Would I love to have a perfectly clean house all the time? Of course! Who wouldn’t? But is that reality? No. No it’s not. And whatever we might believe or think, the truth is that we have to live in reality.
My reality is that I have four daughters…I have four daughters who love to create…stuff. They love to create stuff out of recycled trash. So, my reality is that there are little creations made out of trash strewn throughout my house. Argh…
It grates on my nerves to see the mess just sitting there begging to be thrown away. Sometimes, I let them happily carry on and I try to think about other things. And then sometimes I lose my patience, throw it all away, squash their creativity and end up making them cry.
Art is generally messy, however, and we who struggle to allow the mess of creativity to have its space can miss out on a beautiful gospel truth. Yes, a clean and uncluttered room is also a lovely work of art, but not when it is bought at the price of community and connection. Here is where we meet the ugly truth about our human understanding of perfection.
Human perfectionism leaves no space for messes and mistakes, which means all who fail to meet the standard are not welcome. Human perfectionism makes us blind to reality. No one can be completely perfect-not even the perfectionists. Our definition of perfection is ironically skewed by our imperfect understanding. Striving for perfection will leave us isolated because it’s just too hard for others to meet the standard we have set for them. We who are striving for perfection can be unforgiving toward the imperfections of others.
However, for some of us, while we are quick to show understanding towards the imperfections of others, it is ourselves that we cannot forgive. This can often lead us to a life of competing and comparison with others. We believe the only way to let ourselves off the hook is to find someone who seems worse than us. The damage this does to our hearts and relationships is tragic. I’m not referring to our living rooms any more, Friends. Our attempts to achieve aesthetic perfection is only symptomatic of our deeper struggle to try to achieve spiritual perfection all on our own.
Our understanding of perfection is challenged by the Gospel of Jesus. While we inevitably push others away in our pursuit of perfection, God longs to draw us closer. Instead of leaving us to fend for ourselves, he sent Jesus into our imperfect world to live a perfect, sinless life and bridge the gap caused by our imperfection by dying in our place. The gospel is the story of perfection being crushed for the sake of the imperfect. Jesus was “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). The gospel is all the more astounding when we consider the inequality of this exchange.
I suspect that human perfection is one of Satan’s favorite lies. As long as we believe that we can achieve perfection on our own, we won’t see our need for Jesus. The greatest danger with this belief is not only that we believe we are sufficient to save ourselves, but that we dole out kindness and forgiveness to others who fail to meet our standards as though we were on the righteous throne of God. Yikes! If ever a bolt of lightening needed to be pointed my way…
Once our eyes are open to our own need for Jesus, we are able to see the most beautiful and glorious work of art. The redemptive plan of Jesus is awesome to behold, yet the messiness of it would set every perfectionist into a panic. How could anything good come from a homeless man who had no place to rest his head (Matthew 8:20)? How could a lowly carpenter’s son from Nazareth offer hope to a broken world (Matthew 13:55)? How could anything lovely come from such a humble and seemingly marred existence? This so-called Messiah broke the rules of the religious order and chased people out of the temple with whips. That doesn’t sound very perfect. Sounds like he was a bit of a mess. Then he had the audacity to tell respectable men that in order to inherit God’s kingdom they would need to be like children (Luke 18:17). Messy, snot-nosed, sticky-handed, clumsy and very imperfect children. How could perfection come from this kind of Messiah?
The perfectionists of Jesus’ day were troubled. They grumbled about the messes Jesus was in as he drank wine with imperfect tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:30). They seethed when Jesus had mercy on an imperfect woman caught in adultery (John 8:7-11). They shuddered when Jesus healed an imperfect man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). All of these things rankled the Pharisees' religious perfectionism and created anxiety in their guts that led to anger in their hearts, which in turn led to the murder of the perfect Son of God with their hands. Indeed, their perfection could not save them. Their own righteousness had failed to meet God’s standards. Their perfection was twisted and ugly.
So is mine. My kid’s messy trash art is where I’ve encountered the gospel most recently. It reminded me that God, the ultimate Artist and Creator of all things, is remaking our broken and trashed world. He who has no creator, no origin, is up to his elbows in our mess, working with the fervor of one who knows what should be and will not relent until he has cultivated it into a new reality. Out of a huge mess comes the most perfect and finished work of art. The salvation of mankind. What a masterpiece!
So, when I see my children taking thrown away things that seem useless, and transforming them into something new, I have to decide. Will I see their art through the eyes of one whose perfectionism is offended by this beautiful mess? Will I scold them in anger because they are not following my rules of order. Will I grumble at the scraps of paper scattered everywhere? Sometimes, yes, (because it is really trash that does need to eventually be thrown out) but sometimes, I hope not.
The bigger questions I have to ask myself are more along the lines of - what will I do when I see a fellow human struggling in habitual sin, unable to pull themselves up by their bootstraps? What about when I witness the perversion in the world around me? Will I compare, grumble, seethe and declare that nothing good can come from such a mess? Or, will I be like Jesus and embrace others for the sake of God's glory? Will I remember that I, too, am counted as an imperfection whose sin has contributed to this mess in which we all live? Gracious savior! May his grace compel us to repent!
I pray that I will always choose to be like Jesus.
My prayer for you and me, as mothers of those snot-nosed, messy, clumsy and imperfect people, is that we will always choose to be like Jesus. I pray that our homes will be places where both the physical and spiritual messes are beautiful displays of God’s grace. I pray that our desire for perfection will never distract us from the gospel work of our children’s hearts being drawn to Jesus. I pray that when our children get into creative mode, we will seize the opportunity to tell them about their creative God who didn’t sit back and watch, but jumped right into the middle of our messy and sinful world in order to create all things new. I pray that when our children are confronted with their own sin, we will give them the grace we have been given and gently teach them how to repent. I pray that when we encounter the worst sin, whether it’s in our community, our church, our family or own heart, we will remember, though we may feel justified in our own perfection, that it was our imperfections that required the slaughter of God’s perfect Son. May we humbly repent, remembering that justification comes through his work alone and if it weren’t for Jesus, we would be stained by sin forever. Finally, I pray that we would rejoice in the beautiful work of art that God has created in the form of salvation! I pray for all who will have eyes to see God’s perfect design. May we all stop striving for self-made perfection, and trust the only perfect Son of God to wash us clean!
How good and faithful is our merciful Creator!
Though you wash yourself with lye and much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the LORD God. How can you say, ‘I am not unclean,…’. Jeremiah 2:22
For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. Deuteronomy 32:3-4
…and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus might display his perfect patience an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:14-17
For further encouragement study: Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 3; Matthew 20; Luke 19:1-10