To the Perfectionist

To the Perfectionist

The classic response for the interview question “What is a weakness of yours?” is to reply with “I’m a perfectionist.” Oh, clever you! That answer tries to mask a weakness with a quality that is seemingly good in the eyes of an employer. Ha. Perfectionism has an ugly side that can affect you spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.

Gen Z (which is our generation, for those of us born after 1995) has been cursed with the sickness of perfectionism and been plagued by feelings of anxiety and depression. The New York times reported: “In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began asking incoming college freshmen if they ‘felt overwhelmed by all I had to do’ during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent.” This feeling has been permeating our generation in a way that it has never before.

Behind perfectionism is the incessant, pestering voice saying that we haven’t done enough, we are in control, there is more to do, failure is the worst possible thing that could happen to us, everyone is watching us, people are out to get us, everyone is my competitor, and I have to make it to the top first or I won’t make it at all.

Trust me guys, I’m talking from experience. I am pre-med, and this pressure is a wonderful motivator, but when left unchecked it can be detrimental. The difference between Gen Z and previous generations is that this pressure has become internalized, so it never leaves, its always around telling us to keep pushing.

What’s causing this intense rise in perfectionism in our lives? A huge part of the blame is on cell phones. We acquire this false sense of control and expectation in the unknown. If you don’t think you have this, ask yourself the question if you’ve ever looked at someone’s Insta and thought, “How is their life so put together, so exciting, so…perfect?” This perfectionism is causing us to lie awake at night wondering whether we’ve done enough or if we’re enough. This constant battle is causing a lot of spiritual damage if left unchecked and unregulated.

Perfectionism can be dangerous because we put off important things until we think we are deemed good enough to do them. For example, “I am going to pursue a relationship with someone when I have all my stuff together.” or “Oh my gosh, I missed a question on that exam, I’m going to fail.” Let’s be honest, you’re never going to get your stuff together to the degree that you will feel satisfied, and you are chasing a finish line that’s moving faster than you are. 

If you think that the Scripture which were written almost 2,000 years ago is  irrelevant to today, you are wrong. The Bible is the perfect antidote to combating the negative aspects of perfectionism, and letting it guide us, we can transform it to become perfect like God. In the First Book of John, we read:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.    – 1 John 3:1-2

We are loved by God now, in our triumphs and our mistakes. He loves us, He created us, and whether you like it or not He has a plan for us. Take a deep breath, we are all human beings. Your mistakes do not make you inadequate, the saints describe their whole lives as being a continuous rising and falling in God. You don’t have to mask your flaws, God already knows them more than you do, be open with Him in your prayer. Open up and let out the anxiety that can be plaguing you. Mistakes are OK to make, because God gives us the opportunity to stand up and try again. If God who is perfect and sinless can forgive you, you can work to see your mistakes and grow in them rather than let them letting them weigh you down.

Perfectionism can be scary, but we can work to overcome it and lead healthier lives mentally, physically, and spiritually. Here are five tips to help overcome perfectionism and limit it from having a negative impact on your life:

  1. Put down your phone. Stop comparing yourself to other people, and don’t allow the social media that is making you feel inadequate to have that kind of power over you. Compete with yourself and strive for improvement and not perfection.
  2. Build real relationships with people. Help yourself see your flaws and imperfections, and share them with your close friends. Share your struggles, and have others share theirs with you. The impact a conversation can have on your mental health can be amazing.
  3. Talk to God. Open up to Him and let Him know what’s going on with you in your life and ask for His help. Let your talks be between you and Him alone, build that relationship so you can grow in Christ.
  4. Forgive others, and forgive yourself. Forgive others because that will help free you, and forgive yourself because when you ask for mercy, God will grant it.
  5. Work to acquire humility. True humility is not knowing that you are nothing, true humility is knowing who you truly are. Work to get comfortable with your true self as a child of God.

