by Emily Conrad
Just leave it alone, Emily. Leave it alone.
I’ve repeated this to myself often as I’ve sat in front of paintings, a brush in my hand and an image I wish to create.
Just a little more paint, my creative side answers. I can make this work.
But dabbing at the problem I was trying to solve worsens the issue.
It’s time to take a break, says my reason. If you let the paint dry some, you can add a fresh layer.
But I’m almost there! A few swishes of the paint brush later, the creative side of my brain is forced to admit defeat. I set the brush down and go write a blog post.
Worrying a watercolor will damage the paper and result in an unattractive blob of color.
I’ve done it with blog posts and other writing projects—revising and editing until I’m ready to scrap the whole thing because it’ll never measure up. I’ve done it with relationships, wearing holes in my heart by worrying over an issue that didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. In both cases, I’m left with a blob of anxiety over missing the mark of perfection.
My better judgement (or perhaps my friends and family) tells me to let it go, but I grab hold, trying to come up with some approach or perspective that will suddenly make it all better.
That moment of clarity doesn’t arrive.
Still, it an be incredibly hard to walk away.
After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”? (Matthew 5:48, NET)
Okay, Jesus! I’m on it!
But of course, I fail miserably in the attempt, just as Jesus knew I would.
Have you been there, too?
If a simple command to be perfect was all we’d needed, Jesus wouldn’t have come to die on a cross.
But He did, because He knew what we subtly deny when we obsess over getting things right: we’ll never attain perfection. We need His perfection to cover us.
So why is that line in the Sermon on the Mount? I suspect it’s so we would understand just how far over our heads the bar is and just how desperately we need a Savior.
In our attempts to avoid or relieve guilt, we can easily turn to obsessing over perfection, but as perfectionists can tell you, such a mission only results in more guilt.
Relief and perfection come only in Jesus.
Once we accept Christ, we’re covered in his perfect righteousness, and that’s enough—even though we’re still in process toward becoming like Christ.
Take Paul for example. He writes in Philippians 3:12-14:
I have not already been perfected – but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. […] Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (NET)
Even he, such a dedicated follower and representative of Christ, wasn’t yet perfect. He set the example for us, however, in forgetting what lay behind him and pressing on toward what Christ called him to.
He’s focused on the future. He’s letting the paint of the past dry.
Do we still learn from it? Sure. The Holy Spirit teaches us and trains us, and the experiences of our lives are part of that. Unhealthy obsession over what grace has already covered shouldn’t be.
So when obsession sets in, we can take a step back and ask Jesus to show us what to do and when.
We can ask Him show us what we can learn and then move on, waiting for Him to show us His wisdom and His ways in His time. We can trust Jesus with our pasts and press forward into the future He has for us.
When I keep this in mind, I’m better at aiming for excellence without clinging to the idea that I’ll reach perfection.
So, all of that said, I’ve got this post drafted. My latest watercolors have had some chance to dry, and this post deserves that, too.
Obsession has never once resulted in perfection. The only way to that is Jesus.
I’m off to work on something else.
PS – If you’re reading this post in February 2019, my novel Justice is on sale for 1.99! Check it out here.
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