I suffer from a disease… I call it perfectionism. According to Wikipedia, psychologists call perfectionism a personality trait… but to me, it feels more like a sickness.
Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations… perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal, and their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.
Hmmm… sounds about right to me. And the recent decorating of our tree fully underscores all points above. I set the bar high one evening fully expecting perfection. I anticipated closing out the night by sitting on the couch with my loved ones, sipping cocoa, and admiring the beautiful creation all the while being filled with the Spirit of Christmas. However, rather than the success I fully envisioned, I was met with frustration, disillusionment, and by the end of the evening… depression. And so, today I ask myself a question. Why perfectionism? Why do I feel this incessant need to excel in what I do? Like with the tree. Why did the appearance of a dead conifer matter so much to me? And the answer, I believe, lies in the definition above. Because in truth, it wasn’t really about creating a wonderful memory with my family in celebration of the Christ child. No, it had more to do with the end result. And more accurately, it had everything to do with others’ evaluations. Because if other people loved my tree, then I would be a success, right? Perfection attained.
You know, it seems to me that I have a choice to make this season. I can either have a Christmas that looks perfect from the outside, or, I can have a real Christmas on the inside. Because I won’t have it both ways. For in reading God’s word, I see Christmas came to only one type of person. And He who knows the hearts of all men knew exactly who would receive His message. And so, He sent forth His first Christmas card, by means of an angel and heavenly host. And the most unlikely group of recipients received His word… shepherds. And in others’ evaluations, this must have seemed ludicrous. For shepherds were far from perfect. Such a filthy and smelly lot who lived with animals… why, they were unclean. Surely they were not even allowed to step foot inside a synagogue. Not unless they scrubbed themselves ritually clean. For they were shepherds… utterly imperfect, completely lowly, and so untrustworthy. Ironically, (according to what I read this morning), their testimony was not even accepted in Court. And this is to whom God sent His first Christmas card?
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:8-14
Why shepherds? Perhaps because they didn’t really care about what other people thought of them. Or maybe it was because this group of imperfect men kept their expectations low… for others didn’t expect much of them. Or maybe, it was simply that they were still… their attention not pulled in more than one direction. And so, as God peeled back the envelope of His card… His glory shown forth. And when the shepherds saw, they trembled in fear. But then, God revealed a miracle. And because these men were not perfectionists, setting the bar so unattainably high, they were able to listen. But more importantly, they acted on what they heard. For after God’s messenger spoke, they were moved…
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Luke 2:15
Why shepherds? Because they were not befuddled with worldly things, mindless traditions and others’ evaluations. A humble folk not highly esteemed by others, they had nothing to lose. Not even a reputation, for theirs was already stained. And so, they hurried toward a Savior…
It’s called perfectionism, and it hinders so much. See, as my high standards escalated over the years to outrageous heights, the more important things seemed to have fallen away one by one. Specifically, the tradition of Christmas cards. But you know… among the myriad traditions out there, could there be anything more lovely than a tradition originated by God? His good news sent forth by the herald to imperfect souls. A tradition that has been perpetuated for over two thousand years. At first, by word of mouth. But then… cards. Christmas cards in order to bring forth good tidings of great joy to all people.
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the herald,
who proclaims peace,
who brings news of good things,
who proclaims salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7
In closing, I want to share about the two church services I attended on Sunday. One was nearly perfect, and the other… well, it was fraught with human error. Both provided lovely music and God’s word was peppered throughout. However, I felt God’s presence only once… through the imperfect. And it was towards the end of the night that one song in particular touched my soul. It was as if God were peeling back the envelope of His Christmas card, revealing His glory to me. And I felt Him. A tingling inside. And my hand began to rise on its own accord, in worship of Him. But I stopped it. As my arm hurried upward toward the Savior, I hastily pulled it back. Because what would those around me think? I didn’t want others’ evaluations of me to lessen. And so, after obeying the command of inner perfectionism rather than the Spirit of Him who moved me, His presence diminished…
I suffer from a disease. I call it perfectionism, and it hinders so much. But this year, I realize I have a choice. I can either have a Christmas that appears perfect from the outside, or, I can experience true Christmas on the inside. Absolutely perfect in its imperfection…