Remember perfectionism could at its best be our subconscious desire to restore our fallen selves. It can be a wonderful tool for keeping the commandments and growing in Christ, but unchecked it can cause anxiety and cause us to push ourselves to our limits without God. Let perfectionism be transformed in Christ so that we become perfect, not on our own terms, but as God intends us to be.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  – Matthew 5:48

Come and See the Stench of Death

Come and See the Stench of Death

As we have seen, the first two callings of “come and see” are both directed toward a new disciple. First, to come and see the place where Christ dwells and then to come and see for oneself who He really is. The third “come and see,” however, is different.

As Jesus nears His own crucifixion, His friend Lazarus dies and is laid in a stone tomb. Lazarus’ sisters come to Him, weeping over the death of their brother. They doubt that His presence will do any good at this point because Lazarus has been dead four days and the sweet smell of the spices that were used to anoint his body have worn off revealing the real stench of death. They weep at His feet and reprimand Him for not coming sooner.

Jesus seemingly remains unconcerned as he gets nearer to the tomb, continually reminding Mary and Martha of who He is.

Finally, He asks them, “Where have you laid him?” and they respond, “Lord, come and see.”

The third “come and see” of the gospels is an invitation for the Lord to come and see the wages of sin, to confront the death and corruption that plagues humanity–that plagues each of us.

It is an invitation we must extend to Jesus knowing that we are Lazarus, dead four days and stinking from our own sins within the stone tomb of our harden hearts. Experience (the first come and see) and knowledge (the second) of Christ are gifts of grace, freely offered by Him to those who will receive Him.

What is required of us is to respond.

And we respond by asking Jesus to come and see the sins that bind us like Lazarus in the grave no matter how foul we may think they have become. What is asked of us is that we weep bitterly, like Mary at her brother’s tomb, over the death that is within us.

When they reach the tomb, Jesus, confronted with the death of His friend and the end result of humanity’s fallen state, joins Mary in her lament. And then, incredibly and in spite of the doubts and disgust of the crowd, He asked for the tomb to be opened, and He calls the rotting Lazarus out of the tomb and into Life.

So too it is with our hearts when we truly and honestly invite Jesus to come and see what lies within. He takes away the stony hardness of our hearts, and He does not flinch at the stench of the dead man who lies therein. Instead, He weeps with us, His own heart breaking to know what tragedies we suffer at our own hands, and then He calls forth the real man saying, “Loose him, and let him go,” freeing us from the grave clothes of our the sins which bind us and offering to us True Life in Him.

Come and See that Jesus Is the Messiah

Come and See that Jesus Is the Messiah

Last week we talked about the invitation of Jesus to “come and see” where He lived, and we established that to become a disciple is first to be near to the Lord and experience Him in His own home.

This week, we take a look at what happens right after this first “come and see” calling. Immediately after John’s two disciples spend the evening with Jesus, a Galilean game of telephone begins as Andrew goes to find Peter, and after being called by Jesus, Philip goes to find Nathanael. Andrew declares, “We have found the Messiah,” and Philip says, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Pretty hefty claims.

It’s perhaps not too much of a surprise that the testimony of Philip, no matter how enthusiastic, was not enough to convince Nathanael. He’s not only not convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, but he’s not convinced it is possible for someone that important to come from such a scripturally unimportant (and sometimes disreputable) town like Nazareth.

Amazingly, Philip is not taken aback by Nathanael’s doubts nor does he try to further convince him. He simply tells him, “Come and see.” He is neither offended that Nathanael may not believe him nor is he shaken in his own decision to follow Jesus. It’s as if he says, “You don’t have to believe me. I’m convinced. Come see for yourself and decide.”

As an aside, there’s an important lesson here about evangelism. First, it’s important to notice that “come and see” only follows Philip’s willingness to seek out his friend and boldly declare to him that he has found the Savior. But once he’s given the testimony of his own encounter with the Lord, Philip allows Nathanael the freedom to come and see for himself–or not.

