A Perfectionist's Guide to Grace
There are certain conversations that seem to rattle my sinful self right to the forefront of my mind.
I am lucky enough to be surrounded by women who praise one another and applaud the good that they see in each other: “That girl… She has such a fire for God, doesn’t she?”... “Does she ever stop serving? I’ve never seen someone spend so much time at church!”... “I can’t get over how kind she is. What a great example of God’s love!”
I nod along, straining to include my voice in the support of my fellow sisters. After all, I do support them. I am daily in awe of many of the Godly women I have around me. If God created us in His image, then His awe-inspiring combination of might and compassion can be found in the hearts of women, that’s for sure.
Except there’s another voice. One that I’m ashamed to speak out, knowing without being told that this feeling is one to kept tucked away:
“What about me?”
Sigh. With the might and compassion found in women comes another characteristic that certainly doesn’t come from God. The urge to compare.
As a fallen humanity, competition and comparison are inevitable, and in a society that is always pointing to the other person, this mindful trap is all too easy to fall into. And this church mouse is struggling to escape.
You can't earn your grace!
The real irony of it, of course, is that whilst I’m looking around eagerly sizing myself up, the issue of comparison could not be more my own. I can’t point fingers at anyone else, blaming them for their over-achievement. Instead, at the heart of my desperation to compare sits the real issue; a perfectionist who still struggles to appreciate grace.
I’ve always been relatively competent at life. I get good grades, have good friendships, make good choices, have a good relationship with my family and other half. I’m organised, punctual, and hard-working when I’m not distracted by Pinterest. Note none of these are exceptional, but distinctly, averagely good.
I enjoy earning things. I enjoy earning praise. So in spite of the Bible telling me again and again that I can’t earn my salvation, I still desperately try to prove my place. I might not be able to earn my salvation, but I better be one of the more ‘together’ lost sheep. It makes me sad that I probably would have fit in quite comfortably with the chastised Pharisees…
In a desperate plea to prove that I somehow ‘deserve’ the grace that I was given, I bind myself to the very thing that Jesus died to set me free from. I become afraid of not measuring up to the Christian standards that only I have created for myself. I’m full of pride, thinking that I could somehow ever measure up to God’s standard, when the truth is I, like the rest of the people on this planet, fall desperately short each and every day.
I can’t earn my salvation. I can’t earn my spot in God’s family. By comparing and competing, this precious gift that I am so undeserving of becomes another scale for which to weigh my worth. What a manipulation of this beautiful grace.
One body, many parts
The saddest part of the comparison trap is that it forces us into competition. Not competition with strangers on the street either, but competition with our sisters, our family. God never intended us to compete with one another, but rather called us to compliment one another. He encourages us to find the gifts that He has so gracious bestowed upon us, and using them to build His Kingdoms. We each bring something unique to the table, and the body of the Church needs us to accept our duties and step up to the work that God has called us to do.
Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 12:18-20:
“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The best way to break free from this comparison trap and find our place in the body of the church? Find out who you really are, instead of fighting to be someone that you are not.
My best friend, Peter (no, he doesn’t know we’re best friends yet. I’m waiting until heaven to tell him), also struggled with comparison. In John 21, Jesus asks him to “Take care of my sheep”. Peter thinks about this, peers round to John the disciple, looks back at Jesus and says, “What about him?”
This passage makes me chuckle so much, mostly because it’s like looking in the mirror. Before I accept the job you’ve offered me, Lord, I would first like to hear about what you have offered the woman over there, just in case I want to trade, ya know?
Jesus, knowing Peter’s heart and his wandering gaze, says, bluntly, “What about him? As for you, follow me.”
And us? So, what about her? What about the girl who works tirelessly in the creche? Or the woman who has a gift with sharing the gospel that only I could have given her? What about them?