Perfectionism vs Excellence

I was asked recently to explain the difference between excellence and perfectionism. Here are my thoughts:

Perfectionists see their value in their performance – “I can be and must be perfect to be pleasing” and hope that no one will notice that they are imperfect.  Excellence, on the other hand, says “I am capable and competent.” I have abilities, but they are received abilities, given to me by my Father and developed through the teaching and opportunities that I have received. My value precedes my doing and my doing flows from value I know I already have. Out of gratitude to those who have given much to me and out of love for my Father and those I serve, I work to the best that I am able to do my part in the whole that our Father oversees well.


Very often I find myself thinking that God is disappointed in me…

God-disappointedVery often I find myself feeling that God is disappointed in me. We have all seen “that” look.  Arms crossed, looking down, shaking his head….  disappointed…. But as William Young points out in The Shack, it is impossible for God to be disappointed in us.

Think about it — what is disappointment?

If I am looking forward to something and it doesn’t happen – I’m disappointed – my expectations aren’t fulfilled. But in order for me to be disappointed, something that I had hoped or expected to happen in the future didn’t happen.  When it doesn’t happen, I am sad or disappointed.

Disappointment requires that I live INSIDE of time – that I do not know the future because I am looking forward in time for something to occur.  God lives OUTSIDE of time.  He already knows the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end and everything in between.

He does not expect anything from me because expectation is contrary to His nature.  He already knows what I am going to do.  By His very nature, God cannot be disappointed.

Listen to this dialog between Papa (God) and Mack in The Shack:

“‘But why me? I mean, why Mackenzie Allen Phillips? Why do you love someone who is such a screw-up? After all the things I’ve felt in my heart toward you and all the accusations I made, why would you even bother to keep trying to get through to me?’

‘Because that is what love does,’ answered Papa. ‘Remember, Mackenzie, I don’t wonder what you will do or what choices you will make. I already know. Let’s say for example, I am trying to teach you how not to hide inside of lies, hypothetically of course,’ she said with a wink. ‘And let’s say that I know it will take you forty-seven situations and events before you will actually hear me — that is, before you will hear clearly enough to agree with me and change. So when you don’t hear me the first time, I’m not frustrated or disappointed, I’m thrilled. Only forty-six more times to go. And that first time will be a building block to construct a bridge of healing that one day — that today — you will walk across.'”

Living in this sense of disappointment is a lie – one that is contrary to Romans 8:1 for one.  When we truly understand and fully believe that “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (NASB) we will begin to live in the wide open place the Father has provided to us through grace.

He is not disappointed in you.

5 Loaves and 2 Fish

When I think of the magnitude of the task facing social workers, I am struck by how incredibly inadequate we are for job that we have been called to.  It would be easier for us to hold back a tidal wave or to stop a hurricane than it is for us to deal with the aftermath of wars, famines, human cruelty and unstoppable diseases.  In short we are too small for the job.  And I think, in the end, that that is the point.

The issue of burnout comes when we believe that we should be equal to the task.  That God has called us and expects us to complete job ourselves.  But when I look at Scripture that is not the message that I get.  The way that Jesus dealt with His calling is a clue.  First of all, He didn’t heal every sick person in Israel or even the world when He came.  He didn’t even heal every sick person in Jerusalem.  He didn’t make all the blind to see or all the lame to walk.  Instead, He healed the ones who were in front of Him – the ones He had been given to heal.  Secondly, Jesus often would remove Himself from the work to go up into the mountains to pray.  He would seek the One Who called Him and find His strength there.  And He multiplied Himself.  He poured Himself into the three, and the twelve who in turn poured themselves into those they trained, mentored and discipled.

One of my favorite stories from when Jesus was physically present on Earth is the feeding of the 5000.  Other than the resurrection, this is the only miracle listed in all four gospels (Matthew 14:13-21Mark 6:31-44Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15.[1].)  The passage from John 6 is as follows:

 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.  Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii[a] worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.

I love the way this passage starts – Jesus sees a great need and asks His disciples how they are going to deal with the issue.  Notice Philip’s self-sufficiency and practical answer.  Here he is standing with the Creator of the universe, and Philip tells Him that they don’t have enough money to feed each person even a few bites.  In the Mark passage, Jesus tells them go find out how much food they do have.  Can you imagine the disciples’ announcement:  “May I have your attention please!  Will anyone with any food please bring it to us for distribution among the crowd.”

And this boy brings the disciples his lunch.  Now, I don’t know if you have ever been around little boys and packed lunches, but I have.  Imagine the hot Israeli sun beating down on this boy’s lunch basket all day long.  Imagine him dragging it around the desert while his folks listened to Jesus, and he played hide and seek with his friends.  By the end of the day, those fish probably stunk as only hot fish can and those loaveswere probably crushed and stale.  But what I love about this little boy is that he wasn’t ashamed that what he had wasn’t enough.  He wasn’t embarrassed by the shape of his lunch.  He simply brought it to Jesus.  It is not the sufficiency of the lunch that fed the 5000 that evening.  It was the One Who held it.  You see Jesus never said that we were enough.  That we are equal to the task.  In fact, I think the best starting place is knowing that we are horrendously insufficient.  He simply asks us to bring it to him.  Because He can take our 5 crushed, stale loaves and our 2 smelly fish and create a feast great enough to feed a multitude.

One of my all time favorite verses is Ps. 103:14:  “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

I realize this may be a strange life verse, but you see, sometimes we forget that He never, ever said that we are more than what we are.  We are dust – very expensive dust mind you – paid for by the blood of Jesus – but only dust – limited, weak and far from sufficient.  But the One Who feeds the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, the One who takes pots of water and makes incredible wine, the One Who endures a crucifixion and turns it into eternal life – He is the One Who calls us.  He remembers our weakness and is mindful of our limits.  He never turns up His nose at our smelly fish.  Instead, He gives thanks and distributes it to those who are in need.

When I think of God in the flesh – of Jesus choosing to set aside His omnipotent powers to take on human flesh, I can only imagine the potential for either sin or burnout.  The need pressed in on Him every time He set foot off the mountain.  He could have at any moment taken up His omnipotence and healed every person that was sick, raised every dead soul.  No more pain, no more sorrow, no more sickness.  But you see, if He had, we would have been condemned to an eternity of sin, sickness, death and sorrow.  And so He didn’t.  And for One so deeply moved by compassion and love that He wept even knowing He would raise Lazarus from the dead, He entrusted those He could not touch into the hands of His loving Father.  And as we follow in His steps, we too must remember that we are not turning our backs on those we cannot help, but rather we are entrusting them to One Who loves them more than we ever can.