“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.”
I’ve wrapped Emerson’s words around my heart multiple times since I first heard them in high school, repeating them while I searched for authenticity and wondered why I seemed always to push others away. I used to blame the shortness of my friendships on how frequently we moved. It wasn’t until a few years ago when a trusted mentor began to address perfectionism in my life that I realized that I was culpable of friendship sabatoge.
We live in a time of super-Christians, a product of the social media and technology boom. We create our image out of words and carefully edited photographs–soundbites of a utopian (or even distopian) reality where image reigns supreme emporer. This is especially true of those of us involved in ministry. We have to be so careful not to “lose our witness” around those who we deem “less Christian” than we are, and so careful not to appear inferior to those we deem “more Christlike” than we are.
And I get it. We have expectations of our leaders. Pastors and their families are presumed to have the answers, especially during crisis moments, and we’re uncomfortable when we have to realize our leaders are fragile people–even moreso when we have to realize our leaders also battle with sin.
What I continue to have to face in my own life is that my posturing has less to do with protecting His image and more to do with protecting mine. Let’s be real—the Lord of eternity doesn’t need my help staying on His throne. The “less Christian” versus “more Christlike” debate is simply pride, fear of man, and jockying for position, all of which the Lord detests. In a way, it’s easier to slap on a smile and say “whatever God wills” than to admit the battle in our hearts, especially when a blinking cursor allows us free reign to invent ourselves; but that’s teflon-Christianity where nothing sticks, not even the oil of the Spirit that would bring healing. It takes great courage to allow someone else to speak into our lives, to risk appearing less than perfect, to admit someone else may be further in their spiritual journey in an area where we keep failing. It takes strength to receive the affections of God when our weakness is on display. It takes divine revelation to cease striving to bring fruit from our own efforts and allow the Lord to prune, to set free, and to bring a harvest in His time.
We’ve cheated ourselves, we super-Christians with our social media world, because you cannot gain image without trading something for it; and in our case, most of us have traded real, raw, deep, heart-level relationship. Perfectionism is a lonely bubble, and one that keeps us from real relationship. Have you ever considered that not only did Jesus agonize over the cross until His sweat became drops of blood, but that He did not hide His struggle from the pages of the Scriptures? His “thy will be done” came at a supreme cost. The Author Himself allows us into the moment of His greatest conflict, laying bare the tempesting emotions within His heart for generations to see; and millions have found peace in identifying with His pain.
I’m learning that I don’t always have to have the answers. The greatest gift that Chrystal can give is to be vulnerable, to admit sin and ask forgiveness, to lavishly praise the strengths of others without feeling the secret sting of competition, to be the advocate and encourager rather than the problem-solver, to listen without condescension, to minister from a place of transparency, and to know that the successes of one are the successes of all. A giant in the faith is not self-named; rather, he or she earns spiritual authority by the blood of the Lamb and a testimony–a story of God’s great strength made perfect a broken life; and that story is better when displayed, not simply told.