This past week, I’ve been participating in my friend Jen’s online Bible study, reading through Amy Carroll’s Breaking Up With Perfect. We were given homework, including picking one challenge from the book. I chose:
“Make a list of the events in your life that have shattered your picture of Perfect. Beside each, write something good that never would have happened without that event.”
Amy Carroll, Breaking Up With Perfect, p.198
And I’ve been reflecting on this ever since Wednesday last week. And it’s amazing what God has reminded me of. Each broken shard of perfection has, despite the hardship and grief of the breaking, stretched and grown my heart further and further into the Truth of God.
Here is just a small window into this growth from the shattered “perfection” of my life:
– Being unable to protect someone I loved as a preteen = through EMDR treatment for PTSD this crystallized memory was broken open and I literally saw Jesus holding my little brother’s hand as a child and telling me repeatedly: “It’s not your fault. It wasn’t your job.” This brought Deuteronomy 31: 8 (NIV) to life:
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
I have no cause to fear, where those I love are harmed and I am unable to stop the harm from being done. God will never leave or forsake them. I can let go in trust.
Lie: It’s my job to protect = Truth: It’s my job to release in trust.
Lie: I need to be on guard constantly against the anger of others = Truth: I am safe in God’s arms, nothing can ever remove me from His Presence.
– Watching my Mum suffer in her final weeks of life. Caring for her daily, but being unable to stop the horrific and debilitating effects of brain cancer upon her body, as she took her last breath five months after her diagnosis. Flashbacks that trapped me spoke lies of eternal brokenness and death over my Mum and all those who served the LORD. God entered these in His Power through EMDR treatment and gave me visions of eternal wholeness and His Presence through the horror, speaking words of Truth against the lies that held me captive. And in the throes of flashbacks, as I angrily dared Him to show me life was worth living, He spoke John 6: 35 – 40 (MSG) over me, promising me He would forever hold me tight and bring complete restoration to my mother and myself:
35-38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.
39-40 “This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life,eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”
This showed me God saw me, right where I was, that He was not about to let me go. It showed me that I could trust Him to show up, even in the deepest of (suicidal) valleys, even when I pit my anger against Him.
Lie: God is out to hurt those who love and serve Him = Truths: God is for us and with us. He is bringing restoration and wholeness from brokenness.
– Having to quit my teaching job, handing in my notice in October 2014, after exhaustion mounted and I realized that my family and my health were suffering. God led me with Scriptures and a friend’s timely word to lay down my gift. My “perfect” was shattered, as I faced the shock of those around me and the loss of my self-created “identity” rooted in a belief that it was my job to be “everything to everyone”. But as it shattered, I was able to enter a rest I had never experienced before. This rest led to the unearthing of the past and the beginning of God’s healing through therapy, new healthy boundaries, time for running, praying and writing.
My heart has begun to open to God’s grace and His desire to gift Love, rather than demand perfection. The idol of a slave-driving, never-happy God is being shattered into tiny pieces and being replaced by a relationship with a living, breathing Father of compassion, mercy and grace.
My decision to quit my job also opened doors to new ministries, enabling me to serve my family, get to know my children much better and come alongside those who have known and continue to know suffering. At first, I visited the elderly, then God led me to a ministry of writing, and to friendships with local refugees and fellow grieving bloggers, and in May to the publication of my book. Now, my heart is opening even further with opportunities to hear about and share the stories of God’s goodness in the lives of others.
Lie: God needs my good deeds. I am failing him by not coping = Truth: God doesn’t need my good deeds. He wants my heart, my whole heart. Exhaustion is an invitation to rest in Him, to let go and allow Him to work in and through me.
– Laying down my teaching job also led me to acknowledge the anger that I had stifled for more than twenty years. I came to understand the exhaustion as a side-effect of the anger within me that worked so hard to repress buried hurt, shame and distrust. God encouraged me to admit what I’d tried so hard to repress. Lovingly and tenderly He took me through Scriptures that encouraged me to speak the truth to myself and others, to offer opportunities for grace to be extended and forgiveness to take root, rather than to repress the shame and hurt, and seethe beneath. And He showed me how the most trusting hearts in the Bible were those who dared unburden their emotions before God, even anger. He revealed what it means to pour out our hearts before Him and to cast our burdens on Him:
Psalm 62: 8 (NIV)
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.
Psalm 55: 22 (NIV)
Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.
Our desperately deceitful human hearts tell us to hold onto what hurts us, to not trust, to not cast and pour out…but God’s Word and Spirit have the power to break the trauma of separation between us and our Redeemer. So, like King David and Hannah did, God is teaching me to cast and pour out like a child does naturally, for God to pour in His truth, comfort, grace, life and songs of thanksgiving into my heart.
Lie: Anger is a sin. You must repress it, when you feel it = Truth: Anger is a human emotion: a symptom of the trauma of separation from God through sin entering the world. Anger hides hurt, unforgiveness and distrust of God. Pouring and casting it out allows God to unburden, heal and restore.
– When my book failed to sell more than a handful of copies, blog visits dwindled and I faced criticism from close quarters, my deceitful heart’s yearning for a “perfect” identity rooted in performance was yet again shattered. But as it shattered, God drew me into a social media fast of ten days, reminding me that the book is His work, in His hands and an act of obedience to His will. He once again reminded me that my identity and self-worth are not dependent on the love, approval and respect of humans, but entirely upon the gift of life at the Cross, which I have already received. In taking hold of these truths my clenched-tight hands have re-opened to receive the gifts God was already bestowing: a ministry of service to others and the overflow of joy and hope in coming alongside others.
Lie: the love, approval and respect of others determine my worth = Truth: Accepting God’s free gift of salvation has already made me worthy and gifted me an eternal inheritance as a daughter of the Most High King.
Lie: My job is to seek human approval for God’s work = Truth: My job is to open my hands to receive the gifts of God.
I pray that sharing this shattering of my “perfect” world would encourage you also to reflect on your own experiences of imperfection. May this reflection, if you choose it, open your eyes and heart, to the gifts of shattered “perfection”: grace, healing, comfort, hope, wholeness, peace and joy. May God show you that He is holding your imperfect self tightly and safely in His loving, compassionate and soothing arms. Just as God encouraged the tribe of Benjamin with these words, let Him encourage you today as well: “Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” (Deuteronomy 33:12, NIV).