"The Lord is like a father to His children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear Him.
For He knows how weak we are;
He remembers we are only dust."
It has been a very hard couple of weeks! When Lent began there were many suggestions on the internet on how to have meaningful quiet times during Lent. One of the suggestions was to read through the New Testament. But, this year I had made a commitment to myself to slow down as I read the Bible so I can process what I read and connect more intimately with God, hoping this would enable me to recognize His voice more clearly and to live a life characterized by radical faith. So, I chose to read through the gospels only.
But there something impacting my quiet times, which colored how I interpreted what I read and my mood spiraled down. One of my defense mechanisms has always been perfectionism. I've worked hard to overcome it, but, it is easily triggered by comments others make. The last few years, I've helped a retired professor and counselor in a grief and trauma class he teaches. Over the last few years, I've experienced many losses some of which occurred during the classes in different years. During some of the losses I have had some unkind words hurled at me. When I suffer a loss I tend to rush grief process and return to life as it was before.
When the class began this year and people shared their stories and I began to wrestle with feelings I thought I were long gone. I mostly pushed the feelings down and then one morning I read a post on a blog by a lady who had suffered the loss of someone that was similar to a loss I had experienced with one major difference--she had gotten to say goodbye and I hadn't. Some of my the losses were of people with whom I had complicated relationships. As I have listened to stories in the class and processed the blog post, the stinging remarks resurfaced and my core of shame kicked in and my perfectionism wrapped itself tightly around me and all sorts of "should have's" ran through my mind.
I was reading the Scriptures through these filters of perfectionism and toxic shame. Ordinarily, I love looking at the gospels and seeing Jesus relate to people. But it seemed like every time I read the Word, my mood kept dropping. I wasn't convicted, I was condemned. As I was reading, I noticed Jesus always knew what to say and how to say it. He loved the unlovely, gave grace to people in desperate need of it, boldly confronted leaders who were binding people with legalism, forgave those seeking Him, knew where to go to meet those thirsty for God, and knew when it was okay to withdraw from people for to connect with His Father.
Jesus was the perfectly differentiated God-Man. He didn't need the religious leaders approval. He didn't need His earthly family's approval. He didn't need His friends' approval. He was content in His Heavenly Father's love and approval. Every decision He made was right and it was made in obedience to His Father. I have tried to do that, but, oh man, I so often fail. Life is sometimes painful, my heart so messy, and relationships are complicated, and I fail often miserably. As I found myself comparing myself to Jesus through the lens of perfectionism my list of "should's" grew exponentially. And my joy was gone.
I met with a Christian counselor yesterday who I occasionally see. When he asked me what I wanted to talk about, I began to tell him about the grief surfaced by the blog and class. I shared how it was complicated by broken relationships and shared with him the remarks someone made to me that I hadn't realized were still playing around in my head. The counselor took me to a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, penned by Peter Scazzero. He read a section of the book called "Jesus' True Self" to help me remember how to live, differentiated and true to myself. But as he was reading to me the voice of perfectionism was screaming in my head, "BUT I AM NOT JESUS! I ALWAYS FALL SHORT. I CAN'T DO WHAT HE DID!"
But the truth is I wish with all that I am I could do life as perfectly as Jesus did. A lifetime of things might have been different. I'm an introvert, so I didn't scream those things at the counselor, I sat their quietly processing. He asked a few times what I thought about what He had read. Finally, I quietly said a few things. Because of the emotions I was feeling, I don't remember exactly what I said or asked. Had I been able to process I would have said it like this, "But, I am not Jesus. I am not sure if I, in my pain, made decisions that were godly. If I had gotten help sooner, would I have made different decisions? Was I a weak person for withdrawing when I believed I couldn't handle more pain? Could I have shown God to someone, by loving better had I been stronger?"
Thankfully the wise counselor saw the toxic shame and perfectionism and He pointed those out. He knows most of my story and reminded me of the major depression and pain that brought me to seek counseling many years ago. He pointed out some parts that weren't my responsibility and some that may have been and gently reminded about freedom in repentance and confession.
Then He said some things that resonated in the deep parts of my heart. He said, "Wendy, that old perfectionism is there. Jesus was omniscient, you aren't! You didn't know things that would have helped you make different decisions at the time. He is omnipresent, you aren't! You couldn't be more than one place at a time! And those Omni words--they helped free me! I hope they do you!"
The rest of the day I thought on those things. Jesus knows in full, I know in part. He can be everywhere and can intervene when it is His will, I can't. He is all powerful, He can do things and bear things I can't. Even though He is an emotional being, He has the power and the eternal wisdom to do right even when it is extremely painful to do so. He bore anguish that caused Him to sweat drops of blood as He contemplated the cross. As a human I am hardwired to stop pain. I didn't always have the ability to bear additional pain upon the pain I was experiencing. It was okay to set boundaries until I had some healing and when enough healing had taken place to reengage was fuzzy. Jesus knows and understands that. He knows I am but dust and how weak I am and He is tender and compassionate!
On the cross, Jesus bore my sin--the ugly things I have done and said in rebellious pride. On the cross, Jesus also bore my bore my imperfections--the things I failed to do or say because I am not an "Omni" being. I am not God, I am human.
As I process all of this in light of the cross and the empty tomb, my "should's" dissipate and my toxic shame melts into godly sorrow and the realization of how poor in spirit I am surfaces. This leads me to repentance, allowing me to grieve the losses of loved ones as well as the losses incurred from living in a broken world full of painful relationships, and frees me of regrets that come from being a human and making decisions from a human perspective rather than a God one.
Because of Jesus, I am once again moving away from the old core of toxic shame and perfectionism and praising Jesus for who He is. It isn't leading into toxic shame, but to humility, where my joy has returned, a place where my heart is full of gratitude that the omnipotent, omniscient, Holy Savior is loving me and setting me free me from the shame of not being "Omni."