, darkness is real and too often seems utterly pervasive. But no eclipse is forever. The sun’s corona glows around the blackness, impatient to blaze again unfettered, and we have the promise of Eden’s Creator that one day unending joy will again be the watchword of the universe. The first Adam fell, and we see the wreckage and the pain, but Adam’s word is not the last.

Because of the three short words that find their fruition, culmination, and crowning glory in the one Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

Does it sometimes, even often, seem unbearably dark? One Word “shines in the darkness” and will banish it forever, all because of the three short words: God is love.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“I Will Lift Up My Eyes to the Hills”

 

Something about the mountains my soul needs regularly and loves always. There’s just something about gaining altitude, heading up!

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills,” writes the psalmist as he beautifully affirms that all of his “help comes from the Lord” (Psalm 121).

Reading the Gospels, I feel some sweet altitudinal affirmation when I read about Jesus “going up on the mountainside” to pray. Of course, we can pray and receive strength from our Father at any and all altitudes. But “up” seems a particularly good direction to go for the strength needed to deal with life back “down there.”

It’s no accident that it was up on a “high mountain” that Jesus was “transfigured” before the wide eyes of Peter, James, and John as that clear, crisp mountain air blazed with God’s glory.

What’s really needed, of course, is for us to ask God to help us live with our eyes open. But life just seems to run a lot better when our eyes are pointed in an upward direction.

Even in the muck and the mire of a sin-sick and fallen world, if we can find the strength to look up in the midst of the darkness, we see God’s stars, and their silvery light spells hope.

When our souls are oppressed by the weight of 24-hour news, much of it bad (and at least 23 hours more than we need), if we’ll just wash our hearts out with beautiful music, we’ll find that music can be God’s blessing to lift us up, if only for a few moments, to a much higher, more beautiful place.

When we’re disappointed and hurt by human failures—not least, our own—and we’re feeling bent over under the accumulated weight of the weakness that has appalled us yet again, often that’s exactly when God’s Spirit can use our bending to be the first step toward our bowing. Then in worship our eyes are lifted up to the sinless One dying to carry all of our sins—past, present, and future—away from us forever.

To accept that sacrifice and live in the light of that truth is blessing and uplift indeed, in the highlands, the lowlands, or the plains.

But I find myself especially “lifted up” and thankful to have opened my eyes in the mountains on this particular morning, the start of almost a week in the hills. And it’s easy for me to echo the words of John Muir: “Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.”

Yes, the mountain peaks seem to point up to God like the spires of a cathedral.

The majesty of the mountains reminds us of the majesty of God.

The seemingly timeless face of a mountain reminds us of the timeless permanence of God.

The enormity of the mountain reminds us of the vastness of God.

The awesome power of the mountain reminds us of the unshakeable strength of God.

Yes, indeed, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills.”

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Repeat Regularly: “There Is One God; I Am Not Him”

“Oh, I guess I’m just a perfectionist,” I opined, in an “Aw, shucks!” sort of feigned shame tone, as I tried to hide the weird contortions required to pat oneself on the back.

But twisted pride is one of perfectionism’s pernicious symptoms. Perfectionists like to think they are a cut above ordinary folks. We have, we think, higher standards, work with more diligence, and see more clearly than pretty much everyone else.

Granted, low standards, lazy workers, and the lousy outcomes produced by such are not hard to find. But those ills are never cured by perfectionists; if anything, they are made worse. Even folks who do an average to slightly above average job just want to give up under the incessant pressure of a perfectionist’s thumb; folks on the lower end of the scale won’t even try.

Perfectionism’s thinly-veiled arrogance, along with out-of-balance priorities, and deep (and sick) need to be in control, spells death to any sort of genuine contentment and pushes family, friends, and co-workers, away. Perfectionism sucks the air out of any room and throttles healthy relationships. And perfectionists are sadly unable to see perfectionism’s malignant imperfection.

Yes, its pride is stinky. But the real rot at its heart is the poison of fear, the soul-throttling terror of never being able to measure up, which leads to frantic effort—never ceasing, never resting, and, of course, never succeeding—to be completely in control.

In the final analysis, perfectionism is idolatry, and idolatry always fails. Since we are incapable of being in absolute control of our own lives—and were never meant to be—we fail at being our own gods. And since others were never meant to acknowledge us as their gods, we fail at forcing those around us to “have no other gods before us.” Bowing down to the true God is freeing; bowing down to a perfectionist is enslaving and utterly exhausting. Eventually, the slaves will revolt. The spouse has had it. The kids’ act out or get sick. The co-workers quit.

Based on miserable insecurity and fear, not on “high standards” as the perfectionist likes to suppose, perfectionism never works. “Good enough” will never be “good enough” under a perfectionist’s reign. No victimless malady, it will render both the sufferer and those who suffer the sufferer miserable.

And forget the myth that perfectionism is productive. Study after study has shown the truth one song-writer put into words: The way to write a really good song is to write a good many bad ones. Living life in a fear-based, frantic attempt to produce perfection really means not producing much at all (and certainly not enjoying the process).

Anne Lamott has written, “I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

For Christians, the truth is even more serious. Perfectionism is a denial of the gospel, a slap in the face of the Savior, as perfectionists live and act as if they need no saving at all, certainly not as much as ordinary folks. But to accept Christ’s sacrifice requires admitting our utter inability to save ourselves. It’s only when we confess our powerlessness, weakness, and imperfection that he enables us to throw off the fear, futility, and idolatry of perfectionism, to embrace his deep peace and joy and live truly gracious lives in the sure knowledge that we are saved by sheer mercy and grace.

Maybe I should delete all of the above and just write (and repeat each hour) an eight-word anti-perfectionism creed: There is one God. I am not Him.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 


%d bloggers like this: