“I will keep striving and striving and striving, until...I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

I had a yucky realization during a sermon recently, one that I hope will benefit others in the sharing. I realized I might worship my own earthly perfection more than I worship my perfect God. There is a pattern of subtle, daily selfishness in my life, of a daily pursuit of my own good, and of daily frustration — because of course I am finite.

Like, why can’t I get eight hours of sleep, and make time for both Jesus and jumping jacks, and memorize the “dirty dozen,” so I always buy the appropriate organic produce?!

Upon further introspection, it appears I have also been living by tenets such as these: 

I will never be late. I will never have to redo my parallel parking job. I will never forget anything. I will have a clean house, and respectful, well-behaved children (whom I discipline perfectly.) If ever I mess up, I will be perfectly repentant. My marriage will be romantic and satisfying. And I will be perfectly, Biblically grateful for it. I will have perfect, consistent quiet times. I will revere God perfectly. And although — shame of all shames — my aging, painful body is no longer perfectly functioning, I will endure and suffer it perfectly. Hell, I’ll even thank Him for it. (I will control my tongue.) I will not ugly cry. I will be content. And no, I won’t need anyone else’s help.

I will keep striving and striving and striving, until...I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

My usual reaction is to feel either angry or sad or guilty for these shortcomings. But it is so much better to view them — needily — through the lens of the cross. Practicing Christospection instead of introspection shows me that these feelings are not only illogical (I’m mourning unmet false realities) but that they are not from Him.

Ultimately, and maybe obviously, all of this — the pursuit of earthly perfection, and the bruised ego when I fall short of it — stems from pride. But when I take Christ into consideration, it’s more clear than ever that I’m just a mess, and it’s okay. He loves me still. In fact, He died for imperfect, messy me.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
-Romans 5:6-8

That is a perfect love from a perfect God. And what a peculiar grace that we get to worship Him and be loved by Him! Listen to what Scripture tells us are some of His tenets:

Perfect power (2 Corinthians 12:9). Perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). Perfect beauty (Psalm 50:2). Perfect law (Psalm 19). Perfect will (Romans 12:2). Perfect ways (2 Samuel 22:31, Psalm 18:30). Perfect work (Deuteronomy 32:4). Perfect love (1 John 4:16-18). Perfect knowledge (Job 37:16). Perfect unity (John 17:22-23).

Our pursuit of anything other than these qualities is a short-sighted trap and a waste. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). While He is not suggesting we can or will be sinless here on earth, He is reminding us that our most worthy pursuit is an eternal one, focused on the image in which we were made.

Even if I managed to always be on time, and remembered everything, and parented perfectly, and studied and worshipped perfectly, all for the right reasons — even if I was just winning at life, and nailing Christianity — without my God here, I am lacking. Peter tells us the earth and the works that are done on it will all be “dissolved” in the end (2 Peter 3:11-13). So you see, the problem with earthly perfection is not just that it’s unattainable, but until Jesus returns, it is incomplete.

Good thing our Creator has been planning all along to reveal His true glory, to free His creation from its futility and “bondage to corruption,” and to redeem our bodies (Romans 8:18-23). He promises a new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13) in which there will be no more crying, no more death, no more pain (Revelation 21:4). And — hope of all hopes — He promises to return and literally dwell with us there (Revelation 21:3).

In the meantime, the Bible points us away from this rat race on the ground, from all the empty striving, and says all we need to do is wait — eagerly and purposefully. While Paul talks about progress over perfection, and uses phrases like “press on” and “straining forward” in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians, he concludes, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

If you, like me, struggle with perfectionism and the underlying suspicion that you're always going to be missing something here on earth, I encourage you to rest in this final truth about Jesus: “...when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:10).

Amy Carbo

Amy is a member of Cornerstone, Wife to Dan, and mother to Penn, Indie, and Cali.

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