Thanksgiving 2015 - Thoughts on Perfection

Dear friends,

Thanksgiving Thoughts:                on Perfection.

(kind of some melancholy thoughts so to lighten things up, enjoy the picture...the ending, though, is a happier conclusion!)

To define the term: I think by Perfection I mean my quest for things beautiful, things true, things good, things kind, things pure. And to not only know those things but to embody them too, to be beautiful in spirit and life and home, to know truth and walk in it, to know good and do it, and to be kind and forgiving and understanding of others different from me, and to have a pure heart with pure motives and actions. Maybe not everyone is motivated to seek these things, but for me I do think that has been my underlying motivation in life.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

A lifelong quest: In my quest for things beautiful, true, good, kind, and pure there have been people and families I have met and admired over the years for their choices, their discipline, and how they lived out their lives. They seemed beautiful, good and kind and also seemed to be walking in sublime truth. I felt a bit inferior around them honestly, but respected them greatly. I asked them questions and tried to learn from them.

But in some of these people, as time has gone by, there have surfaced some very sad, wrong, not good, ugly things in their lives. As I have tried to make sense of it all, I have wanted to write a number of times, but just couldn't quite get any thoughts together to know what to say. But I think I finally have something to write...yet I want to speak vaguely and in the form of ideas or principles, not to cite specific people or stories, because that is really not the point of my writing. My point is to share thoughts on this weary foreigner's journey on this planet, as I personally am trying to understand a bit better how to live my life. You might think it is crazy that at 55, I am still growing in my understanding of that!

The journey: I first fully understood the gospel of Jesus Christ at age 19. I am now 55. That's 36 years of wayfarer lessons about the true Kingdom which is not here on this earth. But this earth is all we know. I thought I had things figured out many times before now, in my 20s, 30s, and even 40s, as I was seeking to always be learning and growing and enlarging and improving my understanding of and living out of the gospel. Please understand I am not at all wondering about the big, beautiful, true, good, kind reality of the gospel revealed in the life, death and resurrection of our Savior, but just the 'living-life-here-on-earth-as-a-believer-in-Jesus-Christ' part of it. The older I get, the more I can see some things from 'both sides now' in some ways. And I can see every 'side' has its inherent issues.

In the midst of my journey I am so grateful to God that my dear family has been a source of strength and joy.  My dear husband embodies love to me, he is a wonderment to me amidst the changing tides of life over so many years - and my children to me are another large sweetness, each, including those whom they have married, have enlarged my life in many beautiful ways...and they have taught me so many things as I have sought to embrace their uniquenesses and understand life from their sometimes differing viewpoints.

My first born Josh has such a knack for clear thinking, strong decision making and problem solving; he works incredibly hard and has a desire to serve and help others solve problems too. Nothing is too hard or too complicated for him! Josh's wife Kerin is beautiful in her skills in managing and caring for her family and at times carries heavy burdens for others as they have been through hardships; she has helped them make a way back to joy, at times even sacrificing her health and her own joy in the process.

Aaron has a kindness to him as well as a mind that can be like a laser beam nailing some big truth and can easily make logical sense of complex ideas. His love and service and forgiving heart of grace has always blessed me and I am sure it blesses his family too. And Aaron's wife Christina is such an energetic, cheerful, charming, encouraging, delightful, positive soul who I can't imagine life without! She is so much that I am not, and I value her input and support in so many ways.

Sarah makes a grid of possibilities and choices from things I am pondering if I bring them to her, and helps me hone in on a decision more clearly sometimes. She stretches me and definitely has taught me to think further than I would without her.

Dan really loves knowing and doing 'the right thing' and says the most profound things at times...recently as we were listening to a sermon about Jacob, at the very beginning he looked over at me and said, 'the deceiver is deceived' which ended up being one of the main ideas of the sermon and Dan summed it up before even hearing it!

After the liberating and profound truth of the gospel message, nothing can really compare to the sweetness these people are to me in the long persevering haul of a lifetime together, and I am so grateful for each one. And of course, the grandchildren!  But I will save my thoughts on them until our Christmas letter. :)

But back to this idea of seeking perfection...

Talking to my daughter about this, she said, "Mom, sometimes I think people idolize goodness." What? How can trying so hard to be good, and to do the right things be bad? Well, she said, it can lead to a sense of entitlement and pridefulness and looking down on others if you succeed at 'goodness' and a lot of guilt if you don't measure up. The sense of entitlement for all your goodness can lead you to think you deserve to be blessed, and if you are not blessed in the ways you think you should be, then sometimes individuals decide it all doesn't matter which can lead to indulging in all sorts of harmful behavior. Or if guilt is the issue, and the guilt doesn't lead to repentance but begins to control you, then a whole lot of self destructive behaviors can also enter in.  And if we only ever did what we were told was right, and didn't ever learn to think for ourselves, then sometimes individuals rise up in bitterness and act out in destructive ways if they believe they have been led in error, or were somehow robbed of Christian freedom to make their own decisions.

Could that be at least part of what goes on sometimes in these situations?  I don't know.  But maybe. All I know is that if these families' motivations were simply to know and do 'the right thing,' it all just seems so heartbreaking for all involved!

