Relational Perfectionists

pool party

Being a perfectionist is exhausting.

Trust me, I know.  I’m a recovering one.  I’ve spent more of my life trying to get perfect grades, create the perfect resume, be a perfect leader, and preach perfect sermons than I care to admit.  Even now, there’s a part of me that wants to write the perfect blog post about how it’s okay not to be perfect…and, no, I’m not kidding when I write that!

For me, the journey out of perfectionism hasn’t been about lowering my standards and embracing mediocrity.  It’s been about developing realistic expectations and, even more importantly, learning to show myself grace when I don’t meet those expectations.  I’m reminding myself of truths I already know:  I will always have room to grow, my value isn’t found in my achievements, and those closest to me don’t love me because of what I accomplish.  So, I’m still aiming high.  I’m just learning how to cope when I fall a little short every now and again.  Pretty simple stuff.

It just seems to be particularly hard for me to apply in the area of relationships.  No where have I found perfectionism more damaging and harder to overcome than in relationships.  I was reminded of that all over again in preparing for this past Sunday’s sermon at Restoration City.  In that sermon, I shared a well-known quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book about community, Life Together, The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” In other words, relational perfectionists kill community.  It’s true in marriage.  In dating.  In friendship.  In families.  Really, in any relational system.

I’ve had to embrace the hard truth that one of the greatest obstacles to improving my relationships is my frustration with the fact that my relationships need improvement.  I know how crazy that sounds but that’s how relational perfectionism works.  I develop and fall in love with an idyllic picture of marriage, friendship, church, or work.  It’s a gorgeous vision of relational perfection – everyone is getting along perfectly, everything is in its place, there’s good food, and everyone is saying and doing all the right things.  It’s incredible.  No filter required – it’s perfect all by itself.  But, the real world never lives up to that vision.  Laura and I have a good marriage but it isn’t perfect.  I have three really great kids who often don’t act so great.  I don’t get to see my friends as often as I would like and people move out of DC way more than I want.  In other words, relationships aren’t perfect.

A lot of our relational fulfillment depends on how we handle those imperfections.  Relational perfectionists are tempted to withdraw into a cave of frustration, despair, anger, and discouragement.  We tend to blame ourselves and wonder why we can’t even get relationships right.  We love to use comparison to beat ourselves up even more – look at everyone else, their relationships look so perfect on Instagram.

Here’s the problem and it should be obvious: it’s hard to build good relationships in the cave of frustration.  Despair, anger, and withdrawal never improves our marriages, friendships, or parenting.  It only makes things worse.

If we’re going to live in community, it’s crucial to develop realistic expectations for relationships and show everyone grace when life doesn’t live up to those expectations.  I still have a long way to go but I’m trying to live in the second half of Bonhoeffer’s quote – just love the people around you.  Stop being disappointed that our marriage isn’t perfect and just love Laura in the midst of the imperfect.  Stop being sad that our family dinners aren’t exactly the thing of HGTV splendor and love my kids in the midst of the chaos.

Don’t let your vision of community suffocate the people around you.  Stop being a relational perfectionist and dive into the mess of community.  It’s isn’t perfect but it’s where life happens and where we meet God.

 

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

The Heart Of Margin

Heart of margin

We’ve spent the last few weeks as a church talking about creating margin in our lives.  We did it because God didn’t create us to be stressed out, maxed out and on the road to being burnt out.  We also did it because mission requires margin.  Generosity requires financial margin.  Serving and investing in others requires margin in our schedules.  Staying healthy as we pour ourselves out for the good of others requires emotional and relational margin.  Where there’s no margin, there will be no mission.

Along the way, we’ve seen that margin is a heart issue well before it becomes a calendar, financial or relational issue. So, as we wrap up our focus on margin, I want to highlight the three heart issues we need to deal with in order to create margin in our lives.

