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Not Perfect, But In Process

     The other day, I put on my thickest skin and looked for some mom tips online.  If you’ve ever braved the Internet’s mommy boards, you may know what I mean.  I start my search humbled, needing some help, and aware of plenty of my mommy imperfections and I leave my search feeling devastated at my utter failure as a mom.

     In a few quick clicks, I found opinions about working moms, breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, homeschooling versus public school versus private school, pa cifiers, and more.  This endless parade of opinions isn’t just available for moms.  Any woman can submit herself to ridicule and self-esteem lowering if she so chooses with opinions on how to eat, dress, work, run your household, relate with your spouse, and clean.  

     The trouble isn’t just that people are chiming in with helpful ideas.  It’s entirely possible to share advice in a humble and encouraging way.  Unfortunately, too often those ideas come with either implied or blatant criticism. Take, for example, the pacifier debate.  When you look up tips on taking away the pacifier, you may find a post similar to this one:

     “I don’t have any sympathy with this mom.  You shouldn’t have let your child keep the pacifier past nine months.  It’s your own fault and if you had just taken it away when you were supposed to, you wouldn’t have this problem.”

     We are so hard on other women, especially other moms.  We passionately believe in our own choices and methods and we sometimes assume what works for us, works for everyone.  Armed with medical reports, statistics, personal testimony, and even Scripture, we trumpet our “success” at the expense of the humble woman who wanted some helpful advice, not a beating.

Falling Short of Perfection

     The reality is that no woman is perfect.  No mom is perfect.  If we try to meet some arbitrary standard of perfection set by other people, we’ll fail miserably, partly because no two women seem able to agree on what that perfect woman or perfect mom is like.

     Matthew 5:48 shows us Jesus’s perspective on how perfect we need to be: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (NIV).  At first, that verse seems pretty discouraging.  If I can’t live up to the women posting advice on the Internet, how can I be perfect like God?  

     Stephen Arterburn, however, noted that the Greek word for perfect is teleos, which means, “the goal, the consummation, the final purpose toward which we are moving.”  It “carries the sense of ‘complete,’ ‘mature,’ or ‘being at the proper stage at the proper time.”  He says:

     A blossoming tree can be ‘perfect’ even though there is no fruit because it is at the appropriate stage for fruit to be produced in time . . . What matters to God is the journey, not just the arrival at the goal.  God’s concern is not that we’ve arrived but that we continue to face and travel in the right direction.  For his grace both empowers our obedience and forgives our failures.

     The idea that I don’t have to attain perfection now as long as I am in the transformation process is so liberating for me!  I’m not perfect, but I’m perfectly in process.

The Testimony of Our Transformation

     Still, I struggle with wanting to be perfect now and holding myself to an impossibly high standard.  Last year, my oldest daughter modeled this for me.  She was an early reader, reading simple words at three years old and reading books by her fourth birthday.  Then she began refusing to even look at books, a complete reversal for her.  When I asked her why, she said, “I can’t read all the words.”  Instead of rejoicing in what she could do, she was discouraged and defeated by the prospect of what she didn’t know.

     Even as an adult, I find myself growing impatient with the learning process and longing to skip to mastery.  I wonder why I am learning the same life lesson again and again! Yet, God invests great patience in growing us up in our faith and transforming us to become more like Christ.  As Paul writes, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV).  While every metaphor in nature tells us that the transforming and maturing process takes time, I simply want to be perfect now!!  And, if I can’t be instantly Christ-like, then why try at all?

     One of Paul’s answers to this question is that our learning process is an essential piece of our testimony to others.  He writes, “train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come …Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8, 15, NIV).  The blessing of going through the transforming process is that we can encourage others along the way.  

     They can look at us now and say, “Wow! Look at what God has done in her life.  Just last year, she would have responded differently, but now see how she has grown!”  Then, they are encouraged in their own journey because if God helped us to grow, He can transform them in the same way.

Living Vulnerably and Extending Grace

     As a young mom, I can be discouraged by apparent perfection in other moms.  I am overwhelmed sometimes when I visit pristine houses with perfectly groomed children without baby food stains on their bibs or runny noses and a mom who is totally fit and dressed to impress.  When I visit that house of perfection, I’m not thinking, “This mom is so great!”   What I’m thinking is, “What’s wrong with me.  How come my house never looks this perfect?  How come my kids don’t stay neat all the time?”  Her perfect presentation discourages rather than encourages me.  

     We do such a disservice to other women when we maintain the façade of perfection and fail to live vulnerably.  Sometimes the most comforting thing in the world is for me to visit with another young mom who missed some Cheerios when she swept the floor.  

     It’s not that I’m advocating dirty houses and messy kids.  I’m advocating grace and vulnerable living.  Our progress towards being more Christ-like is what encourages others.  If we’re stagnant in our failures and sin, then our testimony is destroyed.  Likewise, if we try to appear like we’ve already attained perfection, we can’t encourage them by our process of transformation.

     Allow yourself to be transformed day by day, giving yourself (and others) some grace when you fall short of perfection.  Don’t be afraid to live vulnerably, sharing with other women your struggles, shortcomings, and mistakes.  Whenever you are overwhelmed by your failures, remember Lamentations 3:21-23 “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (NIV).  Let each new day give you a fresh start in your journey to perfection, knowing that we can’t be perfect this side of heaven, but we can grow a little more every day.

Stephen Arterburn’s notes on Matthew 5:48 can be found in the Spiritual Renewal Bible published by Tyndale in 1998.

Copyright © 2008-2015 Heather King

Reader Comments...
2010-05-10 14:43:16
"Interesting take....kept hearing May Poppins in the background with her "..perfectly perfect in every way..", and agreeing with you that realistically we cannot be someone else's "perfect." With two adult sons and one preteen daughter, I strive to be the best Mom I can be, gleaning from my past what my Mother taught me, and pray that what I have taught my children will someday be enough for them to stand on their own two feet...my idea of perfection then becomes my legacy: well adjusted, thoughtful, caring, hard-working and helpful young men and woman.....and, since we all will return to dust someday...a little dust now is perfectly fine."
        - Anne

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