A snare in seeking perfection? Can a snare in this be like the snare of the Pharisees? They were the righteous people of their time. They did all the right things. They looked right. They acted right. Goodness. Truth. Virtue. But Jesus said they were as white washed tombs. Beautiful and clean on the outside, but filled with decay inside. But yet my confusion, my dilemma: does beautiful on the outside always have to be paired with or indicate decay inside??? Is it wrong to try for these things? To try to live a life above reproach??? I don't think so, it can't be!!

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! - Romans 6:1-2

...knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;  for he who has died is freed from sin. - Romans 6:6-7

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! - Romans 6:15

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.- Gal. 5:6

But what goes wrong sometimes with our beautiful, wonderful 'stars in our eyes' dreams of goodness and beauty? I can't really say; I am sure each case is different. But it is so sad to me and I grieve with and for these people!!! But I know that I want to be clean on the outside and the inside, too!! Does being clean on the outside somehow get in the way of being clean on the inside? Maybe if the sequence is wrong... Maybe if we think being clean on the outside is enough. Maybe if we think being clean on the outside earns us something eternal.  Maybe we need to start by making sure we are clean on the inside, and let the inside transform the outside. How?? Only by the blood of Jesus. Can I, on my own, cleanse myself from my own internal sin that clings to me? Will cleaning the outside do anything to clean the inside? No, not really. It becomes a 'form' of godliness without its true substance. (Although I do think there are seasons that we can benefit from austerity and quieting the noise in our lives to help us get in touch with God and hear His voice.) But ultimately, what do we need? Brand new clean, grateful and humble hearts.

Maybe gratefulness and humbleness comes..."when we stop blaming others for ours or their imperfections and rise above to recognize that out of every imperfection comes strength, growth, determination, humility and the knowledge that everyone can use a little grace." - (Julia Roberts?)

Conclusion: In my life, today, I must remember to walk humbly with God. And ultimately I must continue to move forward in my own life, walking daily in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who can enable me to seek and live the goodness, truth, kindness, purity and beauty of Christ, as I live out the gospel in my life. That is still what I want to be and do.

And in all of this, I must remember that Perfection is only fully embodied by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  He is what Perfection looks like. :) 

Let us remember to not confuse doing good and being good on our own strength and merit with the Power the indwelling Holy Spirit can bring to our lives! May we all keep clean on the inside first, by daily walking in recognition of sin and repentance, and allow that cleansing to transform our outsides. God's hand is always at work with his people - teaching, refining and making beauty of our lives.  It really is never about having 'perfect' circumstances or 'being' perfect, it is always about falling down, repenting and getting up and doing the next right thing.  If it all depends on us we are in big trouble. No one is perfect, no life is perfect, so if that is the requirement for us to be happy or to make others happy, it will never be in this life, short of the gospel. And God is in all the hard things and through it all creating what He wants in us.  So in my pondering I might actually be inadvertently communicating a wrong idea of 'what went wrong' if there is some formula to fix it. 

Maybe the big thing is not to be surprised that we are all sinners, none escapes! Problems are everywhere, not just in families who try to 'be good.' So I don't really think these families necessarily did anything 'wrong,' in terms of trying their best to do what they thought was best! Thinking that would be the other side of the snare of 'works,' wouldn't it?

The 'wrong' is the choice if the individual within the structure, whether that structure is the difficulty of living as a Jew in Nazi Germany or living as a person of posh royalty in the middle ages, or being a parent or student in a family. The 'wrong' is what is wrong with all of us, each individual is a sinner with a choice to make to follow Christ, followed by more choices every day to walk with Him.  So I hope this doesn't come across like I am trying to find a new 'right' way!

That 'way' is always the same, it is the Gospel lived out every day, whether you are a parent or child, teen or adult. The whole thing makes much more sense in the light of that truth.

This Thanksgiving, may our gratefulness well up to Him as we praise Him and thank Him for loving us, sacrificing for us so we can have a way to face the Perfection that dwells in the Godhead.  Because of Him, we will be one day united with Him and dwell with Him forever!!

I will end with the following verse and some links to two wonderful hymns.

Eph 3:14-17
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height
to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Oh love that will not let me go -
Westminster men's chorus - 2 versions, the first has an incredible acoustic!!

  1. O Love that wilt not let me go,
    I rest my weary soul in thee;
    I give thee back the life I owe,
    That in thine ocean depths its flow
    May richer, fuller be.
  2. O light that foll’west all my way,
    I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
    My heart restores its borrowed ray,
    That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
    May brighter, fairer be.
  3. O Joy that seekest me through pain,
    I cannot close my heart to thee;
    I trace the rainbow through the rain,
    And feel the promise is not vain,
    That morn shall tearless be.
  4. O Cross that liftest up my head,
    I dare not ask to fly from thee;
    I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
    And from the ground there blossoms red
    Life that shall endless be.

Be Thou my Vision -
classical cellist and piano instrumental

an hour of relaxing hymns on the piano

Much love and much, much gratefulness and thankfulness to all,  Linda for the Bealls  

Many thanks to Susan Schmidt Photography for the wonderful photos!