Identity

We’ll never be able to create and defend margin if we allow the approval, opinions and expectations of others to form our identity.  If we’ve given people control over our identity and value, it’s no wonder we give them control over our schedules and spending.

As followers of Jesus, our identity doesn’t come from others or even from ourselves.  It comes from the One who loved us enough to die for us.  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.“(Gal. 2:20)  Those word were written by Paul but they’re every bit as applicable to us as Jesus followers today.  You are so loved that Jesus willingly died in your place on that cross.  He gave Himself up for us so that He never has to give up on us.  When we believe that, we become a new creation.  Christ Himself lives in us.  He’s our hope of glory, our source of strength and the One who calls us to a bold, beautiful life of freedom and faith.

You aren’t defined by other people’s hopes, dreams and expectations for you.  You’re defined by God’s work for you.

Intimacy

One of the biggest margin killers in our hearts in FOMO (fear of missing out).  We’re terrified we won’t get a date if we don’t go to the party; won’t get the promotion if we don’t go to the conference; won’t get the contract if we don’t take the call; won’t have any friends if we don’t go on the trip.  We say yes to everything because we’re terrified of the consequences of saying no.

But when you bring Jesus into the mix, FOMO loses its grip on our hearts.  “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.“(Ps. 84:11)  God withholds no good thing from His children when they allow Him to determine their path.

The question is whether or not we’re asking Jesus to determine our path for us.  This is where intimacy come in.  We know God has told us that apart from Him we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5).  We usually take that to mean we can’t do the thing we’ve already decided to do without God’s help.  I’m learning more and more in my own life that it also means we shouldn’t do the deciding without God either.

Paul Tripp often talks about how the gospel shapes our lives “at street level” – meaning the seemingly small, mundane details of our lives.  I’m convinced this is one of the greatest secrets in creating and defending margin in our lives.  Prayerfully engaging Jesus in deciding how and where we spend our time gives us confidence that we’re not missing out.  When He tells us to say no, it’s for our good.  And when He tells us to say yes, it’s for our good.  No more FOMO.

Intentionality

Creating and defending margin isn’t easy.  It involves countless collisions between God’s plan for us and other people’s expectations of us.  In Mark 1, we see Jesus actively resisting the demands of His disciples and the residents of an entire city.  Margin doesn’t come easy.

And it doesn’t come without planning, without difficult conversations and without confronting our fears of missing out or disappointing others.  This is where intentionality comes in for us.

My goal in leading us through this series wasn’t just to get us all feeling bad about our lack of margin, or to get us talking more about margin or even to get us wanting more margin.  My prayer is that we will actually create more margin!  So, what decisions do you need to make?  Conversations do you need to have?  Emails do you need to send?

I so want us as a church to be healthy and to be deeply engaged in the mission of God.  Both require margin.  For your sake and for the sake of a city desperate for the hope of Jesus, do the heart work necessary to create the margin that mission requires.

Distinct

distinct-coverI can’t wait for the start of our new series, Distinct, this Sunday at Restoration City.  We’re going to devote the next seven weeks to talking about the ways the gospel shapes our relationships with one another as followers of Jesus.  It’s all aimed at leading us to friendships with one another that are totally different than anything else the world offers.  In short, we should be distinct.

Community is such a buzzword in our culture yet so many of us are starving for friendships.  We’re looking online, at the gym, at work, at happy hour, in our apartment communities or in the local coffee shop.  All too often, we’re looking and not finding.  Or if we are finding, we’re settling for relationships that are so shallow that they’re hardly worthy of being called friendships.  And our souls are shriveling.

Sadly, we don’t always find friendships in the church being all that different.  Maybe slightly more sober, with less cussing and a little more Jesus.  But are we really living out Jesus’ commands for our lives?  I’m not sure.  But I can’t wait to spend seven weeks asking God to grow us in this area.