Philip invites Nathanael to get to know Jesus, and Nathanael comes. Though he has heard the testimony of his friend, like Thomas after the resurrection, Nathanael needs to meet Jesus himself.

Icon by the hand of Dn. Matthew Garrett. Used with permission.

Icon by the hand of Dn. Matthew Garrett. Used with permission.

To meet Jesus and discover experientially that He is the Messiah, the Savior, is essential to becoming a disciple of Christ. No one is made a believer on the testimony of others alone. You have to meet Jesus yourself by coming to Him. And while we may not be able to walk down the road from our shady fig tree to find Him, we can meet Jesus in prayer. Even a tentative or doubt-filled prayer is a vehicle for encountering the Lord. Nathanael probably wasn’t walking down the road actually expecting to meet the Messiah; in fact, he probably thought the end result of his excursion with Philip would end in disappointment, in nothing. But he made the walk anyway just to see. He carried his doubts right to the feet of the Lord.

And when Nathanael got near to Jesus, while he was still a bit down the road, Jesus called out to him, praising him for his righteous doubt and for his willingness to meet Him anyway. He tells Nathanael that He already knows about his doubts because He saw him when he was under the fig tree.

So come. Don’t be afraid to carry your doubts and your questions with you, but come. If with authenticity and honesty you approach Jesus, He will honor you from far off, coming to you and offering you His salvation so that you of your own accord, with Nathanael, can declare, “You are the Son of God.”

Come and See Where the Teacher Dwells

Come and See Where the Teacher Dwells

A new school year means a new theme for OCF!

chalice

We’re centering this year all around these three words, “Come and see.” It’s a challenge to all of us both to follow these three words and to share them with others. We have a few ideas of how you can do that this month and all year round in our Orthodox Awareness Month manual. We hope you check it out and participate.

But what does it really mean to come and see? Toward what are we coming and what will we see? Well, for the next four Wednesdays for Orthodox Awareness Month, we’ll reflect on just that!

St. John points out Jesus to his disciples. Image from Wikimedia Commons

St. John points out Jesus to his disciples. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The first time the phrase “come and see” appears in the Gospel of John is right after John the Baptist calls Jesus twice “the Lamb of God” and says that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven and rest upon Him. A few of John’s disciples must have been intrigued by their master’s deference to his newly-arrived cousin because they decide to follow Him to see where He’s going.

I’m not sure they knew what they were in for when Jesus turned and asked them, “What do you seek?” But by some moment of inspiration, they asked Him where He was staying.

In his homily on this passage, St. John Chrysostom notices

They did not say, “Teach us of Thy doctrines, or some other thing that we need to know”; but what? “Where dwellest Thou?”

It’s an interesting question. Why not ask, “What do you teach?” or “Why does John call you the Lamb of God?” There’s something significant about knowing the place where the Lord lives and then coming to stay with Him in His own home. To come and see where the Teacher dwells is experiential.

This, I think, is why we prefer the invitation “come and see” over long-winded philosophical arguments about the validity of our Orthodox Christian beliefs. We know that Truth is beyond words–it must be experienced before it can be expressed, and no expression will ever do justice to the experience itself. The place to experience God, to simply come and see where He lives, is in the Church. The Church is the place where God’s Heavenly Kingdom is most clearly breaking through into the created realm.

Take the account of the pagan Slavs sent by St. Vladimir to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, for example. Upon returning to their king, the delegates declared

We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there.

And it is not just the beauty of the Liturgy and the music and the icons that make known the place where the Lord dwells, but the beauty of the Body of Christ, the beauty of Christian hearts being purified by God’s love.

So the first calling of come and see is simply to enter into the place where the Teacher lives, to follow Him and earnestly desire to experience the life of His Kingdom. This is the first step in the making of a disciple of Christ, to seek out where the Lord dwells and then stay with Him a while.