Faithful, Not Perfect

Much of my writing stems from an internal call I’ve been hearing the Holy Spirit speak to my own heart. Lately, His still small voice has been reminding me what it is that I’m actually called to in daily life, and that is faithfulness. When I hear that reminder, it feels like a soothing balm to a soul that can quickly become infected with an external pressure toward perfectionism. By perfection, I’m not talking about the biblical call of Christ to “be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48); because we know by that our Lord means for us to surrender our weakness to the power of His strength and grace, which will be made perfect in us (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

I’m talking about a mindset that measures success—in all areas of life—by whether or not my responsibilities have been done exactly according to an objective standard and process of human perfection. Self is savior where the perfectionist mindset takes root. Such a mindset is the antithesis to which the Father calls His children, for it moves us away from relying on His will and His gift of grace by which we are able to accomplish our work. 

A heart aimed at the goal of faithfulness, rather than perfection, is daily in tune with the voice of the Father. Our God is never saying to us, “Perform, impress, excel, earn my love.” Instead, His call is to “rest, obey, listen, love, surrender, give, receive.” We serve a faithful God who calls us to a life of daily faithfulness. I emphasize “daily” because I believe that God is only ever asking us to live one moment at a time. 

In fact, faithfulness has everything to do with the present moment, not all of the possibilities coming down the line. We see this truth echoed again and again in the lives of the saints. These faithful men and women kept their eyes on Jesus in the present moment. Certainly, they brought Him into plans for the future; but they didn’t live consumed with what was coming next. They lived day-by-day, knowing well that they were not promised tomorrow and that today contained enough with which to occupy oneself (Matthew 6:34).

If we are to be faithful stewards to our Lord, and experience His peace in that endeavor, then we must walk ourselves back to living more in the present moment. I think that when we do this, we are much more inclined toward His plan, rather than our own. We are able to let go of all expectations that we place upon our own shoulders. We simply ask, “What have you given me to do today, or in this moment, Lord?” He will reveal it. We may need to apply the process of discernment and quiet listening to His direction. Living moment-by-moment with our faithful God, we become more faithful. As we are being transformed, we more readily recognizing the contrast between a faithful life and one imprisoned in the confines of perfectionism:

  • Perfectionism tries to control; faithfulness surrenders.
  • Perfectionism piles on unrealistic tasks; faithfulness asks God what He means us to carry.
  • Being bound by perfection, we always feel like our efforts fall short; drawn by a faithful God, we give simply what we have to give.
  • The perfectionist holds tightly to the desired end result; the faithful servant puts the result into God’s hands.

God is only asking us to be faithful with the specific task He means for us to do in the present moment. We will realize peace and contentment when we surrender to that act for love of Him and place the result in His hands. We are only asked to be faithful with what we have to give; our faithful God is in charge of the rest. We will certainly have days where we fail, when we listen to the wrong voice and fall prey to the desire to control. Thankfully, our God’s faithfulness is steadfast (as we are told repeatedly throughout the Psalms), and He never fails us. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). We are called to faithfulness, not perfection. Let us walk in that calling; and may that truth pull a burden off our shoulders and put a peace-filled smile on our faces.

Living with Wonder

I recently read Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture. It had been on my list for a while, and it’s one of those rich classics that immediately gets you asking yourself, why did it take me so long to read this?! I regularly find myself considering the implications of his central theme: we are made to be contemplative beings, people poised in a posture of wonder as we continually ponder God and ultimate reality—the most real, most essential things. In short, he describes “leisure” as the space that we cultivate—physical, mental, spiritual—to live in a way that allows such ongoing contemplation and wonder. 

In considering these thoughts, it is apparent to me how totally opposed life in the modern world is to this posture of contemplation. Our greater American culture is one of consumption; we consume products and people in an effort to ever increase our position in society to consume to a greater extent. Work and busy activity is unending, and true leisure is scarce. We live in a world that makes it hard to establish the space necessary to experience wonder; and if we do occasionally pivot to a contemplative stance, it is something that seems impossible to maintain. So often, this cultural description is the same for Catholics and other Christians, who have to actively reject the culture of consumerism and intentionally foster contemplative lives.   

Pieper describes what is required in order to live in wonder. He says, “The really human thing is to see the stars above the roof, to preserve our apprehension of the universality of things in the midst of the habits of daily life, and to see ‘the world’ above and beyond our immediate environment” (p. 122). This means that we have to find a way of living in the world that does not interfere with our contemplative stance, with our ability to “apprehend” the universal things of greatest importance to us as human beings. 