If we’re following Jesus in our friendships, people who don’t know Christ should look into our church and be astonished by how we love one another.  They should look at the depth of our relationships and our joy in one another and be captivated.  There should be people coming to Restoration City simply because they want in on our kind of friendships.  And in the course of their time with us, they should see that our community is shaped by our King.  What makes us distinct isn’t that we’re nicer people, it’s that we’re being transformed by the Spirit and conformed to the gospel.

I’m praying these will be seven culture shaping weeks for us at Restoration City.  I’m not after head knowledge about community and friendship.  I’m asking God to deepen our relationships and conform them to the truths of the gospel.  I’m ready for this series.  I need this series.  I can’t wait to see what God does with it.

The Mess of Community

community

For a few years after college, I lived alone.  No wife, no kids, no roommates.  Just me.  At times I was lonely but, to be completely honest, I didn’t mind it that much.  In fact, I kind of liked it.  The place was always clean (I’m a little compulsive about that), I went to bed when I wanted, got up when I wanted and pretty much did what I wanted.  I never had to wait to do laundry and had very few interruptions when I was working.

Now my life looks considerably different.  I’m married and have two kids.  We’re part of a great church and love having people over for coffee, dinner or whatever.  The only time the house is perfectly clean is after the kids have gone to bed (and even then, it’s questionable).  Life is filled with interruptions, tears, laughs and a lot of chaos.

Here’s my point: community is messy.

I’m not against living alone but I am deeply concerned that so many in our culture have learned to live alone emotionally.  Just to be clear, you can live in a house full of people and still live alone emotionally.  Living alone emotionally is about building up walls where we never allow others to get to know the real us.  It’s about keeping our relationships superficial enough where we have plenty of people to go to a movie with but no one we’re really committed to or investing in.

Pressing into relationships, whether it’s at work, school, home or church, is inviting a mess into your pristine isolation.  If you let people in, they’ll bring their best and their worst. The more you get to know people, the more you realize they aren’t quite as perfect as they pretend.  Sin, brokenness and hurt that can be hidden at a distance becomes unavoidable up close.  Even worse, they’ll start to figure out all of your broken places as well.

I always want to pull back from community when it gets hard.  When the relationship requires work, I want to give up.  When things are awkward, I want to withdraw.  But I know that is I do that, I miss out on a chance to grow.

I’ve come to learn that messiness is one of the surest signs that community is actually working.  Neat and clean exists only in the world of shallow and superficial.  Messy is reserved for the deep and vulnerable.

So, when community gets hard, keep pressing in.  You’re finally getting somewhere!

Finding “The One”

Last week, Laura and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary.  While that hardly qualifies me to start offering marriage advice, it does mean I have a thing or two to say about dating.  In fact, the one question I’ve gotten more than any other during that time has been some version of, “how did you know Laura was ‘the one’?”  Whether or not you agree that there is only one person God has designed you to marry (for the record, I do believe that), it’s still a good question.

And I have a simple answer.  It comes in the form of a question I asked myself before Laura and I even started dating.  I was hanging around the house one afternoon feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t dating anyone when I had a thought I believe came from the Holy Spirit, “Who is the godliest girl you know and why are you not dating her?”

Wow.  Talk about a helpful and convicting question!  The answer wasn’t hard.  It was Laura – I had admired her character, love for the Lord and desire to serve for years.  What was hard was dealing with my own heart.  I wasn’t dating her because I was still caught in the extended adolescent phase that traps so many 20 and 30 somethings.  I loved Jesus but wasn’t sure I was ready for a really serious relationship.  I wasn’t sure I was ready to settle down with a godly woman.  I wasn’t sure I was ready to grow up and be a spiritual leader for Laura.

But I never could shake the question.  Ultimately, it made me take a look at my life, get things together and ask her out.

I hope you can’t shake the question either.  Who is the godliest person you know and why are you not dating them?  Yes, it might force you to do a little growing up.  But the rewards are so worth it.  Honestly, you owe it to yourself to ask the question!