We need to be people that marvel at truth, beauty and goodness as we live in each moment of life and accomplish daily tasks. We must experience wonder not in spite of the experiences of everyday life and the world around us, but because of how we have positioned ourselves within the world and within those experiences. Pieper says that “the deeper aspects of reality are apprehended in the ordinary things of everyday life and not in a sphere cut off and segregated from it…” (p. 129).

With that in mind, have we positioned ourselves well? Are we able to live in a state that cultivates wonder, to take a contemplative stance? Can we say that we have set ourselves up to apprehend truth, beauty and goodness in all of the moments of our day? 

Or, have we failed to intentionally choose to be contemplative beings? Have we drifted with the current of our consumer culture, feeling the constant drive to accumulate and become more, rather than the freedom to bask in the leisurely rest of wonder—a wonder that only grows the more we saturate ourselves in it? 

I would offer a quick examination for assessing how well we are doing at living in wonder:

  • Where do we have silence? Where can it be expanded?
  • What are the sources of noise throughout our day that quench a contemplative heart?
  • What are distractions or oppositions to wonder? How could we remove them?
  • In what relationships are we invested, and do we have significant ones that spur us on to the contemplative life? Or do they make us feel that we need to acquire and become more?
  • What do we love? What we love we will worship. Are there inferior things that are stealing our sense of wonder?

These questions may help us start to assess the kind of lives we are living and what changes will need to take place for us to live in wonder. The more that we learn about God and the world he created the more we are aware of how little we actually know, which gets to the point of wonder, the point of a contemplative life. The end of wonder and contemplation is not the discovery of all the answers and the resolution of mysteries—quite the opposite. Living in wonder provides the constant reminder that we are finite, and God is infinite; that we can do so little, and He hung the stars. Wonder leads to love.

The “Non-Option” of Despair

My husband and I are currently working our way back through Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. The other night we were watching this scene from The Two Towers, in which 300 men are preparing as best they can to defend the fortress of Helms Deep against 10,000 orcs that will besiege their gates by nightfall. Legolas, in great anguish, is calling Aragorn’s attention to the obvious: most of them are either too old or too young and are hopelessly outnumbered by the enemy…they are all going to die. Aragorn’s response: “Then I will die as one of them!” The video link above then skips to Legolas’s apology later, right before the battle begins: “Forgive me,” He says to Aragorn. “I was wrong to despair.”

I remarked to my husband how significant Tolkien’s theme of hope is throughout this trilogy. The company of joined Middle Earth forces is facing an enemy that has both the desire and ability to wipe them out completely. In reality, their only option is to fight this evil; their only choice is to bravely face the enemy and hope for their realm to once again be at peace, ruled by a just and noble king. In this particular scene we see what happens when hopelessness begins to blur the clarity of this reality: it causes us to abandon our cause and actually prevents us from any action. Despair freezes people

The funny thing about despair is that it pretends to give us an alternate option. But Tolkien’s depiction of hope in his sweeping narrative and through his compelling characters most powerfully reveals that despair is actually not an option, though it seems like such a viable and reasonable one in our moments of weakness and hopelessness. I can’t help but draw parallels from this film scene in our own responses to the spiritual warfare we experience in the pilgrimage of the Christian life. 

How many times do we face overwhelming odds and, over time, when things are at their darkest, get worn down to the point of complete despair? The thing about Legolas is that he is actually an extremely brave warrior and dedicated friend who, up to this point, had been a hope-filled comrade to Aragorn and the entire “Fellowship of the Ring.” He was the kind of guy who rallied the troops. But, we see that even Legolas can become despondent, given certain circumstances. We too, after fighting so bravely, can find ourselves vulnerable to the lie that the enemy whispers to our hearts: “Your hope is not a sure thing. Don’t be a fool. Save yourself the disappointment at the end. Stop moving toward heaven; it’s out of your reach.”

When we think of “options,” we think of alternate routes to get to an end goal or destination. The lie from the enemy of our souls is that despair is an option—our only option—that it has an end in store for us that is better than what we risk losing if we choose hope. But it’s a lie. Despair just arrests and binds us in fear. It is when we hear the lies being whispered that we need, more than ever, to hold on to God’s promises, to recognize and listen to the voice of the Father. This is what He says:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you… plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

“See, I am making all things new… [my] words are trustworthy and true… I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”(Revelation 21:5-7) 

When next the enemy tells you that despair is your only option, remember and respond with triumph that though you are afflicted, you are not crushed; though you are perplexed, you will not be driven to despair (2 Corinthians 4:8).

Copyright 2020 Jessica Ptomey